Within our local beer community, its almost sacrilege to call anything other than the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival the ‘best beer festival in America.’ And to be honest, after attending it this year for the first time, I totally understand why it gets so much love. Its an event build around a very tight-knit community and the quality of beer and food is second-to-none. A few years back “The Festival” (hosted by importing company The Shelton Brothers) was hosted in Long Beach and it certainly has earned its place as one of the marquee beer festivals as well. Where else are you going to have the chance to participate in a lambic vertical guided by Jean Van Roy of Cantillon?
But while both FWIBF and The Festival are incredible, once in a lifetime experiences, the Great American Beer Festival remains, in my mind, the best showcase of craft beer in the United States . Why? Because it isn’t curated.
Last year, GABF expanded their capacity in order to allow every interested brewery a spot on their convention floor. There was no lottery or invitations – if you were a licensed brewery in America in 2015, you could pour at GABF. This is a very important distinction for me. While curated beer festivals are incredible showcases for some of the best small brewers in the world, GABF is a place where you can get a snapshot of the entire beer industry in the United States – both big and small, good and bad. As you wander the convention floor you might taste a beer that is truly terrible, but you also might discover a brewpub from Rhode Island that is making absolutely world class beers that won’t make it outside of their neighborhood, let alone any kind of real distribution. Beyond the professional brewing world, GABF also brings out strong representation in the homebrewing community by hosting the yearly Pro-Am competition series and hosting a Saturday session exclusively for members of the American Homebrewers Association.
For me, GABF is the only festival in America (outside of perhaps Craft Brewers Conference) where you can get a full and complete picture of this wonderful industry across the country – both the beer and the culture.
The second aspect of GABF that makes it wonderful is it’s host city. Denver Colorado is one hell of a beer town any day of the week but during the Great American Beer Festival it becomes craft beer mecca. Local breweries save some of their best beers to tap during GABF week, and local bars and restaurants have a constant supply of beers you rarely see available at the best taprooms in America. There’s beer & food pairing dinners, hangover brunches, firkin festivals, incredible cideries and endless supplies of beer you have never tried before. Each and every year, GABF is my opportunity to get reacquainted with one of my favorite cities in the United States, and do so with a tens of thousands other beer geeks.
Lately, the craft beer industry seems to be overtaken by whale-hunting and buy-out negativity. But every year at the Great American Beer Festival I am reminded what made me fall in love with craft beer in the first place – a sense of discovery and a community united by a cold sudsy pint.