5 Biggest Trends of the 2017 Great American Beer Festival

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 CompanyDry Dock BrewingCellar West Artisan AlesWiley Roots, and Launch Pad Brewery.

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Anderson's own Carolina Bauernhaus Ales Wins Gold Medal at Great American Beer Festival

One of the biggest events in craft beer, the Great American Craft Beer Festival in Denver, got a taste of South Carolina over the weekend. 

And it liked it. 

Several Upstate breweries participated in the GABF (as it's called) by pouring, competing and attending, but it was Anderson's own Carolina Bauernhaus Ales that made the biggest splash by winning a coveted gold medal in the competition. 

Nearly 100 categories of beer were awarded gold, silver and bronze medals as the best of 2017 including Carolina Bauernhaus Ales' Optunia in the "experimental beer" category. 

"It was a huge honor to win a gold," said Keston Helfrich, head brewer and co-owner of Carolina Bauernhaus Ales. "With over 8,000 beer judged in 98 categories and 300 medals handed out, it's great to be among them."

Optunia is part of Carolina Bauernhaus' "Source Series" of beers. Just about everything about the beer is local from the prickly pear used to flavor to the lactobacilus that gave it the distinctive sourness. 

In the "experimental beer" category itself, Bauernhaus went up again 93 other entries including bronze winner Four Day Ray Brewing out of Indiana and silver winner and Denver's own Black Project Spontaneous and Wild Ales. 

"When I heard second place, I said 'We're done,'" Helfrich said. "It's definitely a rush to hear your brewery called."

Carolina Bauernhaus was represented by the co-owners of the brewery, Helfrich, David Thornton and Brad Thomas. They attended the festival from Thursday through Saturday and returned from Denver with hardware in hand on Sunday. 

Carolina Bauernhaus was also the only South Carolina brewery to bring home a medal for 2017. 

As for the beer, the 2017 batch of Optunia is barreled now, but a release date won't be known until "the beer tells us its ready," Helfrich said. Until then, it might make a surprise appearance from time to time at the taproom located at 115 W. Federal St. in downtown Anderson. 

Colorado Breweries Win 38 Medals at the Great American Beer Festival

Another Great American Beer Festival has come and gone, and with it our beloved state of Colorado has taken 38 medals including 13 gold medals from 37 breweries total — Lone Tree Brewing based out of Lone Tree, Colorado took home both a gold and silver medal. There were 296 medals awarded at this years event.

Below, find a comprehensive list in alphabetical order of all 38 winners and their winning brews:

