The sad truth is that most beer festivals have outlived their usefulness. Before craft beer was so widely available, these gatherings offered drinkers a rare chance to try interesting new beers that they couldn't get in their area. This is now a problem that rarely needs solving. Bars with dozens of taplines are proliferating in every city and beer distributors and bottle shops offering hundreds of beers are sprouting up everywhere. Suddenly the idea of plunking down $75 to compete in a four-hour race to drink the same beers we can find in our local pub doesn't hold the same appeal.
Fortunately there are still a few festivals that are still worth our time and money. By focusing on interesting locales, new and rare beers, and an overall great experience you can still have a great time at beer festivals.
Great American Beer Festival
The Great American Beer Festival has been held annually in Denver since 1982. The first iteration of the festival attracted 800 guests who were welcome to try 40 beers from 22 breweries. Things have changed. The event has moved to the Colorado Convention Center in Denver and over 600 breweries now pour 3,100 different beers over the three-day event. The demand amongst brewers to participate is so great that the Brewer's Association now has to use a lottery system to decide who gets to pour. It's not any easier to get in for festival-goers. Despite its ability to hold a staggering 49,000 attendees the festival sells out in minutes.
In most cases a crush of humanity like this would preclude us from even thinking of attending, but sometimes more actually is better. Brewery booths are clustered with other breweries in their region so the layout is ideal for festival-goers to sample beers from far flung areas of the country that they're not typically exposed to. There are also ample opportunities to attend book signings and educational seminars concerning all things beer.
More info: The Great American Beer Festival takes place each fall in Denver Colorado, the 2014 festival is slated for October 2nd through 4th, greatamericanbeerfestival.com.
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