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The Great American Beer Festival (GABF) is a necessary pilgrimage for any craft beer drinker or homebrewer.  If you have ever seen groups of  children screaming in delight at Disneyland, then you can imagine the scene at GABF….except the kids are grown adults with facial hair and there are 600+ breweries and 2,800+ beers on the other side of the gate.

Being a member of the AHA I had the opportunity to purchase pre-sale tickets.  Purchasing pre-sale tickets would be a good thing as the event would sell out in a matter of minutes.  Not even Ticketmaster servers could handle the gitty and hairy craft beer drinkers and their appetite to attend this national event.  I purchased a ticket to the AHA/BA members only session being held on Saturday, Oct. 12 at 12 noon.

As I stood in line with a few of my fellow homebrew club members and adorned myself with the obligatory pretzel necklace (thanks Chris!), I could barely contain myself for what was about to ensue.  This being my first GABF, I wasn’t sure what to expect and to be honest thought it was going to be a complete s**t show….but I would quickly be proved wrong.

The bells would toll at 12 noon…the race was on.  Upon entering a group of Scottish bag pipers led the way into the expo center.  Upon entering the expo center doors, it was like I entered heaven.  I was handed a glass by a volunteer, who am sure was actually an angel, who smiled at me and said “Welcome. Cheers!” My eyes, wide and big, taking in the never ending rows of breweries, keg taps and beer, was a sight to be cherished.

I quickly retrieved my iPhone, because they have cell phones in heaven, to open my GABF app to help me navigate the festival.  With over 600 breweries, you need to have a game plan on how to tackle this event. I took time to log the breweries and beers I have been wanting to try via the GABF app.  Me and my friends decided to start in the Great Lakes section and work our way down our lists.  Hit my hometown favorites such as Bells, New Holland, Short’s, and of course Great Lakes.

If you don’t know, on a snowy Buffalo, NY day in 2006, Great Lake’s Edmund Fitzgerald, was the beer that introduced me to craft beer and I never looked back.  Here is me with my obligatory pour of Edmund Fitzgerald as a humble ‘thank you’ for introducing me to good craft beer.

As I glanced down at my watch to see that I have been in the Great Lakes section for over an hour, I quickly determined that if I was to make it through my list, I needed to move on.  Some highlighted beers that I sampled in the Great Lakes section was Three Floyd’s Zombie Dust, Bell’s Dark Note and Short’s Brewery The Curl.

Next up was West Coast/Pacific breweries.  Where do I even start!?  First stop was Firestone Walker….well we stayed there for a while.  Tried Parabola….delicious!  Lil Opal…..Wow!  Pivo….Sure, why not!  Firestone Walker is a mecca for quality craft beer and did not disappoint….and now I am thirsty.

Wanted to try to catch some big fish so I sought out Russian River, Stone, 21st Amendment, Ballast Point and Lost Abbey.  First up, Russian River….along with their rather long line.  The line went quick (2 minutes max) and I had the chance to enjoy a Propitiation, a Wild American ale.  Well worth the short wait.  Making my way through the West Coast, I ran into an rather familiar face in the world of craft beer and homebrewing, the one and only Greg Koch of Stone Brewing.  I thanked him for all that he has done for the craft beer movement, snapped a picture with him and we went on enjoying some beer.

While I was wading through the vast amount of breweries on the West Coast and fighting the urge to visit every table, I stumbled upon one on my list, Heretic Brewing.  Heretic is growing in popularity and recognition but the owner, founder and brewer needs no introduction to homebrewers.  Jamil Zainasheff, award winning homebrewer, author, host of the Brewing Network and overall legend, was at the booth.  I took some time to talk to him and try Herietic’s Evil Twin.  Wow!  A great beer brewed by a person who has departed so much knowledge to me and other homebrewers.  Cheers to homebrewing!

Some of the highlights was Lost Abbey’s Red Poppy, Bear Republic’s Crazy Ivan and  Stone’s Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale.  It was a tough tour, but I made it through the West Coast.

I then decided to hit up the Pacific Northwest region, specially trying some of the Oregon breweries.   Talk about a beast….at this time, I was no match for the amount of quality brews flowing in this region.  A couple highlights were Bend Brewing Co., Deschutes with their Black Butte XXV, Ninkasi Brewing’s Tricerahops , Elysian Brewing and No-Li’s Born & Raised IPA.

At the end of the day, I logged…roughly…63 beers (samples of course) and felt rather accomplished in my goals.  One goal was to get a good sample of sours and IPAs across  the country.  My second was to stay strong with my indicated list of ‘want to try’ beers and breweries.

All in all….what a blast!  If you enjoy craft beer or are a homebrewer, you have to attend the Great American Beer Festival at least once.  This may have been my first, but it will not be my last.  Cheers to craft beer and cheers to GABF.  See you all in Denver next year!