The Great American Beer Festival is an overwhelming experience. So it helps to enter with a plan.
Here’s a rundown for beer fans of all types on how to navigate a festival the size of 10 football fields and featuring 4,000 different beers from more than 800 breweries.
Before we get there, a couple of beer service announcements, or BSAs, ahead of Thursday’s opening GABF session at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver.
- The first thing to know is the festival is making a number of changes this year — for one, the breweries are now arranged in alphabetical order. (You know your ABCs, right?)
- The second thing to know is that a number of the best breweries will draw long lines — or even empty kegs before the session ends, so hit your favorites first. (Not to mention, your palate will experience fatigue after a while, so you want to try the nuanced beers first.)
- And third, if you are beer touring in the Denver area, Forbes.com interviewed me about my favorite picks, so check out the piece.
Now that we are on the same page, here’s a guide to GABF 2018 based on what you want to taste.
If you want Hazy IPA …
Join the crowd. This style is all the rage and for good reason.
The best New England-style IPA brewers pouring at the festival include 4 Noses from Colorado, Brieux Carre from Louisiana, Captain Lawrence from New York, Commonwealth from Virginia, Fort George from Oregon, Great Notion from Oregon, Hop Butcher for The World from Illinois, Modern Times from California, Night Shift from Massachusetts, Odd13 from Colorado, Pure Project from California, Reuben’s Brews from Washington, WeldWerks from Colorado and Wren House from Arizona.
For other hazy IPA brewers pouring outside the festival, check out Jonathan Shikes’ great list in Westword. And another bonus: Melvin Brewing typically makes delicious West Coast-styled hop bombs, but be sure to try its new hazy IPA, Cloudy 5000.
If you want to “Make IPA Clear Again” …
Then you are a curmudgeon. (No, not really.) Here are great IPA makers who aren’t part of the haze craze: Beachwood from California, La Cumbre from New Mexico, Highland Park in California, Melvin Brewing from Wyoming, Pelican from Oregon, Russian River from California, Societe from California and Stone from California.
If you don’t want to wait in a line …
Find the “Protect Craft” banner where all the state brewers associations are located. Most people skip this section, but the GABF pros know this is where you can find some of the best beer at the festival because the state associations bring beer from brewers not pouring elsewhere on the floor.
Look for these: Arizona Wilderness from Arizona, D.C. Brau from D.C., Mikerphone from Illinois, Heavy Seas from Maryland, Jolly Pumpkin from Michigan, Fullsteam and Ponysaurus from North Carolina, Interboro from New York, Platform from Ohio, Crux from Oregon and Switchback from Vermont.
If you want past GABF winners …
Visit the “Heavy Medal” section. The entire area is dedicated to past medal winners. It’s a good place to find beers to calibrate your taste buds and drink the best-of-the-best back-to-back.
If you want stouts …
You can go pretty much anywhere. But here’s a few you should definitely try: Avery from Colorado, Bottle Logic from California, Cigar City from Florida, FiftyFifty from California, Great Notion from Oregon, Modern Times from California, WeldWerks from Colorado.
If you like interesting (and sometimes weird) beer …
Be sure to visit the Pro-Am Competition pavilion. Also try these great breweries: Forbidden Root from Illinois, J. Wakefield from Florida, Moody Tongue from Illinois, Parleaux Beer Lab from Louisiana and Right Brain from Michigan and Short’s from Michigan.
If you want sour beers …
Bring the Tums and get your gut ready — there’s some great sour brewers this year. The ones to visit include, Crooked Stave from Colorado, Rare Barrel from California, Libertine from California, Logsdon Farmhouse Ales from Oregon, Parleaux Beer Lab from Louisiana and Speciation Artisan Ales from Michigan.
If you need to satisfy everyone …
You have a number of good options that will please a group of beer drinkers with different preferences.
The go-tos include: Bells from Michigan, Crooked Stave from Colorado, Deschutes from Oregon, Great Divide from Colorado, Firestone Walker from California, Fremont from Washington, New Belgium from Colorado, Russian River from California, Stone from California, Telluride from Colorado and WeldWerks from Colorado.
If you want to find a guy in a bow tie (aka me) …
Then visit all those hazy IPA breweries and all the state beer association booths listed above.
Other breweries I’m excited to taste this year include Abnormal from California, Barrel Theory and Forager from Minnesota, Fremont from Washington, More Brewing from Illinois, New Glarus from Wisconsin, Pure Project from California, Rhinegeist from Ohio, Speciation from Michigan and Three Floyds from Indiana.