GABF 2022: The Recap
After what feels like forever, the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) held the “beer festival” portion of its name for the first time since 2019. And just like that almost everything was back to the way it was. Volunteers pouring samples, brewers and owners chatting behind the booths, the silent disco – everything I remembered returned. It felt normal again. Thanks 2022.
While there were some changes (see below), none of them affected my enjoyment of the festival as a whole. After doing my typical once around the festival floor, I had figured out most of the show floor and locations and fell into a GABF-like trance state, knowing exactly where everything was and the quickest way to get there. I loved it. Again, it felt normal.
Events Around Town
And with GABF in town, normal meant an insane amount of outside events featuring crazy taplists from out-of-state breweries. This makes sense, as not only will you get the beer from the breweries, but there’s a good chance a rep from the brewery would be there because of the festival. I decided to go a little easy on the outside events this year (more on one in another article) but the ones I did attend were a blast.
Unfortunately there was no going to either Freshcraft or, even more painfully, Falling Rock. Both bars had closed between the last time I was in town in 2019 and the fest and their absence was noticeable. Falling Rock was always my “100% always had it on” source for Pliny the Elder. With that gone I was at the mercy of all the other taplists for my Pliny fix which was hit or miss. This one just felt different not being able to hit Falling Rock while in Denver.
Of the events that did happen, you know that meant going to Hops & Pie. Not only are they now open earlier than 11:30 AM thanks to the donuts they make and sell (and are delicious), but I was fortunate enough to enjoy most of what was on tap the previous night along with that day’s taplist. That meant not only being able to get The Referend and Wolves & People, but also Sante Adairius and The Alchemist. Absolutely bonkers. The garlic cheesy bread was as good as ever, while the reformulated pizza – now made with sourdough – tasted better than I remembered it. But that could’ve been the vacation talking. (Pro Tip: Go before the fest and order more food than you need. Take it home and, voila, your post-fest food is there and waiting when you get back!)
I did manage to hit Finn’s Manor after the Thursday session of GABF (ill-advised, by the way) and their tap list slayed, featuring Keeping Together, Cerebral, and Beachwood among others. Thankfully Finn’s Manor is still around, along with Goed Zuur and almost all of the breweries in the area so there was no shortage of opportunities to imbibe.
If you are able and have the time, I would recommend hitting some out of the way breweries while in Denver. I was fortunate enough to travel to Greely (1 hour north) to hit WeldWerks which was excellent as always. (Wiley Roots is right across the street, but I was on a time crunch.) Peculiar Ales (more on them soon) is a short 20 minute drive from WeldWerks in Windsor, CO. They took over an old grain mill so the place has some unique things and delicious beer. Lastly, Cellar West Artisan Ales in Lafayette, CO should be on your list. Under an hour away from Denver, they feature all those yummy things we like on the podcast; saison, tripel, and some lagers along with a lovely wet hop beer (Cone Country) I had on the GABF 2022 podcast. It feels like walking into a home with its warm and inviting space. I would love to be at Cellar West during the winter holidays.
Now onto the fest itself!
New Things and Changes
While a vast majority of things stayed the same, there were some big changes. The location of the festival – the Colorado Convention Center – remained the same, but its location in the building changed. It was a bit more labyrinthine to get to the main floor this year comparatively, but signs and volunteers helped out immensely. My hope is that it returns to its old location next year as it’s easier to tell people to “enter by the giant blue bear,” but I’ll take GABF wherever they decide to hold it.
The alphabetical ordering of breweries returned, last seen in 2018. I must’ve learned my alphabet better or they changed the way they arranged the breweries because I was able to find them with relative ease. Thankfully it wasn’t ordered so that the alphabetical nature crossed multiple sections like it did last time; everything in one section was alphabetical AND listed on a giant sign above the section. I think I still prefer the region layout, but I warmed to this way rather quickly. Plus it put Revolution and Russian River near each other, so win!
Things like the backyard, silent disco, and karaoke stage returned, with the karaoke stage getting prominent placing in the back by both the food trucks and Port-O-Land. The lines for the food trucks were fairly long but having someone belt out “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” accurately made the wait fly by. The guy doing scream-o Weezer, though, I could’ve done without.