  • 105 West Brewing Co. — Castlerock brewery took home silver in the American Wheat-style category for its Lemon Rye.
  • Baere Brewing Co. — Denver-based brewery took home bronze in the Berliner-style Weisse category for its Blackberry Table Sour.
  • Black Project Spontaneous and Wild Ales — Denver-based brewery took home silver in the Experimental Beer category for its Rosewell: Grudge brew.
  • Breckinridge Brewing Co. (Littleton) — This Littleton brewery took home bronze in the Bock category for its Mountain Series: Maibock.
  • Broken Plough Brewery — Greeley brewery placed bronze in the Herb and Spiced Beer category for its Ale.
  • Bull and Bush Brewery — Denver-based brewery took home a bronze medal in the Wood and Barrel-aged category for its Woody Pils.
  • Cannonball Creek Brewing Co. — This Golden brewery took silver for its Black 28 in the American-style Black Ale category.
  • Cellar West Artisan Ales — This Boulder brewery took silver for its Make Hay in the Specialty Saison category.
  • Coopersmith’s Pub & Brewing — The Fort Collins brewery took home gold for its English-style IPA, Punjabi.
  • CO-Brew — Denver brewery placed bronze in the Specialty Saison category for its Farmhouse Saison.
  • Copper Club Brewing — This Fruita brewery placed gold in the American-style Amber/Red category with the F-Town Amber.
  • Dry Dock Brewing Co. (South Dock) — Aurora-based brewery took home silver in the German-style Pilsner category for its Pilsner brew.
  • Elk Mountain Brewing Co. — This Parker based brewery took home bronze in the German-style Koelsch for its Downhill Kolsch.
  • Finkel & Garf Brewing Co. — The Boulder brewery took home gold for its Sweet Stoudt/Cream Stoudt, Oatmeal Milk Stoudt.
  • Funkwerks Inc. — This Fort Collins-based brewery took home gold for its Classic Saison, Saison.
  • Grimm Brothers Brewhouse — Loveland brewery took home bronze in the German-style Altbier for its Little Red Cap brew.
  • Gordon Biersch Brewing — The Broomfield-based brewery took home bronze for its Hefeweizen in the South German Hefeweizen category.
  • Ironworks Brewery & Pub — Lakewood brewery took home silver in the Historical Beer category for its Hilltopper’s Pride Kentucky Common Ale.
  • Jessup Farm Barrel House — Based out of Fort Collins, this brewery took home gold in the Brett Beer category for its Fancy Pants brew.
  • Launch Pad Brewery — This Aurora-based brewery took home silver for its Peacekeeper beer in the Session Beer category.
  • Loveland Aleworks — based out of Loveland, this brewery took home bronze for its 5th Anniversary Tequila Sour in the Wood and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer category.
  • Little Machine Beer — Denver brewery took home gold in the American-style fruit beer category for its Razz Against the Machine.
  • Lone Tree Brewing — Lone Tree-based brewery took home both gold in the American style Lager/Malt Liquor category for its Mexican Lager and silver in the Imperial Red category for its Hop Zombie brew.
  • New Terrain Brewing — Golden based brewery took home silver in the Belgium-style Witbier category for its Suntrip brew.
  • Odyssey Beerwerks — This Arvada brewery took home silver in the Wood and Barrel-Aged Strong Stoudt category for its Woods Monk beer.
  • Our Mutual Friend Brewing — Denver brewery took home silver in the Brett Beer category for its Trystero.
  • Pug Ryan’s Brewing Co. — Dillon-based brewery took home bronze for its Dunkel beer in the Munich-style Dunkel/European-style Dark Lager category.
  • Rockyard American Grill & Brewing Co. — This Castlerock brewery took home gold for Wood and Barrel Aged Sour, Plum Creek Sour.
  • SquarePeg Brewerks — Alamosa-based brewery took home gold for the Historical Beer category for its Waverly Tulip brew.
  • The Sandlot Brewery — Denver-based brewery took home gold for the Smoke Beer category for its So Long and thanks for all the (smoked) fish.
  • Twisted Pine Brewing Co. — This Boulder brewery took home silver for its Patio Pounder in the Session India Pale Ale category.
  • WeldWerks Brewing Co. — This Greeley brewery took home gold for the Wood and Barrel-aged Strong Stoudt for its Medianoche beer.
  • Wiley Roots Brewing Co. — Another Greeley-based brewery that took home gold for the Mixed Culture Brett Beer category for its Galaxy Dry Hopped Funk Yo Couch beer.
  • Wibby Brewing — Longmont-based brewery took home silver in the Munich-style Dunkel/European-style Dark Lager category for its Moondoor Dunkel.

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What You'll Be Drinking in 2018 According to GABF Trends

The final beers have been poured, the last pretzels have been consumed and most importantly all of the hardware for the 2017 Great American Beer Festival has been handed out. Colorado took home 37 medals including 13 Gold, 13 Silver and 9 Bronze – the state also swept the Pro-Am Competition.

Now it’s time to look forward – GABF is the indicator of what to expect in the upcoming year for beer when it comes to style trends, ABVs and or even ingredient sourcing. This year’s festival had no shortage of unique beers and noticeable trends— but while some were expected others were definitely not. After visiting as many booths as possible, we have broken down what we believe you can expect in beer over this next year.

Sour and Barrel Aged Beers Will Continue to Dominate

This year there were two distinct styles. And while they aren’t new, they showed the growth they are experiencing within the beer world. Not so long ago wild and sour beers were few and far between at GABF – just a few select breweries showcasing their ability to manipulate the style. Breweries such as New Belgium, The Rare Barrel and Russian River had long dabbled in this style.

