I didn’t really know what to expect. I got on the light rail (because I knew I’d be drinking and didn’t want to find parking downtown and drive after), got off at Union Station and made my way to the Convention Center. I was like a kid on Christmas morning… and then…
And then, well, I was pretty disappointed overall. The Great American Beer Festival was nothing like I had imagined. I had high hopes. Maybe too high. This year’s GABF was the 40th edition. Lots of promises with few deliveries.
Don’t get me wrong; I tried some great beers. But that was to be expected! When you gather 500 craft breweries in one spot, you’d expect nothing less. Right?
Let me explain. I was disappointed because this is the biggest craft beer festival in all the land, and all I could find were a bunch of people trying to get as much beer in as possible. I went there on the first day, which I was told was the better day because the attendees were usually from the industry or, at the very least, beer aficionados. Nope! By the end of the night almost no one around me could walk a straight line except for the designated drivers. Not exactly what I had hoped for.
Also, did I mention this was GABF’s 40th anniversary? Yeah… You’d think the Brewers Association would have banked on that and made special gear, special booths, etc. Nothing of the sort. Just aisles filled with craft brewery booths and that’s it! I bought a t-shirt (the only one that even mentions this year being the 40th), and received it in a plastic bag that was made for the 2013 edition. Yikes!
Now, I realize that this is the first in-person edition since Covid and that funds can be pretty scarce for everyone at the moment. But come on!
Here is a few things I would have liked to see: 1) a day for the industry (so we could actually talk about beer without getting plastered) 2) an effort on the decor front (so we’d know it was a special year) 3) more educational booths about the craft beer community/industry at large (brewery equipment, research, etc.) 4) the brewers/brewery owners (Don’t send your beer to the GABF floor if you are not going to attend!).
Now, on to the positives! Not everything was a disaster. Let’s be clear. Some of the beers I tried were truly special and above the mark! I will not mention the usual culprits such as Great Notion Brewery, Bottle Logic, Mob Craft, Barebottle Beer Co, Fremont Brewing, etc. Also to be noted, I purposely omitted 99% of Colorado breweries because I am fortunate enough to live here and can visit anytime I want. So I want to focus on the few that I had the privilege of discovering during the event and that very much impressed me.
Let’s start with Bearded Brewer Artisan Ales. They are located in Omaha, NE and are opening up a taproom in Q1 of next year in Longmont, CO. I tried their Dream Bar Milk Stout, a pastry stout that is rated 4.2/5 on Untappd and for a good reason: It’s absolutely delicious! Remember the Bounty candy bars? That’s it!
Now a little something from Florida, shall we? Deadwords Brewery out of Orlando makes an awesome Dortmunder called Westphalia. It’s not a style you see every day (though similar to others). Clean and well executed! It deserves more than its 3.8/5 rating on Untappd for sure.
This list of wins would not be complete without mentioning a very good non-alcoholic option from the guys at Partake Brewing. I tried their Peach Gose. Very good for not having any alcohol. A tad sweet, but it didn’t bother me. It almost helped create the illusion of a “normal” beer. It also doesn’t hurt that all their beers are between 10 and 30 calories. You can definitely drink à volonté!
Last but not least… Four Sons Brewing‘s Mello PBK. What a treat from those SoCal guys! A sour blonde brewed with peanuts, black currants and marshmallows. Definitely on the sweeter side. I’m not sure how this one only got a 3.6/5 on Untappd. It simply does not compute.
There were many more brews of course, but these were my highlights. As far as the actual event goes, though I feel very lucky to have been able to go, I would have liked to see more of a trade show and less of a s*** show! At the very least, they should be able to give everyone a flyer with the schedule and a map of the events, etc.
Til next year? Maybe… One thing is for sure: If I do attend, it will be for all three days because there is no way you can experience the whole thing in one session.