The Jack Daniels area was no more as was any noticeable cheese booth. The food trucks contained a nice variety of offerings and the lines, while fairly long, moved quickly. It also made for a nice respite from drinking the entire time. The perimeter featured a fair amount of space, some (not all) of which could be used to add more food trucks and get the lines a bit manageable. But the space was nice.
Cosplay and Giveaways
The three year break led to more group costumes it seems. While insane buffet-like necklaces still populated the area, the group costumes grew in both frequency and number of participants. This led to some insane situations, like when I ran into a group cosplaying as a mariachi band and a bunch of giraffes. Some of my favorite group costumes can be seen below. The Care Bears group was fun because it took me most of that day to get all four of them in the same picture.
The most dangerous costume goes to Disco Man who, if standing in the one area that received sunlight during the festival, could’ve blinded you. I managed to spot him – or rather, he glared on me – from across the room on Thursday. I saw him again on Friday and he had added platform boots to the equation making his whole reflective costume even more absurd. Unless that was another Disco Man, in which case I have questions about two different people mirror balling-out a bike helmet.
Some booths had some swag to giveaway. Wayfinder had their awesome logo buttons, Von Ebert had sunglasses and patches and, most importantly for me, Peculier had some glass holding lanyard thing (which you will see me wearing at FoBAB this year guaranteed). But by far the most ubiquitous giveaway came from Wibby Brewing from Longmont, CO. Their inflatable flamingo glass holder was EVERYWHERE. Everyone seemed to have them. While they were more cute and interesting than functional, Wibby definitely scored the giveaway for the fest for it.
Lines. Oh the lines.
Must’ve been the pent up need to wait in lines because it seemed like every section had a brewery with a line. And hey, it seems like it was the breweries that had lines last festival too! Some lines were manageable, some unobtrusive, and some actually made you change your path. Those were the worst.
The Most Unexpected line goes to 903 Brewers from Sherman, TX. Don’t know if they had some gimmick going on, but first thing on Thursday they had a line at least 20 people deep and had somehow kicked a beer? (Maybe they didn’t bring it?) I kept meaning to try something from them but everytime the thought came into my head another thing came up and I then forgot. Maybe I’m just not cool anymore.
The “Most anticipated line that kept things moving” line goes to WeldWerks. Somehow the Medianoche variants they brought were always the last to kick (along with Juicy Bits), but their Volcanic Planet Boba (more on this below) and Peach Pie Sour vanished from the booth every session. They had a corner booth which did lead to some thoroughfare issues, but having three sides – including one for only badge holders – kept things moving along. Excellent job by the staff.
The “Should’ve have hired a Moses cosplayer to part the sea of people” line goes to Sam Adams Utopia timed tapping. Timed tappings were way down (thank god) but Sam Adams still insisted on tapping their 24% ABV beast at a specific time. They had an endcap booth as well and that area was packed like a sellout, standing room only concert. There was no way to move through that at all which sucked. Just have the Utopias on tap at random times throughout the day Jim!
The “This Is How We Do It” line goes to Sierra Nevada. Or should it be the organizers? Sierra Nevada had a booth up front on their own island essentially, away from any of the standard sections pouring beer. So when their desired, recently released BA Bigfoot timed tapping happened, it was totally confined to their section. Didn’t mess with any foot traffic or anything else. No rerouting necessary. Please, GABF organizers, give Sam Adams one of those booths so I’m not complaining about them yet again next year.
The “The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same” line goes to Russian River. They’ve expanded – with that second location pouring at the fest as well – and they still had a massive line until the beer was kicked. This one was very justified though, as they brought bangers to the fest like they do every year. If Russian River is pouring at GABF (or any fest) expect both a line and to be impressed with what you have.
Lastly the “Worst Area of the Festival” award goes to the Firestone Walker and Denver Beer Co. area. Firestone Walker perpetually had a line crossing the fest to the Denver Beer Co. booth. The Denver Beer Co. booth had lines on both sides of their booth. Thankfully Denton County Brewing Company’s booth was part of the detour so I hit them up numerous times. But yowza that area was bad the entire festival.
