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What’s new at GABF 2018? A whole new format, for one

One thing that won’t change: the beer.

The Great American Beer Festival will add new features and more space for the 2018 edition of the event Sept. 20-22 at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. (Photo provided by the Brewers Association)
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The Great American Beer Festival will see major changes and the addition of new attractions when it returns to Colorado next week.

One thing that won’t change: the beer.

More than 4,000 different beers from more than 800 breweries are expected to pour at the Colorado Convention Center for the three-day event, Sept. 20-22. For perspective, a year ago, the beer at the festival would have filled the equivalent of 576,640 12-ounce bottles.

The fresh features may help renew energy at the festival, now in its 37th consecutive year, after slower-than-expected ticket sales this summer.

Here’s a look at what’s new for GABF 2018:

A whole new layout

The festival for years arranged breweries by geographic region — for example, Colorado breweries were located in the Rocky Mountain region while Florida’s brewers held down tables in the Southeast region.

No more.

This year, the breweries will be arranged in alphabetical order, A to Z. The change came after feedback from attendees, organizers said, and it will completely change the flow and lines at the event.

A tip: If a brewery’s name starts with “the,” it will be located under the second word in its name. (For example, The Post Brewing will appear under “Post.”) But if it starts with a number, the brewery will get listed at the top with numbers before letters.

Bigger and bigger

GABF expands each year, and this year is no different. The festival is adding 100,000 square feet, or nearly two football fields, for 2018. The total size is now equivalent to more than 10 football fields.

The space gives the whole festival a little more breathing room between aisles for congregating. It also allows the popular “Meet the Brewer” section to expand to 165 breweries, a 40 percent increase. The section gives beer fans the chance to meet the people who make the brews and beer geeks, like me, the chance to delay the entire line for five minutes to discuss dry-hopping rates. (Sorry!)

The delicious “Paired” section, where brewers and chefs offer a beer and food pairing, also is expanding its space with 25 booths, up from 18 last year. (Note: It requires a special ticket to enter.)

Three new features

Inside the hall, beer fans can explore three new areas, all with different beers.

A Collaboration Booth will showcase beers made in tandem by multiple breweries. The collaboration beers are often unique and limited release. And for the first time they will vie for medals in a new category at the competition.

In the new Jameson Caskmates Barrel-Aged Beer Garden, GABF attendees can indulge in the intersection of spirits and beer. Seventeen breweries partnered with Jameson to make different barrel-aged beers that will pour in a 12,600-square-foot area on the hall’s floor. The breweries include Captain Lawrence, Cigar City, DC Brau, Fat Heads, Great Divide and Heavy Seas.

And sports fans will get their own section this year. Buffalo Wild Wings is sponsoring a sports bar area where fans can try beers while keeping track of their favorite teams on 10 TVs.