11 Reasons to Drop Everything and Go to the Great American Beer Festival

Credit: Doug Pensinger / Getty Images

The largest ticketed beer festival and commercial competition in the world descends on Colorado this Thursday. Here’s why you want to check out the 33rd annual Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in Denver — even if you can’t score a ticket to the main event.

1. You Can Try Beers from 49 States
This is a one-of-a-kind chance to try as many regional brews as you can handle and see what people are drinking everywhere in the U.S. (except Mississippi).

2. …. And More Than 700 Breweries
Pouring for more than 49,000 attendees.

3. Not to Mention 145 Styles of Beer
"It can be a little overwhelming," says Barbara Fusco, Marketing Director at the Brewers Association and a spokesperson for the event. "The beauty is that the average person has a lot of fun making heads or tales of all the different styles of beer — whether fruit beers, sour beers, wheat beers, gluten-free beers, or, you know, the hoppiest of hoppy beers."

4. This Year, Pumpkin Beers Get Their Due
For all fans of Pumpking, Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale, and their ilk, this is the first year that the increasingly popular pumpkin beer style will have its own category (previously, it was a sub-category of Field Beer).

5. The Food Isn’t An Afterthought
There will be 14 brewery and chef pairings served at the Farm to Table Pavilion as well as numerous demonstrations on cooking with (and for) beer. Their Goal? "To help beer reclaim its place at the dinner table," says Fusco.

6. You Can Learn to Taste Like a Pro
GABF is also one of the world’s most watched beer competitions — respected for its blind tasting that’s guided by style guidelines rather than subjective preference. At the Judge Pavilion, some of the top beer tasters in the country will hold mock-tastings and show off just how they separate the good from the great from the winners.

7. Colorado's Politicians Are Competing There
At this year's festival, Colorado lawmakers will compete against each other for brewing prowess in "Hop the Vote." The House of Representatives and Colorado Senate will team up with a local brewery and compete. Unfortunately, former brewmaster and current Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is not in the competition (we're assuming because it wouldn't be much of a contest if he were). 

8. It’s in Denver
It's one of the sunniest cities in the country and has over 30 breweries in city limits, a growing restaurant scene, barbecue, a bike share, and cocktail-themed bookstores.

9. Falling Rock Tap House Is In Rare Form
Perhaps the top craft beer bar in the world, Denver’s Falling Rock Tap House is a festival unto itself this week, with a half dozen special offerings — and one of the few places outside of California where Russian River’s Pliny is always on tap.

10. The Roaming Parties
"A whole series of satellite events have emerged kind of in the orbit of GABF," says Fusco. The Denver convention and visitors bureau puts on a week of events, they call it Denver Beer Fest, but it’s the one-offs from visiting and local breweries — pairing dinners, rare tappings, parties — that are nearly as much of a draw as the festival itself.

11. You Can Legally Celebrate Pints and Pipes
The festival organizers assure us craft beer and pot (legal in the state of Colorado for nearly two years now) do not go hand-in-hand, at least at this festival. By our estimation, there is only one (off-site) event where the cultures meet — Ska Brewery’s Pints and Pipes. While pot remains illegal federally, this is a social pairing that will likely remain on the sly.