In the beginning, to the average beer drinker nationwide, this particular style could be intimidating but that is no longer the case. The sour movement has grown – other breweries such as Black Project Wild and Spontaneous Ales, Crooked Stave, Odd Side Ales and Forager Brewing Company to just to name a few have made the prevalent in every aisle of GABF. The beer is not just more approachable because of its newfound mass availability but because the beers themselves have become more approachable. Balanced by fruit and experience some of the sours have become more less pucker-worthy, inviting in new people to the style. For example, the Rhubarb Vanilla Incipient from Speciation Artisan Ales was sour in how it played off the rhubarb flavor but light with the vanilla backend making it downright sessionable.  Avance from Allagash Brewing Company started out with a medium strawberry bite but as it moved across your tongue the hints of the oak it was aged in became more pronounced.  Instead of finishing with a sour bite, it finished dry and easy. Avery Brewing Company’s Apricot and Ginger Sours were also poured in mass next to its beloved stouts such as Tweak – further illustrating how these fruited sour beers are going from niche to mainstream.

The other style that continues to build momentum and in turn foster expansion is barrel-aged beers. While its existence and dominance on the beer scene isn’t anything new – it’s the focus on adjunct flavors at this year’s GABF that deserves our attention. It’s no longer about being the best imperial stout in a Bourbon barrel for today’s craft beer drinker – they want to know, what are you adding to that barrel? The longest lines at GABF were for the beer special adjunct flavors – Toppling Goliath with Morning Delight added espresso, vanilla and maple to its beer. And then, if you were lucky enough (it wasn’t listed) a few people at GABF did get to try the elusive Medianoche Reserve from WeldWerks Brewing Company – an imperial stout with cacao nibs, vanilla beans and toasted coconut. While these sort of adjunct flavors were expected, other breweries have added even more to those barrels. Fremont’s Rusty Nail features licorice and cinnamon — giving the beer a slightly spicy complex. And while it wasn’t a stout – Short’s Brewing Company’s barrel-aged Bourbon Black Cherry Porter was fermented with sweet black cherries to enhance the complexity of the Bourbon flavor. These beers are showing it’s more than just coffee, vanilla and cacao nibs coming in big beers.

New England IPAs Aren’t Going Anywhere

The search for the haziest New England style IPA continues – or it might be fair to say the haze craze has officially enveloped the entire country. But still, there is no official category for the beer style at GABF. It is hard to make sense of it all — how can a beer be so popular and have so many breweries dedicated to mastering it and still not get the chance for recognition? There are many theories on why — Westword‘s Jonathan Shikes offers his opinion here — but in the end, the lines were long and those breweries are prospering.

Some of the haziest beers this year didn’t even come out of the East Coast. Great Notion Brewing pushed the limits with its Juice Box – it legitimately looked like juice but burst with citrusy hoppy goodness. Tucked away at the Michigan Brewers Guild table was M-43 from Old Nation Brewing (who didn’t have a table at GABF) – letting everyone know that Michigan can produce dank, hazy IPAs juice bombs as well. The East Coast did have representation in first-time attendee Lord Hobo with its Boomsauce – a beer molded in the tradition of what you can expect from those New England Style IPAs.

Noticeably absent from GABF were some of the biggest hitters in this style of IPA — would a new category change that? If the category arrived in 2018 surely breweries suchs as Monkish, Tree House, Trillium and Other Half would have to contemplate making the trip to Denver. 

Botanical Beers are What’s Next

While it was clearly a year of perfecting at GABF, that doesn’t mean there aren’t people pushing the boundaries of beer. This particular distinction goes to botanical beers and breweries that are using a wide variety of plants beyond hops. In particular, Scratch Brewing from Illinois has been at the forefront of this movement for several years and is undoubtedly a leader of this pack when it came to the 2017 GABF participants. The brewery, located in the Shawnee National Forest, is known for its foraged brews that are made using a wide variety of plants. A couple years ago they made a splash with the single tree series when they brewed a beer using tree sap instead of water. This year, they returned to the tree concept by making beers from different elements of the tree including seeds, bark, roots, flowers and leaves. But the brewery was not alone with its botanical driven beers.

