Great American Beer Festival (2014)
An Outing in Denver, Colorado
Posted on 10/4/2014 by Chops
The Germans have Oktoberfest. The Belgians have Beer Weekend. Here in America, our shining star is the Great American Beer Festival. It's one of the biggest beer events in the world and is held annually in Denver, Colorado. It's a holy pilgrimage that every card-carrying American beer geek must make at least once.

2014 was BrewChief's year.

I am accustomed to beer festivals being held in grassy parks or on sports fields. When you're at the mercy of the elements, attitudes can change as quickly as the weather. Sometimes it rains, sometimes the heat is unbearable, sometimes we curse the beer gods for an untimely cold front. But whatever, we endure it all for the love of beer. Most of the time, a well planned session can yield a complete experience. You can easily sample your way through the entirety of the festival if you manage your time right and skip familiar territories.

But then there is the Great American Beer Festival.

The sheer size of this one event easily eclipsed any other beer festival I had ever attended by at least five times. I could have attended all five sessions over three days and come nowhere close to sampling everything it had to offer. The event program felt more like a thick catalog than the usual flimsy leaflet. Prominent breweries built giant thematic serving stations at the ends of each regional section. The event completely filled the Denver Convention Center. You can seriously stand on one side and not see the other. It was simply mind boggling.

A few common complaints about beer festivals in general is that they are often disorganized or over-sold. I found neither at the GABF, which was astounding considering its massive size and attendance. Crowds were well behaved, organized, and flowed nicely throughout a mercifully climate-controlled facility. Not once did I feel cramped, annoyed, or overheated. That alone elevated my enjoyment of the festival more than anything else.

To be honest, the only significant line I saw was in front of the Russian River booth when they tapped a keg of Pliny The Elder. Yeah, let that nugget sink in for a few moments.

I also really appreciated the fact that the entire festival was sectioned out by region. Midwest, Pacific, Southeast, etc. The mapped grid was lettered, colored, and easy to navigate.

On top of a seemingly endless array of breweries, the festival featured many other fun and interesting activities. They had an entire section dedicated to brewpubs as well as sound-dampened areas for special presentations. The outer walls were peppered with food, merchandise, music stages, you name it. No matter where you were, there was always some sensory adventure to partake in.

Before the GABF, I considered myself well-versed when it came to beer festivals. But I have to admit, this one caught me completely off-guard. It was hands down the most mind-blowing and rewarding beer festival I have ever attended. I loved every second of the experience and was sad to leave. It's an unfortunate new standard that I must compare everything else to. So, I will go ahead and apologize to all future event coordinators for my petulant attitude. The GABF has officially ruined me. Outside of Oktoberfest in Munich, this is now my one must-attend annual event.

In closing, I must tip my drinking hat to the Brewers Association and to all others involved in putting on one hell of a memorable event. It was simply amazing and I greatly look forward to seeing you all next year. Cheers!

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