The Great American Beer Festival (GABF), aka Denver’s sudsiest weekend, has come and gone, leaving attendees with multi-day hangovers and (hopefully) plenty of great memories. Now in its 36th year, the festival displayed a different look, focusing on a more efficient layout designed to create more elbow room in the Colorado Convention Center for the thousands of festival-goers. But looks aside, this year’s GABF had an altogether different vibe, with less shenanigans, plenty of emerging stars, and new beer styles to fawn over. Here are the top five trends we noticed at 2017’s fest.
Less Drama: In place of breweries pushing the boundaries of the festival’s restrictions on booth height and incorporating over-the-top design elements, this year’s GABF had a scaled-back look that seemed to mimic an overall trend taking place in the industry as whole. Breweries eschewed the extravagant antics and distracting decorations in favor of emphasizing their beer offerings.
Earthy Flavors: The craft beer industry has seen a lot of trends come and go in the past decade. The super hopped-up IPA phase transitioned into a sour beer movement, which then evolved into a session IPA fixation that saw breweries trying to outdo each other’s full-flavored, low ABV beers. At this year’s fest, it was clear that a new trend is on its way in: earthy beers. These brews are often created through spontaneous fermentation and adjuncts (i.e. wild yeast, fruit, and herbs like lavender, rose hips, and juniper berries), and it seemed like almost every booth this year had one. Denver’s own Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales beer was highly sought after, and the brewery ran out of beer early on in each session. Black Project’s Roswell: Grudge, a Lambic-inspired brew with fresh raspberries, took home the silver medal in the Experimental Beer category.
Beercations: This year’s fest had a brand-new section, and it was a popular one. The beer travel area was made up of several conventions and visitors’ bureaus in beer-loving cities across the country, and they were working hard to showcase their areas’ unique craft beer scenes. Festival-goers were loving it, gobbling up pamphlets and kitschy souvenirs from each destination, including Denver; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Santa Rosa, California; and Memphis, Tennessee.
Big, Bold and Barrel-Aged: Attendees searching for big flavors were in luck at this year’s GABF. Brews such as Tampa-based Cigar City Brewing Company’s Marshal Zhukov’s Penultimate Push—an 11.5 percent ABV whooper of an imperial stout brewed with coffee beans and vanilla—were everywhere. (Bonus: The brewery recently launched distribution in Colorado, which means this robust beer is likely available at a liquor store near you.)
Another winner in this category included Loveland Aleworks’ bold-but-balanced Fifth Anniversary Tequila Sour, which earned a bronze medal in the Wood-and-Barrel-Aged Sour Beer category. Costume-clad attendees also waited in long lines to snag tastes of Oskar Blues Brewery’s iconic and oh-so-boozy barrel-aged Death by Coconut porter and City Star Brewing’s Scoundrel, a deliciously sour brown ale aged in oak Cabernet barrels.
Colorado Winners: With roughly 334 breweries operating in Colorado (ranked second in number only to the much-larger state of California) Colorado breweries typically have a good showing at the annual GABF awards ceremony. But this year, breweries in the Centennial State cleaned up. Thirty-eight medals were handed out to Colorado breweries, including a silver medal in the Munich-Style Dunkel or European-Style Dark Lager category to first-time winner, Wibby Brewing. Co-founder Ryan Wibby stole the show when he dropped to one knee to propose to his longtime girlfriend while accepting his medal for the Moondoor Dunkel. (She said yes!) Other local winners include Denver Beer Company, Dry Dock Brewing, Cellar West Artisan Ales, Wiley Roots, and Launch Pad Brewery.