This week marks the start of one of the most attended and talked about craft beer festivals in the country. With more than 62,000 expected attendees sipping on 4000 different beers put out by 800 breweries from across the country, this year’s Great American Beer Festival is shaping up to be the biggest craft beer party ever.

Changes From 2017

Each year, brewers from across the country descend on Denver, CO, to network, drink, pour, and celebrate the craft of brewing beer. While GABF tickets used to sell out the day tickets were released, this year there were Thursday night tickets available leading up to that first session. This was because organizers added an extra 100,000 square feet to the event footprint which is a 17% increase from last year, allowing them to sell an extra 2000 tickets. That’s good news for slackers and procrastinators but there are usually people selling tickets to get in outside the event center each evening if you want to try and attend last minute.

One of the simplest changes made this year, with possibly the biggest impact on attendees, was to organize the breweries by alphabetical order rather than geographical region. With 4000 beers spread out in a hall the size of 8 football fields, not being able to find breweries was an issue, so this is a welcomed change.

Another change this year is the addition of hazy IPAs to the GABF competition category list. This was the first year that breweries could submit beers in “Juicy or Hazy Pale Ales,” “Juicy or Hazy IPAs,” and “Juicy or Hazy Double IPAs.” While scoring beers on their perceived “juiciness” might have seemed like a joke a few years ago, make no mistake, these categories will be turning out some fierce competition this year.

If throngs of crowds aren’t your thing, Denver’s got your back. As much fun as the actual festival is are all the craft beer related events happening at breweries and bars throughout the week leading up to GABF. September 14th kicked off Denver Beer Fest (their beer week) and there are more than 160 beer-centered events leading up to and happening during GABF. Whether you like sours, barrel-aged beers or have a hankering for firkins, there is something for every craft beer lover happening in Denver this time of year.

The More You Know…

Having been lucky enough to attend GABF before, there are a few things that stuck with me:

1. Not only is the festival incredibly fun but everyone I met seemed to be in a fantastic mood. Furthermore, I’ve never seen such happy or well-prepared volunteers at a festival before and considering there are more than 4000 volunteers, that’s a pretty big feat. In fact, it’s pretty hard to get a job volunteering for this festival and you have to be recommended by a previous volunteer to get the coveted job of pouring the beer for attendees.

2. You will not get to try all the beers you want to. Just accept it now, you will have to prioritize.  With 4000 beers to taste, you really have to geographically plan out your strategy for getting to the beers you want to taste in the time allowed. Especially considering some of the most popular booths have long lines and the fact that you also need to cover 585,000 sq. feet of convention center to get to those beers. Luckily, the organizers have got you covered and you can download a GABF app that you can use to map out your drinking for the night.

3. Don’t expect to use your cell phone while in the conference center. Last year, there was always a point in the session where the number of people simply overloaded whatever cell network/WIFI they had going on in the great hall. This can be an issue when you split up from your friends and don’t talk about a meetup point and it’s surprisingly difficult to pick out your people from a crowd of 20,000.

Thorn at GABF

We sent our crazy Thorn brew crew to Denver on Wednesday to represent so if you are GABF bound, make sure to stop by our booth and say hello. That was one of the most fun parts of being there last year, meeting all the new and old Thorn fans and chatting with so many great people. This year we entered four beers from Thorn North Park and four from Thorn Barrio. Our brewers worked incredibly hard to not only brew these beers but to bottle and ship them so that they arrive in peak condition. Here are the beers we entered along with the categories they were entered in. If you want to watch the awards ceremony live, you can tune into the Brewing Network for their live stream starting at 10 am in Denver (9 am here in San Diego).

Thorn Beer GABF Entries
  • Relay IPA – American IPA (Thorn Brewing Barrio Logan) – Cat. 62
  • Barrio Lager – American Lager (BL) – Cat. 38.a
  • Cinderella’s Midnight Ride – Pumpkin Spice (BL) – Cat. 6.b
  • Hopster Pot – Hazy/Juicy IPA  (BL) – Cat. 63
  • BA Abbey Roof Belgian Quad – Wood-Aged Strong Beer (Thorn Street Brewery North Park) – Cat. 28
  • Gutter Clown – American Strong Pale (NP) – Cat. 61
  • Dank Rizzo – American IPA (NP) – Cat. 62
  • ES Beetleguise – Extra Special Bitter (NP) – Cat. 71.b

– Anna Brigham