Best Beers (in alphabetical order by brewery)
Plumb Stoned | Barrel-aged sour with vanilla and plums | DankHouse Brewing Co. | Newark, OH | 6.5% ABV
In what could be the festival pour of the fest, Plumb Stoned was excessive in all the right ways. The Cabernet Sauvignon barrels added some wine punch and dryness, while the vanilla made things a little sweet and the plum added some fruitiness to the proceedings. I don’t know if I would want an entire, say, 16oz can of it, but multiple pours of it at the booth really cut through some of the GABF beer noise. If something can be over-the-top yet still remain balanced, this was it. I would definitely like to have this outside of a festival setting to see if I’m crazy or not.
Poppy’s Reserve | Barrel-aged Brown Ale | Denton County Brewing Co. | Denton, TX | 6.8% ABV
Approaching Denton County Brewing’s booth, similar options about. Two fruited beer and a hazy. Then you see this Poppy’s Reserve and ask what it is. Barrel-aged brown ale? Not many of those at the fest. You try it, and it’s good? Hell yeah. Poppy’s Reserve does everything you want out of a BA brown ale. You get the bourbon barrel character but it doesn’t overpower the brown ale base. The brown ale peeks through little with some nutty character. But most importantly the barrel and base blend extremely well together, adding some nice, subtle chocolate and vanilla notes to that nutty base. I went back multiple times for pours of this. More BA brown ales at fests please!
Full Retail Porter | Porter with Fijian cacao nibs, Madagascar vanilla, roasted almonds and toasted coconuts | Forbidden Root | Columbus, OH | 7.1 % ABV
This is the beer your GABF mother warned you about. One that doesn’t drink it’s somewhat high ABV, is full of flavor and goes down easy. The porter body keeps things moving, you can taste almost all of the adjuncts (coconut was a bit hard to pull out) and it never gets too sweet or abrasive. It reminds me of a light pastry of some sorts, one that scratches your sweet tooth itch and leaves you wanting more. The balance of adjuncts brings everything together. If you’re in Columbus, OH or Chicago, grab some cans of these. You will not be disappointed.
Sprockets | German Pilsner | Gravely Brewing | Louisville, KY | 5.6% ABV
Much easier to get than in Louisville! Sprockets has all the easy drinking of a German Pilsner with a little bit of hoppy bite like a pale ale. The big difference with Sprockets comes in its mouthfeel. It’s fuller and coats the tongue extremely well for a pilsner. Add some biscuit notes and you have an excellent and flavorful pilsner that I should’ve had more of. I only managed to stop by Gravely’s booth once! Could have been a walking beer of the fest.
305 Alive: Pineberry | Fruited Sour | Peculier Ales | Windsor, CO | 7% ABV
Light in mouthfeel, sufficiently fruity enough to cut through the morass of GABF beer, and refreshing and easy to drink. In what was arguably my beer of the festival, 305 Alive: Pineberry did everything right for me. A Florida Weisse-style beer, it maintained its beer-like qualities while giving you an absolute punch of pineberries every sip. Every time I had it I said, “Whoa. WHOA,” in response to the fruit character of this. I sent multiple people to this booth and all had that same reaction. There was some tartness but never anything that overwhelmed making repeated sips and pours possible. They also had a nice location close to the middle of the fest that necessitated me passing by their booth, grabbing a pour and moving on to my intended destination; therefore my walking beer of the festival as well. An absolute must as a summer beer and one that I hoped was canned.
