And so is the excitement around Northern Colorado craft beer
By Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer
Through it all, shutdowns, staff shortages and all other pandemic woes, we have had beer. However, for two years, the granddaddy of all beer festivals, the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), has been on hiatus.
This year, though leaner, GABF, held at the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver, is back.
Due to construction and availability constraints at the Convention Center, GABF expects to host 40,000 eager beer drinkers rather than 60,000. While it may not be the behemoth it once was, it is still the largest ticketed beer festival in the country, and it is a yearly highlight for many breweries. However, not always as a marketing tool for business.
“GABF is more about my staff than a competition or advertising,” says Aaron Heaton, co-owner of Grimm Brothers Brewhouse, the oldest craft brewery in Loveland. “They work so hard day in and day out. It’s an opportunity to network, blow off steam and of course, drink beer.”
Timnath Beerworks plans to take every staff member down for the Saturday session, for their employees to experience beer culture on this level and as a thank you. For several of their staff, this will be an entirely new event.
For those who’ve never attended, it will be an astonishing look at an industry that has grown and thrived. The first GABF, held in 1982, featured 24 participating breweries and 47 beers. This year, around 500 breweries from 45 states will attend serving samples of 2,000 different beers. In 2019, the last GABF, there were 800 breweries serving 4,000 beers.
Having attended GABF since 2012, the year they opened the brewery in Berthoud, City Star Brewing will attend again this year.
“One thing I’m most excited for is the experience for my staff,” says Whitney Way, co-owner of City Star Brewing. “Especially over the last couple of years, we’ve had fewer opportunities to engage our staff in the craft beer community.”
This lack of community is a big part of what has been missing for many brewery owners and staff. GABF is a chance to raise a pint with likeminded folks who they have not seen for several years.
Dave Russo, owner of Snowbank Brewing, has missed this aspect.
“Everyone got disconnected [during 2020]. Even in Fort Collins, for a year no one really got together,” he says. “To have GABF back means that excitement around beer is back.”
One important part of GABF has not been paused and even occurred in 2020. The competition, which is a significant part of the event for breweries, has a record number of entries this year—more than 1,000 beers will compete in around 100 categories.
New at GABF has a new taproom called Wish We Were Here, featuring beer from breweries that were unable to attend. This area also will be the place for attendees to sample collaborations and taste gold, silver and bronze beers from past GABF and World Beer Cup award winners.There are also costume contests during each GABF session where adorned attendees can win tickets to the 2023 festival.
One of the most popular aspects of GABF isn’t the festival at all, but the many craft beer parties that pop up around Denver and the Front Range. Northern Colorado will be well-represented at one particular venue.
MobCraft Dee Tacko recently opened at 2403 Champa Street in Denver. MobCraft opened in 2013 in Wisconsin and is the world’s first crowdsourced brewery. Dee Tacko is a Mexican food restaurant from Pueblo that continues to grow in popularity.
Chris Black, formerly of Falling Rock Tap House, and Jeff Willis, formerly of Tap and Handle in Fort Collins, have come together to create beer magic during GABF at MobCraft Dee Tacko. Following in the footsteps of Falling Rock Taphouse, which closed in 2021, each day during GABF, MobCraft Dee Tacko will host a beer-themed party.
Thanks to Willis, who lives in Fort Collins and has strong connections with the beer industry, many participating breweries will represent Northern Colorado’s craft beer scene. In fact, the Saturday Lager Lounge, October 8, will feature beer by Zwei Brewing Co., a brewery not taking part in GABF.
In fact, they’ve been on a break from GABF for a handful of years. After 20 years of attending, Kirk Lombardi, owner of Zwei along with his brother Eric, needed a breather. Zwei opened in 2014, but before that the Lombardi brothers were brewers at C.B. & Potts.
“I’ve known Jeff (Willis) for a long time and the idea of the lagers on Saturday—that was a no brainer,” says Kirk Lombardi. “The opportunity to do what we do and be involved in a party down there with people we know, it was serendipity.”
The parties being held at MobCraft Dee Tacko are Wisconsin Wednesday (October 5), which is a celebration of craft beer made in Wisconsin, MobCraft’s homeland. A familiar Northern Colorado brewery will be part of Thursday’s party, Verboten Brewing.
The tagline of Loveland’s Verboten Brewing (owned by Josh and Angeline Grenz) is “Beer for All,” and it embraces and displays their love of diversity and inclusion, two things which will be recognized in MobCraft’s Thursday, October 6 party, “Brewed by All.” The evening’s party will be hosted by Lady Justice, an all-female owned Denver brewery.
Friday is an IPA Throwdown, with Snowbank Brewing from Fort Collins as one of the featured breweries. Saturday is the Lager Lounge, and Sunday is the Brewmaster Brunch, a ticketed beer brunch featuring a curated menu by Dee Tacko Chef Juan Herrera along with hand selected beers.
Other Northern Colorado breweries will likely be involved in MobCraft Dee Tacko parties during GABF, but at the time of this publication, it was still coming together.
Of course, with their numerous connections across the beer world, Chris Black and Jeff Willis will bring in special and hard-to-find beers to be tapped throughout the five-day event.
With the return of the Great American Beer Festival and the accompanying parties around the event, a renewed excitement around craft beer is occurring. People like Jeff Willis look forward to being a part of this fresh appreciation for craft beer and the people who make it.
“Let’s face it, people haven’t changed in thousands of years,” says Willis. “Maybe we’ve gotten a little craftier and we have more gadgets, but we haven’t really changed much socially. We need connections with other people. Period.”
Whether at the Great American Beer Festival or at a craft beer party, people who love, make and drink beer will get together to celebrate, and those vital connections will once again be made. It’s what we all need, not just beer, but the comradery that comes with it.
The Great American Beer Festival is held at the Colorado Convention Center from October 5 to October 8.