Great American Beer Festival: 5 Things We Loved

It's no small feat to put on the nation's biggest beer festival

PBR threads at the Great American Beer Festival, win.

Several members of The Drink Nation staff attended this year’s Great American Beer Festival in Denver, which is the largest beerfest in America. We joined 49,000 other ticket-holders (including our contest winner) in the Colorado Convention Center to sample the 2,700 different beers being poured at the event. It’s a mammoth undertaking by the Brewers Association, the industry group that puts on the fest, but one that works very well, considering its size. Here are five things we loved about the festival.

1) The Volunteers: Since not all breweries have the time or resources to send a full complement of workers away for a whole weekend, each booth is staffed with at least four volunteers (times 580 breweries, that’s more than 2,300 people). These Denver denizens receive no compensation other than being allowed into the festival, all did a great job on dealing with increasingly tipsy attendees while trying to answer questions about the beers they were pouring — most were quite knowledgeable, thanks to training sessions and just a love of good brew.

Side note: One thing the volunteers did not usually know was the Twitter handle of the brewery they were pouring for, a handy piece of information if you wanted to share some props about a great sudsy new discovery. Next year, it would be great if the Brewers Association printed this info on the title placard that hangs over each booth.

2) The Layout: As in years past, the overwhelming nature of the festival was made easier to handle by the smart organization of breweries into regional sections, each with its own draping color. Looking for your favorite Mid-Atlantic brewery? Head towards yellow. Seeking that killer Portland outfit you’ve heard so much about? Go across the room to the red-clad stands. Denver’s own lined the area in the back, by most of the food vendors, and was packed throughout the evenings.

3) The Cheese Table: Speaking of eats, there were several ways to work food into your fest experience, but our favorite was the long spread set up by the American Cheese Society. It was the third year the organization brought bites of fromage to pair with all the beer, and they delivered with flair. More than 650 pounds of cheese were served from creameries hailing from Utah, New Jersey, Idaho, Missouri, and others, including cheese mainstays Vermont, Wisconsin, and New York. Though the line was long, servers did a good job of making sure it moved quickly.

4) The Silent Disco: Over by the Oskar Blues tent, you could catch a glimpse of what might easily be mistaken for people having oddly rhythmic and highly amusing convulsions. At closer glance, you notice the headphones, and then realize it’s all part of the silent disco. There was no charge, and once you enter the small square and don the earwear, you were in a secret club of folks rocking to a DJ’s music no one else could hear. It made for a reat distraction for both participants and onlookers.

5) Governor John Hickenlooper: While President Barack Obama has gotten a lot of press for the White House home brew, Colorado’s governor actually makes his own beer. He attends the festival annually, and we heard him speak at the festival’s Friday afternoon media luncheon. There’s no doubt Hickenlooper is passionate about the craft brewing industry, and his enthusiasm has been very good for GABF and those who enjoy drinking real beer, wherever it may be found.

Hats off to the Brewers Association. We’re looking forward to 2013!

— Danya Henninger, The Drink Nation

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