Don’t write off this year’s massive GABF as a passing trend. More than 30 years ago, the fest’s founders foresaw a renaissance in U.S. beer making. They were right. So, what was GABF like during the early years?

Flashback to 1982 when the first GABF was tiny. Just 24 breweries attended (a whopping 1/25 of the breweries that will be on the Colorado Convention Center’s floor this year). The first venue, the Hilton Harvest Hotel in Boulder, provided 5,000 square feet, but GABF wasn’t a stand-alone event. It was part of the fourth annual American Homebrewers Association Conference, and was sandwiched in the schedule as the second day’s conclusion.

It was a small celebration for an even smaller industry, bu many of the breweries at the 1982 event are still around. (Notably, the Anchor, Boulder Beer, and Sierra Nevada brewing companies.) Now, the industry’s numbers are stronger than they have been in more than a hundred years. In 2011, the number of breweries reached a level unseen since the 1880s and craft brewing now employs more than 100,000 people in the U.S. Makes you wonder what the fest will be like in 30 years…

For more information on craft brewing in America visit the Brewers Association website.

—Image courtesy of the Great American Beer Festival