The 30th Great American Beer Festival (GABF), held a few weeks ago at the Colorado Convention Center, stands as a testament to the intrinsic appeal of craft brewed beer … and to the vision and hard work of the people at the Brewers Association (which organizes it) and to the craft brewers that have proliferated across the country over these years.

While most everything else in the American economy is contracting, it seems the craft beer world just keeps expanding. Attendance, volunteers, and the number of breweries, beers on the floor, beers in the competition, categories judged (83), beer styles (134) and judges all increased! The GABF remains the largest commercial beer competition in the world, with 3,930 beers, an 11 percent increase over last year, submitted from 526 breweries for 248 medals.

Colorado brewers brought home 44 medals, second only to California. Salute the following breweries:

  • Amicas, Salida
  • Backcountry, Frisco
  • Blue Moon, Denver
  • Boulder Beer Co., Boulder
  • Bull & Bush, Denver
  • C.B. & Potts, Ft. Collins and Westminster
  • Colorado Boy, Ridgway, CO
  • Copper Kettle, Denver
  • Coors, Golden
  • Crabtree, Greeley
  • Del Norte, Denver
  • Denver Beer Co., Denver
  • Dostal Alley, Central City
  • Dry Dock, Aurora
  • Durango, Durango
  • Equinox, Ft. Collins
  • Funkwerks, Ft. Collins
  • Glenwood Canyon, Glenwood Springs
  • Grimm Brothers, Loveland
  • Mountain Sun, Boulder
  • New Belgium, Fort Collins
  • Odell”s, Ft. Collins
  • Oskar Blues, Longmont
  • Rock Bottom, Westminster
  • SandLot, Denver
  • Ska, Durango
  • Strange Brewing Co., Denver
  • Upslope, Boulder
  • Wynkoop, Denver

It was particularly fun beer to try a “new” beer style this year: pumpkin beer! Obviously tailored for fall, these earthy, deeply flavored beers were most interesting. And Colorado did extremely well in the category with Upslope won gold and Bull & Bush won bronze.

I was glad to see the festival continued its emphasis on matching beer with food. This was prominently on display in the more intimate Farm-to-Table Pavilion where chefs created dishes using Colorado products to pair with selected beers from around the country. Even some of the Colorado farmers and ranchers were there to talk about their products.

As a “wine guy,” I’m well versed in the affinity between wine and food. So, I have been pleased to see craft brewers in recent years put more effort into making beers that are best drunk with food. The Farm-to-Table Pavilion presented a fine opportunity to discover how much local foods rendered by skilled chefs have in common with craft beer from small and independent breweries. This innovative event is destined to become a perennial highlight of the GABF.

Also impressive was that the festival continued its efforts to remain on the cutting edge of sustainability initiatives. In partnership with ZeroHero (a Colorado company that works across the country reducing the impact of major events and festivals through zero-waste management, alternative energy and education), the Colorado Convention Center, Centerplate Catering, Governors Energy Office, Colorado Carbon Fund, A1 Organics, and Renewable Choice Energy, the GABF worked to reduce its carbon footprint and come as close to a zero-waste event as possible.

Here are some of the programs implemented at the festival:

  • At least 85% of the waste to be diverted away from the landfill
  • Most disposable items were recyclable or compostable
  • All glass and plastic bottles, cans, paper and cardboard to be recycled
  • Use of styrofoam at food outlets in the event was banned
  • Bulk condiments used at concession areas
  • All compost processed by local company
  • Carbon production offset by purchasing wind credits
  • House lights kept at 50% during the show

Great beer, good food, and helping the environment, what more could we ask?

Well, how about continued growth in the craft beer industry. According to the Brewers Association, the craft beer industry in 2010 achieved growth rates of 11% by volume and 12% by dollars. And by August 2011, there were 1829 breweries operating, the most in 100 years, with at least 760 more in planning.

Let’s all raise a glass … or two!

About Rich

I first became interested in wine while I worked in numerous liquor stores during college in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In the years following college, I researched, tasted, traveled to vineyards in California and Europe, participated in countless tastings. I began writing about wine in 1995 with a column in Out Front Colorado. For me, wine is more than a drink. It is food. It is a connection to the earth. It is culture. There is just something amazing, even magical, about the transformation of grapes into wine. It is also remarkable how drinking wine with food enhances the taste and enjoyment of both. Appreciation of wine has become an integral part of my approach to life, which emphasizes balance, respect for nature, physical and emotional health, and an appreciation of our nature as social beings. In 2006, I was awarded a fellowship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.