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Now in its 37th year, the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) is primed to be bigger than ever—quite literally, as festival-goers will enjoy lots of additional space devoted to suds at the Colorado Convention Center on September 20-22. But that’s not the only change ticket holders can expect at this year’s fest. The Brewers Association, the Boulder-based non-profit trade association behind the iconic beer festival, is shaking up the layout, sponsors list, and the competition categories, too.
Bigger Is Better
GABF has grown quite a bit since its inception in 1982, when just 20 breweries (out of 40 craft breweries in operation at the time) poured their suds at the Harvest Hotel in Boulder. This year, an additional 100,000 square feet will be added at the Convention Center, bringing the event’s square footage to 584,000 in total to make more room for the 800 breweries pouring more than 4,000 different beers. Brewers Association marketing director Ann Obenchain expects that this increase will add to the overall attendee experience: “We really wanted to give people a little more room to spread out,” Obenchain said. The Brewers Association only added 2,000 additional tickets for this year’s festival, ensuring a more spacious experience for attendees. GABF will also debut a new layout this year, arranging breweries in alphabetical order instead of by region.
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Perhaps one of the biggest changes this year is a new arsenal of big-name sponsors. Sports bar giant Buffalo Wild Wings will create a 3,600-square-foot “sports bar and fan” experience inside GABF, where it’ll serve its famed wings as well as a steady stream of sporting events on 10 television screens. “Craft beer lovers are sports lovers, and this activation adds another experiential space at GABF where attendees can relax and enjoy independent craft beer and wings while cheering on their favorite teams,” Obenchain said. After all of the GABF fun concludes, select Buffalo Wild Wings locations across the country will pour many of the specialty and limited-release beers featured in GABF competitions.
Jameson Irish Whiskey will also have a heavy presence at the festival this year. The longtime distillery will be showcasing its 17 brewery program partners at the Jameson Caskmates Barrel-Aged beer garden, including Denver’s own Great Divide Brewing Company. Each brewery involved in the program aged a specific beer in a Jameson barrel.
This year’s festival competition features a new category: Collaboration Beer. Inspired by the collaborative spirit of the craft brewing industry, this category will include 50 beer entries made in partnership between at least two breweries.
Oldies But Goodies
While big changes are coming in 2018, many of the Great American Beer Festival’s most endearing and exciting qualities are staying put. The festival’s educational (and super fun) Beer and Food Pavilion will once again return, offering attendees the chance to sit in on free seminars and pairings, including a cheese and chocolate guided beer pairing on Friday evening and an insects and craft beer seminar on Thursday evening.
Another sure bet: GABF’s massive economic impact on the city of Denver. In 2017, the Great American Beer Festival was attributed to a $29.3 million dollar economic impact on the city, which sees craft beer fans from around the country and even the world descend on the city for one beer-soaked week each fall.
If you go: Tickets for the Thursday session of the festival are still on sale and can be purchased here.