Great American Beer Festival 2011

The Great American Beer Festival is a huge event held in Denver, Colorado each Fall. More than 2,000 different beers are available for tasting in 83 beer categories covering 134 beer styles. This year marked the 30th Anniversary of this festival, started by craft beer guru Charlie Papazian. He still attends the festival, and from all accounts is still an avid homebrewer.

This was my fourth consecutive year to attend the festival and the first year I have had a blog to capture my experiences. The festival usually runs three days with a Thursday night session, an Friday night session, A Saturday American Homebrewers Association members only session in the afternoon followed by the Saturday night closing session.

 Generally, I go to the Thursday night session and the members only session on Saturday afternoon.Friday is set aside for pub crawling the wonderful Denver breweries.That was the plan again this year. Some 3,930 beers were entered into the competition this year and gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded to 248 lucky winners as the best American beer for the style. I often find wonderful beers at the festival that did not win a medal, either because the judges (from all over the world) did not find it to their liking or it was not entered in the competition. And I find some winners that I did not care for at all.

With 2,000 different beers on the festival floor, it is an absolute impossibility to try them you need to have some kind of plan of attack. You are given a tasting glass (plastic) and served a one ounce taste of the beers of your choice.

First order of business – get there early. With 50,000 attendees over the three days the line to get in queues up early – easily an hour before the doors open. Bring a friend or a good book. Backpacks are not allowed inside the festival itself.

You can attack it by region. Let’s say you are from New Jersey and you never get any of the beers from California or Washington. The stations are set up by region, so you can camp out in one part of the festival and try different beers from that part of the country. I have found some very wonderful beer from Nebraska, Florida, and Michigan that I will never see on the shelves at the bottles shops where I live.

Another approach is to pick a particular style, say Stout. You can compare stouts from all over the country and compare them. You can try the many varieties of stout (espresso, imperial, oatmeal, bourbon, that maybe you do not have where you live.

A popular approach is to take your tasting glass and head for the shortest lines – for folks who are interested in speed and volume to enhance their overall experience. I am often chided by these folks as I wait in longer lines for specific beers I want to try, or the beer and cheese pairing stations. The festival includes many informative seminars on beer, beer brewing and beer judging that I always find educational. In the two days I attended the festival, I tallied 162 beers – a far cry from the 2,000 available, but far more than I probably ought to have had and still been able to walk. Fortunately, my hotel is right across the street from the Denver Convention Center where the event is being held. And the 16th Street Shuttle was just two blocks away to take me to many good eateries in downtown Denver.

Additional Denver haunts on my DO NOT MISS list are:

The Great Divide Brewery is my favorite Denver brewery, with the Hoss, Claymore, Yeti and others all delightful brews. Other favorites are the Brekenridge Brewery for the Vanilla Porter (try both the ballpark fancy place and the neighborhood location where the brewery is). Wynkoop Brewery, and the Denver Rock Bottom.

For dinner, I love the Denver Chop House. It is a fancy place with very good food but they give beer wanderers in t-shirts and jeans the same first class service as the tuxedo crowd. They also brew beer there. Eating in the bar is a unique experience all its own. Here is what a sampler from the Chop House looks like.

There are several breweries outside of Denver if you plan on making this a vacation. Notably go see New Belgium in Fort Collins and Oskar Blues. And now for the famous event collage!!!!! Click on the image to see it full size. Are you in it? Want a picture?


Photography and content by Bob Shoemaker (
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