What do you do when you have 3,800 beers to try in under five hours? The answer is simple: try as many of these delicious beers as possible. Returning for my 5th year in a row, I armed myself with my pretzel necklace, hydrated during the morning and prepared myself for a night of sampling beer from across the country at the 2016 Great American Beer Festival. The festival has come a long way in the last 30 years from its humble beginnings back in 1982, where roughly 800 attendees sampled a selection of 47 different Colorado microbrews. To give you an idea just how big this festival is now, last year over 60,000 people attended, a number that I expect to be representative of this year’s crowd as well. While it still pales in comparison to the attendance of the German Oktoberfest, it’s still quite a feather in the cap for Colorado. As I’ve come to expect over the last half decade of attending, the level of excitement was at epic proportions as we waited near the very front of the line for entrance (I don’t screw around, I want every minute possible to sample beer). With programs in hand half the crowd scrambled to determine a plan of attack, marking down different sections and breweries from across the country that they needed to explore. I sat there finding my inner beer-drinking zen, knowing that the great god Bacchus or some other relevant god that presides over the realm of beer would guide me to just the right booths at just the right time. I’m usually a person that is anal when it comes to planning things out, but when I know that there are too many beers to try in the allotted time and that I was about to be thrown into a swarm of beer drinkers, now was the time to throw caution to the wind, and let the brews guide me.
It’s The Great American Beer Festival!
In a style that’s new to the Great American Beer Festival, the process of entering was expedited by getting ID checks, ticket checks, and a pass through a metal detector done a full hour ahead of the grand opening. This was the first night of the festival and I must admit that I was impressed by the organization this year. The tension was mounting as we all stood shoulder to shoulder waiting for beer. The crowd roared as the first plastic cup fell and hit the ground, a party fowl that would occur many, many times throughout the night. The hours of waiting became minutes which yielded to seconds. The bagpipes sounded and the screams of the beer starved masses echoed through the convention center. The Great American Beer Festival had begun! My group began to ford the crowds and started randomly hitting booths from across the country. Sample after sample of stouts, sours, IPAs, ales, pilsners, alt ales, wheats, porters, lagers, and more passed my gullet and had me feeling just dandy after the first hour or so. As we shuffled around drinking all the brew we could sample, a few moments, people, breweries, and beers stood out to me.
Great American Beer Festival Highlights
Starting at Boundary Bay Brewery from Bellingham, Washington, I walked up to the front to try their Citraweisse, a kettle-soured Berliner Weiss. A large man who was all smiles stood before me with an outstretched pitcher-bearing arm. The Citraweisse was absolutely phenomenal, the sour tang was spot on, not too tart and not too funky. As I downed the rest of my sample, our friend Tina came up to follow suit, and the large bald brewer offered me a swig of their ESB. Already quite inebriated I accused him of trying to get me drunk, and Tina simply pointed to his name tag, which simply read “drunk”. As he pointed to the tag himself he stared down at Tina’s name tag and he bellowed, “at least Tina can read.” After a good laugh, we moved down the line. One of the next stand-out beer samples was from a local Denver, Colorado brewery, Our Mutual Friend. Their American Wild Ale sample was just amazing, so smooth and so sour; I was happy to down some sour beers to start, and the American Wild Ale was just what I wanted. I would be lying if I said I didn’t stick around and sample a couple of Our Mutual Friend’s other delectable sour options. After taking a break to watch our friend Jeremy wail out some drunken Billy Joel at the Great American Beer Festival karaoke stage, we moved on for some more beers! Next stand out brew was from Big Alice Brewing in Long Island City, New York. The style was an ale, and the flavor was jalapeno. I took a tiny swig and the amazing spice of jalapeno flowed through my mouth. While I wouldn’t necessarily want a six pack of a beer this spicy, but a sample or a pint would really hit the spot. Fair Winds Brewing Company from Lorton, Virginia offered me my next noteworthy beverage. I’ll admit that IPAs are my favorite style of brew and Fair Winds Brewing had an IPA that was simply amazing. The hop profile was through the roof and I could only wager a guess that the IBU content must have been crazy high. As my night continued I was noticing a theme in my sampling. I was going for IPA’s, spicy beers, and fruity sours, the perfect combination to wage war in my beer belly. Next up was an IPA (go figure) from Ship Bottom Brewery, located in Beach Haven, New Jersey. I took a big swig of the hoppy brew and loved the flavor. As soon as I had swallowed I was shocked by a bizarre spicy kick at the end. I had to go back and ask the brewers what I was tasting. They told me that they use habanero in their brewing process. It’s a unique addition that makes for an IPA that was absolutely amazing. As the night was nearing an end, and the halls were filled with beer drinkers screaming, “Ooooooo!” every time a beer cup fell. As we drunkenly shuffled towards the exit, I stopped for a few last minute beers and happened to find the beer that I would call my favorite of the night. Declaration Brewing, another local Denver, Colorado brewery finished my night with some sweet and spicy flavors. Their Palisade Popper beer was the perfect combination of fruity peaches and spicy jalapeno. This beer was an amazing combination and the perfect end cap for a perfect evening.
Great American Beer Festival Tickets
If you’ve never yet experienced the Great American Beer Festival, there is still two more nights of festivities, and while the tickets may be sold out, that doesn’t mean that you couldn’t still find a friendly scalper to score you your way in. If the hour is too late however and you’ve missed your chance for the 2016 Great American Beer Festival there is always next year. Trust me, I’ll be there in the trenches with you, painstakingly sampling the beers for the benefit of all humanity… well, at least for my own benefit.