I had the chance to head out to Denver and cover the Great American Beer Festival and this is going to be my first of several blog posts on the largest beer event in the country.

On Denver as a host city:

If there was one thing I learned right away, it was that there is no way that Minneapolis could host a beer event of this magnitude. It was humbling to see the way that people embrace craft beer out there, and although our scene is growing it doesn’t compare. What was blatantly obvious was the love of craft culture. So many of the restaurants I stopped in at had locally sourced ingredients on their menus, all local tap handles, a locally made whisky list, and staff that was knowledgeable about their offerings.

I can’t tell you the number of locals that I talked to that were excited to talk about their city, and offer suggestions in order to get the vibe of the city. If you ever attend, be sure to meet some of the locals on your adventure.

On the brewery saturation point in Minnesota:

I’m now convinced more than ever that we are not even close to a saturation point here in Minnesota. There are over 285 breweries and counting in Colorado with many making great beer, and a lot of them brewing mediocre stuff. Beer is a communal beverage and if you have enough people interested in beer, they will flock to their local brewery to imbibe and converse with one another. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t focus on quality beer, it just shows that there is room to grow.

Craft beer has a national economic impact of 55.7 billion dollars according to the Brewers Association and that number is expected to grow. Small brewers (under 15,000 barrels per year) who make up 96% of the craft beer produced today are proof that if you brew it, they will come.

On the state of craft beer:

Craft beer is here to stay. It’s becoming mainstream at this point and in 2020 the Brewers Association is expecting craft to make up 20% of the marketplace. It’s to the point where Stone Brewing is opening another location in Berlin taking their product across the planet. Fifty percent of Lagunitas was just acquired by Heineken which will bring their brews to the global marketplace as well. We will see a lot of the big breweries buying up the smaller ones which is unfortunate, but a consequence of the success of craft beer going mainstream.

Ten things I loved about my GABF experience:

The people of Denver. I’ve never met more helpful people who were so eager to showcase their city.

The volunteers. Every single one of them, thank you. I’ve never seen an event of this size function so well.

The sunset over the Rockies. Unbelievable.

The beer. Duh.

The media luncheon hosted by the Brewers Association. Top notch food, great speakers, and of course the brews. Can you ship me some of that Duck Terrine?

The costumes. Where else can you take a selfie with the Super Mario Brothers?

The tap takeovers. These are fantastic and are often the best places to meet the brewers themselves.

The Falling Rock Tap House. A fantastic place to get a great beer. I highly recommend making a stop there. Clean tap lines, a phenomenal beer list, knowledgeable staff, and it is located a stone’s throw from Coors Field.

Plastic sample glasses at the festival. The only thing worse than the collective shouting as someone breaks a glass is stepping on it. Somehow I managed to witness multiple people fumble and break them. Who are these people, relatives of Adrian Peterson?

The Brewers Association. No organization cares more about craft beer than they do. Craft beer wouldn’t exist without them. For further reading on the topic, check out this piece on founder Charlie Papazian from The Denver Post.

Coors Field. If you get the chance, be sure to check out a game here. Tickets are usually pretty cheap ($4) and the yard is absolutely beautiful.

Ten things I disliked about my GABF experience:

People fist fighting after a beer event. There aren’t many things more disturbing the sound of someone’s head cracking against the pavement. It’s even worse when the person trying to break up the fight gets punched in the face as well. Grow up.

Bartenders who assume women only like fruit beers. I overheard this a couple of times while visiting neighboring establishments. At an unnamed bar they were training staff to suggest fruit beers to them because “it’s what women like.” Not cool.

RTD public transit. Every great city needs reliable public transportation and Denver could use an upgrade. Limited public transit to the airport and crabby bus drivers made this a bit frustrating. Certain routes didn’t run on the weekend or to some of the surrounding neighborhoods at all. I chalk this up to a city that’s growing rapidly that needs to allocate more tax money to service the people that live there. Perhaps I’m a bit spoiled here in the Twin Cities, but even ours needs improvement. Both the Twin Cities and Denver should take some advice from the folks out in San Francisco. That’s public transit done right.

Long lines. This is a tough one to solve, but as the fest continues to grow this will need to be addressed. A certain local beer writer gave me some good advice which was never to wait in line for a beer. Advice taken.

Entitled locals scoffing at the homeless. I only saw this on one occasion but yes it is possible that the guy asking for money legitimately lost his job and could use a little change. If you don’t have any, then that’s all you have to say. No need to question his existence on this planet.

Police ticketing people smoking marijuana on the streets in a city where it’s legal to purchase it. I was talking to a guy at a bus stop that explained that the reason he chose to sit where he did was that there was a camera 20 feet to the right where a certain local business notifies the police when they see someone using marijuana recreationally. They then circle the block and ticket that person. How about you spend your time chasing that guy who was pounding someone’s head into the pavement?

Security at the awards ceremony. Kicking people out of the auditorium for standing along the rails is lame. If you aren’t blocking the stairway then there is no reason 86 someone from the excitement of the ceremony. I witnessed this a couple of times but I’m not certain if they had to leave permanently or not. If so, not cool.

Vendors fighting outside of Coors Field. I get that you are trying to make a living, but come on. You’re upset about someone competing with you on peanut sales?

Pedestrians walking out in front of cars with a no walk sign flashing. Why would you compromise your own safety just to get that extra sample of beer in?

People who don’t tip their bartender. I know it sounds crazy but people make a living serving you your favorite beverage. Don’t be a jerk.

Quote of the weekend:

“Does craft beer pair well with cannabis?”

-Question asked by a journalist at the media luncheon


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Road Trip: Gull Dam Brewing in Nisswa, Minn.

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Seven Minnesota breweries take home hardware at the Great American Beer Festival