The Great American Beer Festival is a big, loud, sprawling celebration of the nation’s craft beer culture, a chance to drink your way across the country one ounce at a time.
But you should definitely check out the counter-programming, too. You may even find it more to your liking.
Special side events have flowed during GABF Week over the last few years, from tappings at neighborhood breweries to appearances by out-of-town breweries rarely seen around Denver to specially created dinners that treat beer with a kind of respect once reserved for fine wine.
Every year the list grows, reflecting the expanding ranks of local breweries, beer bars and craft beer-savvy restaurants. Some events will set you back a pretty penny, others will cost nothing more than the pint (or tulip glass) you’ve ordered.
If you can take one day off work next week, make it Wednesday. The day before the festival begins is packed with amazing events, and our picks carry a strong Wednesday bias. It shouldn’t come as a surprise: Attention shifts on Thursday to the festival itself.
Here’s our list of picks:
5 p.m.: GABF Week Tapping Party/Kickoff
Falling Rock Tap House, 1919 Blake St., Denver
GABF Week truly begins when the digital countdown clock at Denver’s pioneering LoDo beer bar strikes zero. This is one of those things you must do at least once if you’re a Denver craft beer lover — or even just curious about what the fuss is all about. This year’s edition will feature special releases from Fort Collins-based Horse & Dragon, Boulder-based Upslope and collaborations marking this year’s 20th anniversary of the Denver institution. Falling Rock will host special tappings throughout the week.
6 p.m. to 9 p.m.: Beers Made by Walking; $40
Denver Museum of Nature and Science, 2001 Colorado Blvd., Denver
One of the most inspired and whimsical events of the 2017 beer calendar. Brewers are invited to hit the trail or sidewalk and find inspiration in their surroundings, whether it’s the top of a 14er, an urban community garden or national park. Many of the resulting brews are created with ingredients foraged from their forays, and they’re all on tap here. Tickets are $40 and include a tasting glass, beer from 35 breweries, museum admission and more. They’re available here.
11 a.m. to 11 p.m.: Toppling Goliath tap takeover
LowDown Brewery, 800 Lincoln St., Denver
Confession: The author of this post may have taken a roundabout route from Chicago to Denver a couple of summers ago to hit Toppling Goliath, tucked away in convenient-to-nowhere Decorah, Iowa. Now Denverites can just venture down to this Broadway brewpub to get a sample of Toppling Goliath’s serious IPA game and Mornin’ Delight imperial stout. Nine beers will be on tap. Don’t miss the brewery’s booth if you’ve got festival tickets, either. The Iowans are back after taking a pass on pouring last year.
Noon to 3 p.m., 4 to 7 p.m.: Colorado Invitational: GABF Kickoff Party; $35
New Image Brewing, 5622 Yukon St., Arvada
You won’t find a much better curated list of Colorado breweries than this event, kind of mellow alternative to the madness that can be the festival hall. The mini-festival will feature the host brewery alongside Odd13 Brewing of Lafayette, WeldWerks Brewing and Wiley Roots out of Greeley, Cerebral Brewing of Denver and 4 Noses Brewing of Broomfield. (Probably not a coincidence: a number of these guys are known for their hazy, juicy New England-style IPAs). Organizers are billing it as “a chance to meet the people behind the beer, ask questions, relax and not worry about rushing around to try everything before it’s gone.” There will be two sessions (times above), and tickets are for sale here for $35 each.
3 p.m. to 6 p.m.: Good Bugs Fermentation = Flavor event
Crafty Fox, 3901 Fox St., Denver
It’s all about the bugs. In case you haven’t been, this roughly year-old beer bar wedged between LoDo and northwest Denver has one of the deepest, most impressive tap lists in town. Chef and cicerone (that’s sort of a beer sommelier) Jensen Cummings is the brains behind this event spotlighting beers specially designed to emphasize flavors from yeast, bacteria and fermentation. Eight collaboration beers will be poured from the likes of Against the Grain, Fremont, Great Divide, Odd13 and River North. More information here.
6 p.m.: What the Funk!? Invitational; $100
Studios at Overland Crossing, 2205 S. Delaware St., Denver
The premier beer nerd event of GABF Week, WTF!? returns for another run featuring a long list of buzz-worthy breweries, some of which are not appearing at the festival proper. The festival, staged by the folks at sour- and wild-beer standout Crooked Stave, found its footing again last year after an overcrowded 2015 event that left people grousing. The $100 ticket isn’t cheap, but organizers this year promise a more intimate gathering (fewer tickets are being sold) and more chances to rub shoulders with brewers. Many past stars will be on hand (Jester King, Rare Barrel) along with debutants Scratch Brewing, Casa Agria Specialty Ales and Casita. Extra bonus: The venue is just off the Evans light rail stop, making for easy, safe travels downtown.
6:30 p.m.: 3rd annual Mercantile Invitational; $150
Mercantile Dining and Provisions, 1701 Wynkoop St., Denver
Speaking of splurging, there are no shortage of excellent beer dinners throughout GABF Week. We picked this one because of the venue’s well-earned reputation and hard-to-get nature of the beer that’s being featured. For $150, you get five courses paired with seven beers from a rock star trio. This is likely the first time that Boston-based Trillium Brewing and California cult brewery Sante Adairus Rustic Ales have poured around these parts. (You can’t go wrong with the third featured brewery, Russian River, which always has long lines at the festival hall). Tickets are $175 at the door but $150 in advance.
9:30 p.m.: All-Star IPA Throwdown
Falling Rock Tap House, 1919 Blake St., Denver
This was featured last year under a different name, and the lines were looooooong. No wonder: No style is more popular than the American-style IPA, and the group of breweries taking over the parking lot in front of the Rock are the best of the best. The hosts are Wyoming-based Melvin Brewing – whose beers you can pick up at finer Denver-area liquor stores – and Vermont’s Lawson’s Finest Liquids, whose Sip of Sunshine IPA is extremely sought-after.
11:30 a.m. to whenever: Casey Brewing and Blending tap takeover
Hops and Pie, 3920 Tennyson St., Denver
Most of the time, a long haul to Glenwood Springs is required to get a hold of Casey beers of this caliber. But for GABF Week, Troy Casey brings a full complement of his exquisite sour beers, and northwestern Denver’s Hops and Pie is the lucky recipient this day. Tappings start at 11:30 a.m. and go ’til it’s all gone. The fruit-packed list includes The Cut: Sour Danube Cherry, Dry Hopped Apricot Casey Family Preservers, Dry Hopped Oak Theory, The Low End, The Cut: Grape, The Cut: Plum, Cherry Fruit Stand, Grape Fruit Stand and Plum Casey Family Reserves.
Noon: Even the Losers Pity Party
Call to Arms Brewing, 4526 Tennyson St., Denver
You have to hand it to the marketing minds at Call to Arms Brewing. The brains behind such tongue-and-cheek creations as Khores Ballroom Beer (get it?) came up with the idea of welcoming brewers whose hearts have just been broken at the Saturday morning medals ceremony. The winners will be traipsing around the festival hall with hardware hanging from their necks, but losers can head to Call to Arms for drink specials and fourth-place consolation medals. (Winners are also welcome). Oh, and this happens to be one of Denver’s best neighborhood breweries.