Forbidden Root, also from Illinois (but this time Chicago) brought the botanical beers from the forest to the city with an entire line of botanical beers. This included the Fernetic, a beer made with ingredients pulled from the secret recipe of Fernet — the most famous botanic drink of them all. According to Randy Mosher, senior alchemist at Forbidden Root, the beer came about after the grandson of the owner of Fernet enjoyed their amaro beer in the taproom and was intrigued. Mosher expressed great excitement for Fernetic and botanic beers – which is a big indicator for the trend since Mosher literally wrote the book on tasting beer.

There were more roots that tied botanical beers to established entities during GABF week including Beers Made By Walking, an entire festival dedicated to the idea of brewing beers using ingredients found in your natural surroundings. We found Eric Steen, founder of Beers Made By Walking, pouring one of his own at Hopworks Urban Brewery. The brewery, in partnership with retailer Patagonia, created a Long Root Ale that used Kernza, a perennial grain, as its main ingredient. Steen has long been an advocate for botanical beers, not just for their delicious, boundary-breaking qualities, but their environmental benefits. The Long Root Ale, which is made with a plant with a really long root, helps restores soil biodiversity, soak up carbon and grows crops without chemical fertilizers or pesticides. In many cases, the breweries utilize these methods for ethical sourcing purposes and are akin to the farm-to-table movement in the culinary world. Some have dubbed it the farm-to-glass movement, which in itself is a growing trend in the beer industry and took many shapes and forms in a lot of other beers poured at GABF. But nowhere is it as clear and focused as it can be found in the botanic beer movement. Noticeably, two big breweries that also do botanic beers, Jester King and Fonta Flora, were absent at this year’s GABF. If they return for 2018, expect even more from this growing trend.

With over 3,000 beers poured at this year’s GABF, there were of brews plenty that went un-tasted. But for now, it’s undeniable that sours, barrel aged beers and hazy IPAs continue to infatuate drinkers and brewers alike. Looking ahead, botanic beers are going to push your boundaries and the industry as a whole in the next great adventure in beer-dom. Now get to drinking.

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Here’s how Colorado breweries fared at the 2017 GABF competition

Colorado’s craft brewing industry left the 2017 Great American Beer Festival well-decorated, flexing its muscles across an assortment of beer-style categories.

The state’s breweries won 38 medals — including 14 golds and three medals in the Pro-Am competition — at this year’s GABF. The largest commercial beer competition in the world drew 8,100 entries from 2,290 breweries and doled out awards in 98 categories representing 160 different beer styles.

Colorado swept the separate Pro-Am competition, in which professional and amateur brewers are paired. Homebrewer Doug Thiel and Denver Beer Co. brewmaster Jason Buehler won gold, with the pro-am pairings involving Fort Collins breweries Black Bottle Brewery and Odell Brewing Co. winning silver and bronze, respectively.

Colorado’s 38 medals, which tied the state’s total from last year, showcased the versatility of local beer makers. The Centennial State’s hardware spanned categories such as American-Style Black Ale; Brett Beer; English-Style India Pale Ale; German-Style Altbier, Koelsch and Pilsener; Herb and Spice Beer, Session IPA, Smoke Beer, South German-Style Hefeweizen, a collection of Wood- and Barrel-Aged offerings, and, fittingly, Experimental Beer.

“We have a great, passionate group of people that know how to make all kinds of beers,” said James Howat, brewer and owner of Black Project Spontaneous Ales in Denver. “We are spoiled here.”

Black Project won its third medal in four years in the Experimental Beer category. This year, the brewery snagged a silver for its Roswell: Grudge, a Lambic-inspired beer made with six pounds of raspberries in each gallon.

“It’s definitely a beer that … is strongly flavored,” Howat said.

The GABF stage featured several first-time winners among Colorado’s brewing industry, including Arvada-based Odyssey Beerwerks; Denver-based CO-Brew; and Boulder-based Cellar West Artisan Ales.

Boulder’s Finkel & Garf Brewing Co.’s brought home a gold for its first GABF medal.

The brewery, which opened in the summer of 2014 touting the motto of “play often,” features collection of games, toys and beer flights paired with treats.

The GABF-winning Oatmeal Milk Stout is traditionally paired with a Twinkie, said Mychal Johnson, Finkel & Garf’s head brewer.

