Beer Man

GABF Growing Grander This Year, Adding a Barrel-Aged Beer Garden

Danielle Lirette for Westword
The largest, most complex beer-tasting festival and competition in the world is getting even bigger.

When the Great American Beer Festival rolls into town on September 20, it will feature another 100,000 square feet of space at the Colorado Convention Center, bringing the total to about 584,000 square feet.

Although festival organizers at the Boulder-based Brewers Association haven’t revealed all the specifics of what will go into the new spaces, they did unveil part of their plan this week.

A new, 12,600-square-foot “beer garden” will feature limited-edition barrel-aged beers from seventeen breweries that have been a part of Jameson Irish Whiskey’s Caskmates program, an exchange arrangement in which brewers visit the distillery, located in County Cork, Ireland, and then age their own beer in used Jameson barrels. Jameson has also aged some of its whiskeys in used beer barrels. Some of the breweries that have participated include Black Abbey, Captain Lawrence, Cigar City, DC Brau and Denver’s own Great Divide.

“We are very excited,” says BA spokeswoman Ann Obenchain. “This is a very unique and small and independent brewery-focused activation.”

Danielle Lirette for Westword
Obenchain says the organization expects to announce another sponsored special area in the new space within the next few weeks, but notes that the Jameson Caskmates Barrel-Aged Beer Garden will be the larger of the two. There are plans to add more games and “hangout spaces” in the new festival area, too, she adds.

The Brewers Association is still discussing whether it will sell more tickets to the very crowded festival because of this year's expansion. “If we do, it will be nominal,” Obenchain explains. “What we are most interested in doing is enhancing attendee experience.”

GABF’s last major expansion took place in 2015, when the convention center, after several years of negotiation, finally allowed the festival to add 100,000 square feet, which was used to introduce a new section called the Meet-the-Brewer area. Featuring larger booths that were staffed by brewery employees rather than volunteers, it was a much-needed and welcome addition. The BA also upped the number of attendees over the festival’s four sessions, from 49,000 to 59,000 that year.

The past three years have seen several other positive changes at the festival, including more seating areas, an expanded Brewpub Pavilion, and the Heavy Medal booth featuring pours from previous award winners. The Jameson barrel-aged beer garden should be yet another bonus.

Tickets to the festival, which runs from September 20 through September 22 (it's a few weeks earlier this year than usual) go on sale July 31 to members of the Brewers Association and the American Homebrewers Association, and on August 1 to the general public.