Pomace Beer | American Wild Ale | Russian River | Santa Rosa, CA | 10.15% ABV
I didn’t realize the ABV on this bad boy until I just typed it above. After waiting in the long Russian River line, I had some choices. It came down to this, Pliny the Elder, Beatification and Intinction (Sauvignon Blanc). Seeing as it’s a small batch and I’ve had the other 3, I went with Pomace Beer. A blend so complicated I’ll only write out what the base beer is (Sonambic, Orphan Beer and Temptation), Pomace Beer is what Vinnie Cilurzo does best – a seemingly aggressive combination of base, fruit and barrels results in something so exquisite, balanced and drinkable it’s a wonder other breweries even attempt the style. Big wine flavor with a dry finish is enhanced by a pillowy soft mouthfeel and a simple tartness that just begs to be sipped again and again. This Pomace Beer drank as easy as Russian River’s -tion beers despite it being about 3% ABV higher. Damn if I won’t wait in this line again next year.
Kveik Pina Colada | Fruited Sour | Shades Brewing | Salt Lake City, UT | 6.3% ABV
I’ll be honest here – their board of beers made me stop to try something at their booth. All 5 beers used Kveik yeast AND had Kveik in their name. I tried what the pourer recommended and it worked really well. Kveik Pina Colada kept the pineapple in check while having a substantial amount of coconut to support it. The coconut never went too far into the suntan lotion zone and never felt overbearing in the beer. Just a nice little refreshing and flavorful Kveik beer!
Duck Duck Gooze (2022) | Gueuze-inspired | The Lost Abbey | San Marcos, CA | 7% ABV
While Peach Afternoon took home the hardware (Bronze for Fruited Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer), I thought it hit a little too acidic. Duck Duck Gooze, on the other hand, kept things tart without going for the Tums kill. Full of lemon, funk and acidity, the barrels help by drying things out a little bit while providing some nice fruity tannins to add to the overall experience of the beer. This always makes me wonder why it didn’t win an award in the category it entered because it was that good. Fingers crossed that it shows up at FoBAB this year…
Pumpkin P-Eye | Pumpkin Beer | Third Eye Brewing | Cincinnati, OH | 5.6% ABV
Kelly’s Private Stash | Barrel Aged Barleywine | Third Eye Brewing | Cincinnati, OH | 12.3% ABV
I was so excited to find something that I thought nobody else had heard of. I managed to get an interview with head brewer Kelly Montgomery only to later find out (thanks Ryan!) that we had interviewed him already when he was with Brink. At least that explains the quality of these two beers!
You know it’s good when I recommend a vile pumpkin beer. Pumpkin P-Eye is definitely over the top. I thought the vanilla and lactose cut into and balanced all the pumpkin things going on here. The trick to a good pumpkin beer is being able to taste some pumpkin and then wanting to go back for more because you’re not tired of it. And Pumpkin P-Eye does that. Any pumpkin-y things never taste artificial as well and it all clocks in at a respectable (and drinkable!) 5.6%.
Kelly’s Private Stash, meanwhile, doesn’t do any of that pumpkin crap. A blend of Weller Full Proof and Weller Antique 107, this English barleywine (good) takes all the good things that a barrel imparts and melds it with the base barleywine. Notes of vanilla and oak permeate the beer, while the barleywine itself is more in the molasses/dark fruit/brown sugar realm. A lovely high gravity treat at the festival.
This section is for booths that have a consistent lineup of beers available at their table. Some are better than others but you’re not going to go wrong with anything you get from them. Excluded from this section are Hall of Fame inductees (see below) and any legacy breweries (Brooklyn, Sierra Nevada, Russian River, etc.), mainly because you know you should hit these places already!
Wayfinder Beer | Portland, OR
It could have been any one of the lager tables I enjoyed when I visited (highlighted by Moontown and the always-worth-a-stop-or-ten Live Oak), but I went with the one that had a little more bitterness kicking around. Wayfinder of course brought their Original Cold IPA (still excellent) and paired that with its 5th Anniversary DDH Cold IPA collab with Firestone Walker (also excellent!). The Vienna Lager was on point with a sweet malty presence guiding things, the Wayfinder Hell was light and crisp with a nice touch of grassy bitterness while the Freiheit Oktoberfest featured all the malty and bready goodness of an Oktoberfest while keeping things a little more sessionable. You couldn’t go wrong with any choice and I definitely stopped by multiple times.