Longmont-based Wibby Brewing Co.’s first GABF win — the Moondoor Dunkel took the silver in the Munich-Style Dunkel or European-Style Dark Lager category — was uniquely memorable:

While he and the Wibby Brewing crew stood on stage to receive the medals, Ryan Wibby asked his girlfriend, Robin, for her hand in marriage. She gleefully and tearfully accepted.

In Colorado’s sundry showing at GABF, the state also showed off its chops in the traditional.

The American-Style Lager category has long been dominated by brewery industry stalwarts — Pabst Brewing, the hometown Coors Brewing, Miller Brewing and Anheuser-Busch.

Not this year.

Lone Tree Brewing’s Mexican Lager toppled the giants, landing a gold. Bookending Pabst Blue Ribbon was another craft creation: Sun Grown Fresh Craft Lager, a creation of the Sycamore Brewing Cannery in Charlotte, N.C.

“I’m out of this world,” said Josh West, Lone Tree’s head brewer. The brewery also won silver in the Imperial Red Ale category with its Hop Zombie.

Two years ago, Lone Tree’s Summer Siesta Mexican Lager finished second in the category, behind the venerable Coors Banquet.

“It’s really great to be the best American lager in the country,” West said. “It proves us little craft guys can hang with the guys doing it forever.”

Colorado breweries that won medals at the 2017 GABF

The following are the medal winners from Colorado, including the name of the beer, the brewery, city and style:

F-Town Amber — Copper Club Brewing Co., Fruita, American-Style Amber/Red Ale
Fancy Pants — Jessup Farm Barrel House, Fort Collins, Brett Beer
Galaxy Dry Hopped Funk Yo Couch — Wiley Roots Brewing Co., Greeley, Mixed-Culture Brett Beer
(Pro-Am)Just Another Pretty Face — Doug Thiel, Denver Beer Co. brewmaster Jason Buehler, Denver Beer Co., Denver
Medianoche — WeldWerks Brewing Co., Greeley, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout
Mexican Lager — Lone Tree Brewing Co., Lone Tree, American-Style Lager or Malt Liquor
Oatmeal Milk Stout — Finkel & Garf Brewing Co., Boulder, Sweet Stout or Cream Stout
Punjabi — CooperSmith’s Pub & Brewing, Fort Collins, English-Style India Pale Ale
Plum Creek Sour — Rockyard American Grill & Brewing Co., Castle Rock, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer
Razz Against the Machine — Little Machine, Denver, American-Style Fruit Beer
Saison — Funkwerks, Fort Collins, Classic Saison
So long and thank’s for all the (smoked) fish! — The Sandlot Brewery at Coors Field, Denver, Smoke Beer
Waverly Tulip — Square Peg Brewerks, Alamosa, Historical Beer

Black 28 — Cannonball Creek Brewing Co., Golden, American-Style Black Ale
Hilltopper’s Pride Kentucky Common Ale; Ironworks Brewery & Pub, Lakewood, Historical Beer
Hop Zombie — Lone Tree Brewing Co., Lone Tree, Imperial Red Ale
Lemon Rye — 105 West Brewing Co., Castle Rock, American-Style Wheat Beer
(Pro-Am) Lichtenhainer — Daniel Tomkins, Black Bottle Scuba Squad, Black Bottle Brewery, Fort Collins,
Make Hay — Cellar West Artisan Ales, Boulder, Specialty Saison
Moondoor Dunkel — Wibby Brewing, Longmont, Munich-Style Dunkel or European-Style Dark Lager
Patio Pounder — Twisted Pine Brewing Co., Boulder, Session India Pale Ale
Peacekeeper — Launch Pad Brewery, Aurora, Session Beer
Pilsner — Dry Dock Brewing Co. South Dock, Arvada, German-Style Pilsener
Roswell: Grudge — Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales, Denver, Experimental Beer
Saison Trystero — Our Mutual Friend Brewing, Denver, Brett Beer
Suntrip — New Terrain Brewing Co., Golden, Belgian-Style Witbier
Woods Monk — Odyssey Beerwerks, Arvada, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer

