It’s just one week until the kickoff of the 2016 Great American Beer Festival (GABF) and we couldn’t be more excited! Over the next several days, brewers and beer lovers from across the country will make their way to Denver for the 35th anniversary of this annual celebration of American beer. Leading up to the event your Bottle Makes Three team will be posting several articles to help you get prepared and pumped for the kickoff of GABF. So whether it’s your first year attending or you’re a festival pro, we hope you’ll find some useful information to help you better enjoy your GABF experience!
Of course the big draw of any beer festival is the beer selection. This year GABF promises over 3800 beers being poured by roughly 800 different breweries, so the quantity of beers you’ll have to choose from is mind-boggling. But if you’re only attending GABF to rack up a bunch of beer samples, you may be missing out on some of the truly incredible parts of this festival. There is so much to take in on the festival floor, and it doesn’t all come in one-ounce pours.
Today we want to highlight some of the things we love about GABF beyond your typical beer tasting. The festival offers a lot of amazing content and experiences for their attendees, including some exciting new features this year. Below are just a few reasons that we think the Great American Beer Festival is really the Greatest American Beer Festival.
The People of GABF
Maybe it’s beer talking, but beer people really are the best people in the world. If there is somewhere better than GABF to find our tribe of beer-loving folks, than we haven’t found it yet. With about 60,000 attendees visiting the festival over four sessions, chances are good you’ll run into a friend or even make some new ones. Every year we look forward to all the crazy costumes, elaborate pretzel necklaces and incredible displays of facial hair. It’s the best people watching venue around.
Perhaps the single best place for people-watching at GABF is the Silent Disco. Sponsored by Oskar Blues, the Silent Disco invites attendees to grab a pair of wireless headphones and shake their booty to music played by a live DJ. But here’s the catch: the tunes can only be heard by the dancers, through the headphones. Everyone on the outside looking in has a whole different experience. To watch people dance with reckless abandon in total silence is as amazing and hilarious as it sounds. No matter what side of the velvet rope you’re on, the Silent Disco is some damn fine entertainment.
For as large as the festival is, they still build in plenty of space to have fun and hang out with your friends. This year, GABF is introducing a whole new place to relax with your friends, The Backyard. The Backyard is a new section of the festival dedicated to celebrating the 35th anniversary of GABF. Visit The Backyard to party like it’s 1982 with throwback games, great music, and totally rad photo opportunities. Obviously the folks at GABF knows that there is nothing like a drinking beer in The Backyard!
Embracing Your Inner Beer Geek
We use the term beer geek with love, because we totally identify ourselves as the nerdiest of beer geeks. If you are a beer geek too, you won’t want to miss all the educational opportunities that GABF offers to help you better know your brew. One of the best places to really geek out is the Brewers Studio Pavilion. With different topics and speakers each session, you’re guaranteed to find some of the biggest names and personalities in brewing sharing their knowledge, talent, opinions and creativity in the Brewers Studio.
Another great way to meet the folks behind your favorite beers is in the Meet The Brewer area of GABF. In this section of the festival, booths are staffed entirely by employees of the brewery. It’s a great place to ask questions, share some love for your favorite brews, or just high-five the folks who spend their days making the beers you love.
If you’re all about sampling the medal winners, you’re going to love the new Heavy Medal Booth. The Heavy Medal Booth will feature GABF medal-winning beers from last year’s competition. Since medal winners are often in high demand, even if you attended GABF last year you may have missed these sampling these beers. Now you have another chance to enjoy the 2015 medal winners at the Heavy Medal Booth near Section Y.
Finally, if you’re the kind of beer geek that gets a thrill from seeking out hard-to-find beers, then look no further than the Support Your Local Brewery Pavilion. Here you can sample craft beers from 20 different state brewers guilds, which often includes beers that aren’t being poured on the festival floor. We found Founder’s KBS at the Michigan Brewers Guild table last year, and best of all, we didn’t even have to wait in line! The state brewery guilds at the Support Your Local Brewery Pavilion are still somehow the best kept secret of the festival. Don’t miss out.
