The Great American Beer Festival is the biggest, most well-known beer festival in the world. But there are only about 55,000 tickets issued for the three-day event, which starts Thursday -- and they sold out in a record seven days this year. Still, sometimes the best parts of the GABF aren't inside the Colorado Convention Center, but outside the hall, in the rest of the city.
From after-hours parties to unusual tappings, here are ten ways to get your beer geek on -- even if you don't have a ticket to the main event.
Great Divide Beer Lounge Wednesday through Friday In addition to its expanded tasting room, which should be ready later this week, Great Divide will also have its Beer Lounge set up outside the brewery with comfy furniture, live music, food and beer. The Beer Lounge is open during tasting hours. Music for the week will be from Bonnie & the Beard (Thursday, from 6 to 9 p.m.), the Kentucky Street Parlor Pickers (Friday, from 6 to 9 p.m.) and Fallen Pines (Saturday, 6 to 9 p.m.).
Rackhouse Rare Beer Tasting Wednesday, 6 to 9 p.m.; $35 The Rackhouse Pub will offer an insane lineup of seasonal, rare or unusual Colorado beers that you'd never find any place besides the GABF -- and here. The list includes: Ska Brewing's Sethvleteren 8, Hoperation Ivy and Toasters Shebeen Black IPA; Great Divide's Stranahan's Barrel Aged Yeti Imperial Stout and Fresh Hop Ale; Bristol Brewing's 2003 Oud Bruin, 2004 Grand Cru and 2005 Cuvee; Left Hand's 2008 Twin Sister IPA, 2009 Oak Aged Imperial Stout and 2008 Smoke Jumper; Dry Dock's Swabby Belgian Quad, Stranahan's Old Bligh's Barley Wine, and White Tail Chardonnay Barrel Sour Wit; Funkwerks Brewing's Chardonnay Barrel Blonde, Southern Tropic and Cherry Saison; New Belgium's Transatlantique Kriek; Crazy Mountain's Single Batch Sticky Fingers Fresh-Hop Harvest Ale, Lava Lake Wit and Hookiebob IPA; AC Golden's Baltic Porter and Bock; Oskar Blues's Stranahan's Barrel Aged Cherry Sour Ten Fidy; Elk Mountain's Biere de Garde; Strange Brew's Cherry Kriek, Farmhouse Ale and 7 Barrel Saison; and brews from Avery, Breckenridge, Odell, Upslope and Wynkoop.
Ignite Denver 10 Wednesday, 6 p.m., $10 Ignite Denver 10 is an unusual event at the Sherman Events Center, 1770 Sherman Street, that will feature fifteen or so courageous beer lovers presenting five-minute beer-related slide shows. Oh, and a $10 ticket gets you several beers from Ska, Great Divide, Odell and Renegade Brewing, along with cider from Colorado Cider. Sounds like a hot mess? It should be. Co-organized by Denver Off the Wagon, the lineup of speakers includes such beer celebrities as Stone Brewing's Greg Koch, blogger Ashley "The Beer Wench" Routson, Ska Brewing's Dave Thibodeau, Odell's Amanda Johnson, along with some everyday people who just want to be made fun of. And then there's...me. Afterward, there will be an Ignite after party at Star Bar, which will have many beers on tap, including the Fifth Horseman Saison, AC Golden Star Sour, Crooked Stave Wild, Wild Brett Rouge, Odell Hiverano, Funkwerks Cochon, Oskar Blues Home Grown Hops, Great Divide 2010 Grand Cru and 2009 Hibernation, and New Belgium Super Cru, Abbey Grand Cru, and Dunkelweiss.
Belgian Knights Wednesday, 6 p.m. at the Cheeky Monk, 534 East Colfax Avenue Does the Cheeky Monk Belgian Beer Cafe make you dream of Belgian nights? How about Belgian Knights? Cheeky Monk owner James Pachorek, who was recently inducted into the Knighthood of the Brewers' Mash Staff (on honor doled out by the Belgian brewers' guild), and Stone Brewing beer celebrity Greg Koch, who is also a Knight of the Mash Staff, will be pouring some special barrel-aged Stone beers beginning at 6 p.m.