5th Anniversary Tequila Sour — Loveland Aleworks, Loveland, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer
Blackberry Table Sour — Baere Brewing Co., Denver, Berliner-Style Weisse
Downhill Kolsch — Elk Mountain Brewing Co., Parker, German-Style Koelsch
Dunkel — Pug Ryan’s Brewing Co., Dillon, Munich-Style Dunkel or European-Style Dark Lager
(Pro-Am) Eluxansis — Mark Boelman, Odell Brew Team, Odell Brewing Co., Fort Collins
Farmhouse Saison — Co-Brew, Denver, Specialty Saison
Hefeweizen — Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant, Broomfield, South German-Style Hefeweizen
India Spring Honey Cream Ale — Broken Plow Brewery, Greeley, Herb and Spice Beer
Little Red Cap — Grimm Brothers Brewhouse, Loveland, German-Style Altbier
Mountain Series: Maibock — Breckenridge Brewery, Littleton, Bock
Woody Pils — Bull & Bush Brewery, Denver, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer

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As Great American Beer Festival turns 36, do we still need it?

For Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales, a Denver brewery whose sour and funky creations are some of the most sought-after in the state of Colorado if not nationwide, there is an economic benefit first and foremost to pouring at the festival.

Co-owner Sarah Howat said that even in recent months, first-time customers have walked into the brewery and said they first tried Black Project at the 2016 GABF — a refrain that is repeated by other breweries who have reported big boosts from the festival.

But beyond that, there is a chance to participate in an event that continues to drive excitement among the most influential beer drinkers in America because of the innovation on display in the hall — innovation that Black Project can be seen as being at the forefront of with its offerings.

“There’s definitely an energy around GABF as a brewer that’s not felt at any other festival,” Howat said.

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Opening Night of Great American Beer Festival 2017

The Great American Beer Festival kicked off last night for the 36th time. Thousands of people flooded into the Colorado Convention Center to imbibe on more than 3,900 beers from 800 breweries from across the US. Hailed as the largest festival of its kind, GABF sold out quickly — proving the event continues to maintain its popularity (even if ticket sales were slower). Last night’s highlights included the usual march of the bagpipes around the convention center, the creative costumes and general drunken debauchery.

But aside from the typical scenes, there were more than a few special tappings. This included a whopping 18 percent ABV beer from Black Project called Covert #1 that went almost immediately and a collaboration beer from Avery and Odell that was blended on site during a ceremonious pulling of the taps from Adam Avery and Doug Odell. Other highlights included a delicious Fernet Branca beer from Forbidden Roots made in partnership with Fernet Branca using 17 ingredients from its secret recipe. If there was one snafu last night, it happened at the very end when the restrooms were reportedly blocked off, leaving thousands of people without a place to relieve themselves. But according to the organizers of the event, the incident won’t occur moving forward.

Many beers and two nights remain for the popular festival, including the announcements of who will win the coveted medals during this year’s competition. Make sure to check back with 303 Magazine for updated coverage and follow us on Instagram to see more live from the festival.

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Beers Worth Chasing At The Great American Beer Festival

It’s finally here – the week of The Great American Beer Festival and all of the beer debauchery that comes along with it. People and beer from around the country are making their annual pilgrimage and the list of what’s being poured at the main event is slowly leaking out.

And while the official list is not out yet, we used PorchDrinking’s preview pour list to guide us in our hunt for the best brews. Last week, we gave all of our best tips for festival survival last week so now it’s time to get down to beer business.

Every beer drinker is different – each has their taste preferences and unique palates which makes it hard to select the must-try beers. So instead of giving a definitive list, we are breaking it down into three categories that will give you a sampling of styles from around the country. Here are our suggestions for the best beers to help you live your best GABF.

Worth The Wait

With 800 breweries pouring it might feel like a waste of time to wait in any of the long lines you will see.There is a reason behind those lines, and it’s not just hype— they are delicious, hard to get brews.Let’s start with the dark beers, those that are tucked away and left to mature in special barrels that only come around once a year.

Fremont Brewing Company out of Washington is bringing its Bourbon Barrel-Aged Dark Star an oatmeal stout that’s a blend of beer aged eight, 12 and 18 months in 12-year-old Kentucky bourbon barrels.  From Michigan, Founders Brewing Company is bringing KBS its imperial stout brewed with large amounts of coffee and chocolate before being tucked away for cave-aging in oak bourbon barrels.