Experience Great Food Pairings
If you love beer and food like we love beer and food, then you need to check out Paired. Paired, which requires a separate ticket for admission, features 21 chefs working with 21 craft brewers to make 42 unique and delicious craft food & beer pairings. Many of the beers served here are available only in the Paired Pavilion. This is the hottest ticket of the festival, to say the least.
If you missed out on purchasing Paired tickets this year, don’t be sad. The Beer & Food Pavilion offers you another chance to delight your taste buds with great food and beer pairings. Offering several demonstrations each session, it’s worth taking a break from the festival for these incredible beer and food experiences. Red Robin sponsors the pavilion again this year, and their Red Robin and Sam Adams Burger & Beer Pairing is back again during Friday’s session. Don’t even question us on this one, just go check it out for yourself. Yum!
Finally, October is American Cheese Month, and in celebration of all things cheesy, the American Cheese Society (ACS) brings a plethora of great artisan cheeses for you to sample at their American Cheese Society Tasting Area. The ACS team can help you find the perfect cheeses to pair with your favorite styles of beer and can give you more info on American Cheese Month. We may stop by to ask them why every month isn’t American Cheese Month, because dammit, that’s just how much we love cheese.
Learn To Brew For Yourself
If tasting all the incredible, diverse and unique styles of beer at GABF makes you want to try brewing for yourself, you can pay a visit to the American Homebrew Association (AHA). Whether you are homebrew-curious, a brewing novice, or a pro that wants to know what’s new in the world of homebrewing, AHA can get help give you all the tools and resources you need. Bonus: If you join or renew your AHA membership at GABF, you can get a cool gift.
There are lots of great homebrew vendors at GABF. Whether you just want to learn more about ingredients, or get yourself a whole new brewing system, check out the Homebrew Marketplace. Here you can find all the tools and toys you need to up your homebrew game.
Whether you brew or not, you should try the beers at the Pro-Am Booth. GABF Pro-Am entries are beers brewed by professional craft brewers, based on award-winning recipes created by AHA members. You’re sure to find some great beer here that you won’t find elsewhere. You can also find homebrewers hanging around that would be happy to share tips & tricks with you. Keep working on that homebrew, and maybe your beer will be poured at the Pro-Am someday.
Beer Gear Galore
You may come to GABF for the beer, but you’ll be leaving with lots of stuff. Brewery swag is plentiful. There are no shortage of pins, koozies, temporary tattoos and other promotional merchandise, if you’re into that sort of thing. Not only do breweries bring plenty of swag, but there are lots of cool merchandise vendors too. We have seen everything from clothing to jewelry, beer serving vessels to beer scented candles, dog treats to hop flavored lip balm being peddled at GABF in previous years. Who know what awesomeness you’ll find this year.
If you are looking for your next favorite brewery shirt, look no further than the 30-foot wall of t-shirts at the Merchandise Booth, just inside the main entrance of the festival. You can find official shirts from many of the participating breweries here, official Great American Beer Festival merchandise, plus lots of other souvenirs. The line seems long, but they keep this booth well staffed so it moves quick.
Another great shopping spot for beer geeks is the Beer Geek Bookstore. Whether you want to learn about beer, brewing, cooking with beer or more, there is an incredible assortment of great books at the Beer Geek Bookstore. There are also book signings each session, so you can meet your favorite authors and beer personalities. After all, you’re not a true beer geek unless you have a copy of The Complete Joy of Homebrewing signed by Charlie Papazian.
More Info on GABF
There is so much that goes into the Great American Beer Festival each year, and we’ve only actually scratched the surface. We hope that if you’re attending the festival this year, you look beyond your tasting glass at all the great opportunities and experiences GABF has to offer. If there is something you’re looking forward to that we missed, let us know!
For full festival information, including a map of the festival floor, details on onsite events, and a cool way to find and track your favorite beers, get the My GABF app. The app is free, and it’s a life saver when trying to find that one brewery or remember where the bathrooms are. Get it now and be prepared.
For even more information on the festival you can also visit their official website at greatamericanbeerfestival.com.