By Neill Pieper
After 35 years, what could organizers of the Great American Beer Festival possibly do to impress anyone? How about more beer, more breweries and more breakout sessions to educate the public?
The first festival was in 1982 at the Harvest House Hotel in Boulder. Twenty-four breweries poured 47 beers and 800 adventurous type people showed up. This year, roughly 60,000 people will fill the Colorado Convention Center Oct. 5-7 to take a shot at 3,800 beers.
Expect food and beer pairings, access to brewers, educational booths, the Pro-Am Competition and, the silent disco, where people dance to music via headphones – humor alert!
Judges will choose medal winners from 8,000 beers in nearly 100 categories and more than 150 styles.
So, if you were lucky enough to get a ticket, enjoy the largest single collection of beer tastings in the world.
You’re here for the Great American Beer Festival, but the largest collection of U.S. beer ever served is not all this city has to offer. From art districts to botanic gardens, there is something to do every day of the week.
Denver Botanic Gardens
Looking for a peaceful break from the festivities? The Denver Botanic Gardens will be full of color the first week of October. Stroll through the urban oasis and gaze at the beautiful trees and flowers found in the Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory’s rain forest. The Denver Botanic Gardens even grows hops. Check out the trellis along the parking garage on York Street to view the plants that “will definitely be worth looking at in October,” according to their horticulturist.
Visit botanicgardens.org for more information.
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Work off those beer calories you consumed all weekend with the American Lung Association in Colorado’s Run the Rocks at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Sunday, Oct. 8. Beginning at 9:30 a.m., the 5K run/walk and 10K run will wrap around the amphitheatre with five local bands playing live music to encourage you throughout. The race ends at the iconic steps next to the amphitheatre, where there will be beer to replenish you at the top. Ticket prices range from $30 to $55, depending on which race you run, and when you sign up.
Visit runtherocks.org for more information.
Denver Museum of Nature & Science
Go on an immersive trip through space with Cosmic Journey: A Solar System Adventure at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science’s Charles C. Gates Planetarium. For $5, viewers can blast off at the speed of light to discover the many wonders of our solar system. With the 55-foot hemispherical screen and 360-degree sound system, you might not notice the experience is just a digital projection. The show does require museum admission ($16.95), so check out the Nature’s Amazing Machines exhibit on your way out to learn about the phenomena that give all living things the ability to move and survive. Attendees can learn to “fly” with different sets of bird wings, pump “blood” from the heart of a life-size giraffe model and more.
Visit dmns.org for more information and official ticket pricing.
River North (RiNo) Art District
Just north of downtown, the RiNo Art District is a historically industrial neighborhood that got creative back in 2005. The art district now has almost 300 members and, with 15 breweries, wineries and distilleries within a 1-mile radius, it contains the largest concentration of craft beverage manufacturers in the U.S., according to its 2016/2017 annual report. These manufacturers make up the DRiNk RiNo organization which, in partnership with RiNo, offers free eTuk rides to various artists’ studios, breweries and eateries in the area. The service runs on the first Friday of each month from 5 p.m. to midnight and every Saturday from 2-10 p.m.
Visit rinoartdistrict.org or stop by the RiNo District Headquarters on Blake Street for more information, including a district field guide to help you navigate through the area.
Art District on Santa Fe
The Art District on Santa Fe lies a short two miles away from the Colorado Convention Center between West Alameda and 12th avenues. The growing community of more than 60 creative industry members is also home to four craft breweries and one distillery. But the biggest event of the month is the First Friday Art Walk. From 5:30-9:30 p.m. on the first Friday of each month, the free event attracts up to 10,000 patrons browsing the area’s artistic talents or grabbing a bite to eat from the special food truck depot on West 7th Avenue. A free shuttle rotates through the area every 20 minutes with six stops, including Crazy Mountain Brewing Co.
Check out artdistrictonsantafe.com for more information.
Let’s be honest, you need to offset your beer intake with something a little more solid than that chewy stout you’re working on. Luckily, the Denver area has some of the best restaurants in the country. And since you are in the mecca of beer, the following restaurants had beer in mind when coming up with killer recipes. Bon Apetit!
Hops & Pie - Berkeley
It’s all in the name. Hand-tossed pizzas are what this Berkeley neighborhood haunt is all about. Housemade ingredients include a house mozzerella and a crust that’s IPA infused. And don’t miss the pork shoulder, which has given Hops & Pie a reputation for great sandwiches too. What’s crazy is that the pizza might be topped by the beer list, featuring the latest offerings you may not even find among the 3,800 beers at GABF.
Finn’s Manor - RiNo
Head into the eclectic RiNo neighborhood north of downtown and stumble into Finn’s Manor, conveniently located across from Ratio Beerworks. A small indoor bar is dwarfed by an enclosed patio perfect for enjoying that crisp fall weather. Out back you’ll find three food trucks ranging from Thai to barbecue to Jamaican cuisine – yeah, mon! A rotating beer list features local favorites and yet is always topped off with the original king of beers, Budvar, from the Czech Republic.
Freshcraft - LoDo
With events at this LoDo craft beer bar all week long, we couldn’t keep Freshcraft off the list. Freshcraft has something for everyone. The upscale comfort food found here is balanced with items such as their vegetable wellington and lamb ragout. The beers served at Freshcraft have been handpicked by staff to pair perfectly with the menu items. Because several tap takeovers occur during GABF, expect incredible beers and loads of activity at the bar.
The Source - RiNo
Back in RiNo, find Acorn at the Source. Acorn aims at serving new American-style dishes with locally sourced ingredients. An oak-fired oven and grill are the inspiration for the name and many of the dishes that Acorn develops. Small batch brews and cocktails round out the menu. You don’t have to go far to get a good beer, however, as Crooked Stave Artisan Beer is located in the same building. Cap off the evening with an after-dinner Petite Sour.
Vine Street Pub & Brewery - Uptown
While craft beer is often paired with meat, the chefs at Vine Street Pub have done a great job at pairing vegetarian options with their brews. The uptown area brewpub cranks out killer brews on the six-barrel system but the food shouldn’t be missed. The Tempeh Reuben could fool any meat-lover into being vegetarian while the Boom Boom sandwich goes great with an Annapurna amber ale.
Fruition - Denver
This upscale restaurant has been defining seasonally fresh cuisine on East 6th Avenue since 2007. Fruition sources a plethora of its ingredients from its 10-acre farm it owns just outside Denver. The Fruition Farms Creamery sustainably harvests sheep’s milk, heritage-breed hogs, honey from Italian honey bees, and fruit and vegetables from the garden. The knowledgeable wait staff can recommend a craft libation for any of the delicious menu items found here.