Colorado is also well respected on the list of beers sure to be worth the wait. Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales can easily be the first booth out of beer so if they are on your list (and they should be), go there first. You can’t go wrong with any of its beers but Covert – a spontaneous super braggot with cherries, raspberries and black currants coming in at an ABV of 18 percent is a nice way to get the party started. While Black Project is new on the scene – there is on OG beer that is sure to have a line and never disappoints, and that is the original double IPA from Russian River Brewing Company out of California. Get your hop fix with Pliny the Elder – any beer drinker should have it from the tap at least once.

Collaborative beers also foster attention since often this is the only time they are available. Last year, Odell Brewing Company and Avery Brewing Company both out of Colorado found themselves sharing festival space. This year – they did it on purpose and have created a special beer that mixes as it pours from the tap. Odell’s stout is a white coconut-aged in rye whiskey barrels with Avery bringing a vanilla and coffee stout aged in bourbon barrels. When the tap pulls forward the two beers will mix and land in your glass.

Beers From Around The Country

This is it. This is the moment to see what the rest of the country is doing – where the trends are leading and to see how these beers stack up to our local brews.

If you are feeling extra adventurous, check out Scratch Brewing Company out of Illinois. All of its beers are brewed with foraged ingredients – go for LeavesLeaves is a specialty saison brewed with leaves from 34 different plants and trees including oak, sage, laurel, mint, thistle and blackberry to name a few. Keep the exploration going by visiting the booth for Speciation Artisan Ales out of Michigan which focuses on what wild microbes can do in a beer. Its Rhubarb Vanilla Incipient features two pounds of Michigan grown Rhubarb with Mexican vanilla beans.

Moving to the Pacific Northwest, you can try Great Notion Brewing if you are in search of something to appease your hop needs. Great Notion is making noise by jumping into the haze craze. Its hazy imperial IPA Juice Box is made with all mosaic hops and is straight juice. Toppling Goliath Brewing Company may be across the convention center since it’s based in Iowa but it will keep the hop party going with its Pseudo Sue. This American style pale ale is a single hop beer focusing on Citra making the citrus and mango pop.

Not everyone can get to Portland, Maine, but GABF brings Maine – more specifically Allagash Brewing Companyto Denver. Allagash White is the flagship and a nice easy drinking beer but we would recommend Avance – a strong, sour ale with strawberry preserves that’s aged in oak barrels.

Normally we would suggest that you stay away from beers you can get locally because you can get them anytime, but at GABF there are exceptions. A lot of local breweries are bringing the fire to the festival – beers that we locals will have trouble snagging.

New Belgium Brewing Company who has revamped its sour program and will be pouring Oscar Aged in Blackberry Whiskey Barrels. This is a foeder-aged dark sour put into fresh blackberry whiskey barrels from Leopold Bros. Distillery in Denver.

Equally scarce and only being poured with limited bottles per session is Royal Oil from Bull & Bush. It’s is an English strong ale that is bourbon barrel-aged for two years to get the perfect flavor profile. While it didn’t take Comrade Brewing Company two years to finish Fresh Hop Superpower IPA – it does only come once a year. The use of fresh hops takes an already award-winning IPA to another level.

Fiction Beer Company is taking one of its classic beers to the next level with Barrel-Aged Feely Effects. It starts with the classic green tea milk chocolate stout and then it’s aged for 18 months in a bourbon barrel. It’s not often you see green tea – much less barrel-aged green tea. And then there is Medianoche from WeldWerks Brewing Company – the bottles for this beer are released this week and tickets for the opportunity to purchase them sold out in minutes. This could be one of the only chances (for now) you get to try this imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels for 17 months.

Each session at GABF lasts for just about four hours which means you could conceivably have 48 different beers if you drink one pour every five minutes. If you are super competitive and have liver of steel, that might the route for you. For everyone else, start with this list and then build on it when the final list goes live. Go for what you might never be able to have but more importantly go for what you want – GABF is your own personal beer paradise.

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