HenHouse Brewing Company | Santa Rosa, CA
Thanks to Mr. Beeraficianado himself, Doug Veliky, I already knew I wanted to hit the HenHouse booth. It delivered. Any beer I picked was extremely well done and worth coming back to again and again (which I did). Highlights were their Indie Darling dortmunder that featured a sweet biscuit note and finished crisp and easy. Work-Life Balance, last year’s GABF silver medal in the saison category (finishing behind Waypost’s), hit the mark, with a pillowy mouthfeel and some nice lemon and spice notes. The hidden gem (if you will) was The Beer 2000, a “throwback” stout heavy on the bitterness and roast with no adjuncts. Their Big Science DIPA brought the bitter with a kiss of malty sweetness. Even the barrel-aged beer they only poured on Friday was delicious (sorry, didn’t take a pic and forgot what it was.) I hope they return next year so I can try more from them.
Kane Brewing Co. | Ocean, NJ
I’ll get this out of the way first – A Night to End All Dawns was not as good as that absolutely insane 2014 version poured at that year’s fest but it was still tasty. Their Dripping Maple veered a little on the sweet side (a double BA French Toast-inspired stout will do that) but all the adjuncts played nice and the barrel cut things a bit. The real star here was the Field & Oak beers. Both Golden Raspberry and Three: Honey did amazing things. Golden Raspberry featured a nice tart raspberry fruit note without being too aggressive. Three: Honey, a gueuze-inspired beer, had a kiss of honey sweetness while delivering on all the gueuze notes that I love – a little funk, a little must, some lemon, tart but not too much so. I’m definitely on the lookout for any Field & Oak beers if you’re trading them. Great, beer-diverse booth and one that might make the Hall of Fame if they show up to the fest again.
Hall of Fame
The Hall of Fame is for booths that consistently provide excellent beers – so much so that they would dominate the article. While they may pop up in this piece now and then, they mostly are relegated to this section. Unfortunately, one brewery left us this year.
About a month before the festival, co-owner James Howat posted on Instagram that Black Project would be closing. That sucks. Black Project was always a highlight of the festival and a spot to stop while in Denver. His sour beers will be missed and I hope he pops up at some other brewery plying his trade. We here at ABV Chicago wish the best for both James and Sarah Howat. They will be sorely missed.
Melvin Brewing, on the other hand, was present but scaled back significantly. They had an endcap-type booth with another Wyoming brewery right next to them and they were pumping tunes, but the bus, party atmosphere and (basically) chaos that came with their booth was all gone. No band playing down 14th Street in front of the convention center on a flatbed. No bus parked on the festival floor. As far as I could tell no outside events sponsored by them either. I will note that the Barrel Aged Ruckus they were pouring was really damn good. It was triple barrel-aged with not too much alcohol burn. Lines at the booth were consistent but never insane. It just wasn’t like their glory days of 2015-2017.
Finally, WeldWerks. They are now the sole reason for this section to exist. They continued their odd beer/food pairing concept (that they started with their Spaghetti Gose and pizza in 2018) with their Volcanic Planet Boba. For this, a staffer put some boba balls filled with passion fruit in your pour. Bite down on the balls and get a passion fruit blast. Once again, it worked, with a nice big kick of passion fruit adding to the already imperial sour ale. This confirms that WeldWerks has Flavor Aliens on staff controlling these things because it should be too much.
They also might have been pouring the beer of the festival in Coconut Coffee Medianoche. Big chocolate from the base beer and barrel and the perfect amount of coconut flavor and coffee roast. Amazing and delicious. They weren’t done there, as they had no less than 5 different Medianoche beers pouring (regular, Starry Noche, Summer Starry Noche, and Otra Noche collab w/Other Half) which for a beer of this caliber is nuts. Volcanic Planet Boba and the Peach Pie Sour kicked first regularly while the entire booth would run out of beer typically with about an hour to go.
Additionally WeldWerks had their beer all around town. Hops & Pie had a special donut Medianoche variant on Friday. WeldWerks now owns GABF. Their booth always demands first stop when getting to the festival. I cannot stress it enough – you’re now doing GABF right if you don’t have a WeldWerks beer while you’re there.
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