The biggest beer week of the year in Denver is upon us. The 37th annual Great American Beer Festival is open at the Colorado Convention Center, giving 62,000 attendees a chance to check out more than 4,000 beers from 800-plus U.S. breweries, one ounce at a time.
Here’s a quick guide to what’s new this year and some tips for enjoying the fest.
It’s alphabetical: One of the big changes to this year’s fest: breweries will no longer be grouped together by region, but instead arranged alphabetically. We’ll see how this plays out. It was fun to take a miniature road trip around the U.S. brewery scene, but this definitely simplifies efforts to find breweries you want to check out. Of course, you will need to know the alphabet.
Meet the brewers: Walk into a taproom in Colorado and you may end up sharing a glass with the person responsible for brewing your beer. That isn’t always the case at GABF, with its (very much needed!) army of volunteers doling out 1-ounce pours. GABF introduced its “Meet the Brewer” section a few years ago, with booths manned by brewers and brewery staff. This year the popular space has expanded to include up to 165 breweries, a 40 percent increase.
Haze craze: Hazy New England-style IPAs seem to be taking over craft brewing. These murky, smooth, often turbid beers are loaded with hop flavor and aroma and lack the traditional bitterness that has long defined American-style IPAs. Some of them look more like orange juice.
Though many of the most sought-after breweries making hazy IPAs aren’t pouring at GABF, you can find excellent examples of the style on the festival floor. Among those worth checking out: hometown favorite Weldwerks of Greeley, Modern Times of San Diego, Great Notion of Portland, Ore., Night Shift of Everett, Mass., and Pure Project out of San Diego.
PAIRED: The Brewers Association’s intimate PAIRED event in a separate pavilion feels like an entirely different experience than the packed main sessions, offering small bites from renowned chefs from across the country carefully paired with craft beers. It’s a chance to experience why beer is claiming its rightful place on fine dining tables. Bonus: a PAIRED ticket means you don’t have to wait in that line snaking around the building — or make a dinner out of gnawing on your pretzel necklace.