Great American Beer Festival

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(Photo © Brewers Association)

The best three-day beer festival in the world makes its way to the Denver, as almost 50,000 beer enthusiasts swarm into the Colorado capital to sample thousands of offerings at the Denver Convention Center. It’s the Great American Beer Festival, folks, from Oct. 2-4; an unparalleled convention hosted by the Brewers Association and featuring something for professionals and enthusiasts alike.

We Like Drinking scored an interview with Barbara Fusco, sales and marketing director at the Brewers Association. What follows is our Q&A. Can you tell we’re as excited as you are?

Great American Beer Festival Q&A

WLD: When did the Great American Beer Festival really become the premier beer festival in the country? Was it in the last few years, or has it always had that prestige?
BF: GABF has long enjoyed a reputation as the country’s premier competition and beer festival. With the growth of craft brewing, the popularity of the festival has only increased. GABF is pretty distinctive among events, particularly for its scale and the truly national scope. GABF features well over 700 breweries from all parts of the United States pouring a truly mind-boggling variety of tasty beers. What’s more, attendees come from all over—some 50 percent of the tickets sold for the event are sold outside of Colorado.

How does this event help advance the Brewers Association?
The Brewers Association is proud to host this long-running event that showcases so many of our members to the public and the media. Our purpose is to promote and protect American craft brewers, their beers and the community of brewing enthusiasts—and the GABF is one big way we do this.

What can a first-time attendee expect to experience at the Great American Beer Festival?
Fun! Flavor! Costumes! Brewers and homebrewers and friendly folks all around. There will be more than 3,500 beers for the sampling from over 700 breweries hailing from all parts of the country.

What is new this year?
New at this year’s festival is the Beer Geeks program: 110 educated and knowledgeable beer educators added to support and mentor the 2,800 servers at GABF about the beer brands being poured during the festival. The goal is to give attendees a better idea of what they’re tasting, where it comes from, why it tastes the way it does and where it fits among the 90 beer style categories in the GABF competition. Composed of homebrew club members and uber beer lovers throughout the country, the 100+ Geeks will be responsible for, among other things, supporting pouring volunteers with access to core brewery and brand information about the beer they are serving, and educating volunteers on proper pouring practices.

What has been the response to the GABF app?
Very favorable! People dig the free My GABF app (for Android and iOS), especially the ability to search or browse the brewery list, add them to My Breweries, locate them on the map and see what they’re serving—and then check off the breweries visited. The app also allows for beer rating and note taking, and offers Beer Tours by style for those who’d like a little guidance around the hall.

How far in advance do you have to start planning each year’s festival?
In a sense we are never not planning for GABF! We are always planning ahead for upcoming GABFs – sometimes years in advance to secure hall space and dates at the convention center, and sometimes months in advance to plan for operational elements for the current or coming year.

Why did the festival finally settle on Denver as its permanent home?
GABF moved to Denver after outgrowing space in Boulder, where it was first hosted. GABF started in 1982—33 years ago—as just a part of the American Homebrewers Association’s fourth annual conference. In 1982, there were 24 breweries sampling a whopping 47 beers at the festival, for 800 attendees. Compare that to this year’s 720-plus breweries sampling over 3,500 beers for a crowd of 49,000.

Advice for those attending the first time? Advice for those who have attended multiple times?

Pouring samples at the GABF  (Photo © Brewers Association)

Pouring samples at the GABF (Photo © Brewers Association)

First-timers and veterans alike would do wise to pace themselves, drink plenty of water, and visit the fun educational activities going on at GABF, from our Homebrew Marketplace exhibitors to the karaoke stage. My favorites include:
• You Be The Judge: In this area, festival attendees have the opportunity to judge a beer along with GABF judges in a directed tasting. Perfect for everyone who wonders, how do they do that?!
• Beer & Food Pavilion: The art of beer and food pairings is explored here—we team up expert chefs and brewers to demonstrate how with beer and food, the whole can be even more than the sum of the parts.
• Brewers Studio: This pavilion features some of the colorful personalities and boundary-pushing innovators that populate the craft beer world. Brewers are on stage to share their talents, innovations and the creative processes involved in making their beers
• Sustainability Pavilion: An interactive area where attendees can stop by to ask questions of the sustainable practices companies and brewery representatives featured in the Sustainability Pavilion. This area is designed to showcase what breweries are doing in terms of green practices, to educate and hopefully to inspire.

This event seems to sell out in minutes the past few years. Obviously, that’s great for the organization. Does it present certain challenges?
Indeed GABF sells out very quickly. I’d say the main challenge that poses is the disappointment among our fans who’d like to attend but cannot. At this point, demand for GABF tickets outstrips capacity.

For those who are not ticketed, is there a sanctioned secondary ticket resource to gain admission?
There is no entry without a valid ticket. And I’d say that the only sure way to be sure you have a valid ticket is to purchase tickets from authorized outlets only.

Anything else you would like to add?
I’d be remiss not to mention and thank the small army of dedicated volunteers that help make GABF possible—some 3,500 of them! We love our volunteers.

Thank you for your time, and good luck for another successful GABF.

GABF on Facebook: /pages/Great-American-Beer-Festival/77791416708

Brewers Association on Facebook: /pages/Brewers-Association/103818289656324

GABF on Twitter: @GABF

Brewers Association on Twitter: @BrewersAssoc

Photos © Brewers Association