Dogfish Head Wood-Aged Beers Thursday, 12:30 p.m., Euclid Hall Join representatives from the acclaimed Dogfish Head Brewing at Euclid Hall, where they will discuss -- and sip from -- wood-aged beers like Burton Baton and Red and White. Bottles of both beers will also be available for purchase at the bar.
Falling Rock Kill-A-Keg Friday, 12 p.m. Every year during the Great American Beer Festival, Falling Rock Taphouse, 1919 Blake Street, taps a keg of Sierra Nevada's fresh-hopped Harvest Ale to see how fast they can pour and kill it. Every year, Falling Rock owner Chris Black beats his own record (he does the pouring): In 2010, it only took nine minutes and 53 seconds. Can he beat that? Find out at noon, and then stick around for more fresh-hopped Sierra Nevada beers at 12:30 and some Avery rarities, like Fred's Mom, Beast and Samaels (aged two years), at 2 p.m.
Christian DeBenedetti book signing Thursday, 1 to 3 p.m., Ale House at Amato's Meet author and writer Christian DeBenedetti, who will sign copies of his new book, The Great American Ale Trail: The Craft Beer Lover's Guide to the Best Watering Holes in the Nation, from 1 to 3 p.m. at Ale House at Amato's, 2501 16th Street.
A Night of Light & Dark Thursday, 11 p.m. to 2 a.m., Freshcraft and Blake Street Vault Freshcraft, 1530 Blake Street, and the next-door Blake Street Vault will team up for a Night of Light & Dark from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m., featuring rare and specialty beers from the Alaskan, Stone and Odell breweries. Freshcraft will have the dark beers, while the Vault will have the lighter ones. Beers at Freshcraft include Alaskan Brewing Perseverance Ale (on tap), Odell Bourbon Barrel Stout (in a firkin), and Stone's 15th Anniversary Escondidian Imperial Black IPA (in bottles); Blake Street Vault beers include Alaskan Pilot Series Raspberry Wheat and Stone Ruination.
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Colorado Huge, Exotic, Esoteric, and Rare (CHEERS) Friday 10 p.m., Falling Rock Taphouse, $40 Hardcore beer geeks are going to turn out for this event, which is being held as a fundraiser for the Colorado Brewers Guild. Why? Well, in part to see TV star and Dogfish owner Sam Calagione pour Palo Santo infused with local coffee through the beer that Randall thought he made famous. And in part because the Guild and Chris Black of Falling Rock asked the ten participating brewers to bring something that they aren't serving anywhere else during GABF week, in or outside the hall. Oskar Blues, for instance, is bringing its last five-gallon keg of The Duke, a sour brown ale aged for five years. Other beers include Avery Immitus, a barrel-aged sour; Boulder Beer's Mortimer, a barrel-aged blend of Mojo IPA and Planet Porter; and Great Divide's A Love Supreme, a barrel-aged saison with brettanomyces). Wristbands for CHEERS will go on sale about 9 p.m. downstairs at Falling Rock; $40 gets you a half-pint pour of each beer.
Hangover Beer Brunch with Maui Brewing Sunday, 10 a.m. at Oskar Blues Homemade Liquids and Solids in Longmont; $30 You'll be hungover by Sunday morning, and although most people will be packing away their beer-drinking shoes or heading out of town, Oskar Blues will host a Hangover Beer Brunch with Maui Brewing, which also cans its big, delicious beers -- like Coconut Porter and Big Swell IPA. Join the Oskar Blues crew and Maui's Garret Marrero at 10 a.m. at Oskar Blues Homemade Liquids and Solids at 10 a.m.; tickets are $30.