There is nothing like the Great American Beer Festival anywhere on earth. Featuring 2,000 beers from more than 450 breweries, it is the largest craft beer fest in the world, and a trip to Denver is on the life lists of every beer lover in the United States.
But it can also be a bit of a frat party, especially when you are thirtieth in line, waiting to sample brews with a group of drunken 21-year-olds wearing pretzel necklaces.
What to do? Well, GABF is always changing, and this year is no exception. Aside from the earlier-than-normal date -- the festival takes place September 16-18 -- here are five new things about the 2010 incarnation:
Support Your Local Brewery Pavilion The festival had a small version of this in 2009, says GABF director Nancy Johnson. "But we are making it the centerpiece of the festival this year. It will be right in the middle of the floor." Details are still being worked out, but the pavilion will feature interactive displays of items used in the brewing process, like malt, hops and a one-barrel brewing system (currently at the Ninkasi Brewing Company in Eugene, Oregon).
Twelve different brewery guilds will be pouring beer and representing their states. "It's sort of the beer tourism area," Johnson says.
New Beer Categories to Try There are four new categories of beer included in the judging this year, bringing the total to 79 (along with a couple dozen sub-categories). To see them all, along with full descriptions, log onto the GABF website here. The new ones are:
American-style India black ale: This style has been gaining in popularity, as more breweries add it to their lineup. Boulder's Twisted Pine Brewing will celebrate its fifteenth anniversary in July with Hoppy Knight India-style Black Ale.
Wood and Barrel Aged Strong Stout: These are the bad boys of beer, potent, powerful and sometimes hard to drink. Some well-known Colorado examples include Great Divide's Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout; bourbon barrel-aged Ten FIDY from Oskar Blues and Legend of the Liquid Brain Imperial Stout, which recently won gold at the World Beer Cup for the Bull & Bush Brewery in Denver.
Field Beer: These are beers using vegetables that provide "obvious (ranging from subtle to intense), yet harmonious, qualities," but not including herbal or spice beers, chile beers or pumpkin beers. Examples include, um...well, I can't think of any at the moment.
Pumpkin Beer: We all know what these are, and while some of us loathe them and some of us love them, no one can deny how many are released in October. I think I saw at least a dozen on liquor store shelves last year.
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IPAs Set a Record There will be more than 150 IPAs competing for awards this year, making the category the largest one ever. On the other end, the smallest category this year will be for Gluten Free Beers, which has sixteen entries.
73 New Breweries The Boulder-based Brewers Association, which produces and hosts GABF, says there will be 73 new breweries pouring suds this year in the hall. Some, like the new Pizza Port location in Ocean Beach, California, are related to regular attendees. Others aren't. A list of the new breweries hasn't been released yet; Westword will post it when it is.
Farm to Table Pavilion The Brewers Association showcased a smaller version of this in 2009 as well. But the pavilion - which requires a special ticket -- will be bigger this year. Here, beers not available elsewhere at the festival will be paired with small plates of food prepared with local ingredients. Chefs, farmers and brewers will talk to attendees.
Follow Westword's Beer Man on Twitter at @ColoBeerMan.