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Texas brewers bring beer, high spirits to Great American Beer Festival

Arianna Auber

While Austinites gear up for two rambunctious weekends of live music at Austin City Limits Festival, beer enthusiasts from all over the country have swarmed into Denver, Colo., for three days of a very different festival.

The Great American Beer Festival brings together hundreds of breweries around the U.S. that have been creating quality craft beers, some for more than 30 years, others for as little as a few months, and their thirsty fans for beer tastings and other related events through Saturday, when the big awards ceremony announcing winners of GABF’s competition is announced.

I have been in Colorado since Sunday visiting breweries in Colorado Springs, Golden, Fort Collins and Denver with my friends in Bitch Beer (a blog, full disclosure, that I also write for), and I’m looking forward to also covering my very first GABF, the largest beer festival in the U.S., for Liquid Austin. The festival starts today with the first of three tasting sessions in the Colorado Convention Center, and with thousands of beers being poured for thousands of people, I’m expecting to be a little overwhelmed but still determined to discover some innovative brews and talk to some of the passionate minds behind them.

Leading up to the festival, I’ve been asking festival veterans if they’ve got any tips for festival newcomers like me. Josh Hare, Hops and Grain’s founder and a recent participant in 1400 Miles, a 1,400 mile bike ride from Austin to Denver to raise awareness about prostate cancer, had this piece of advice to offer: “Take it slowly.  There is plenty of beer to go around and the altitude will sneak up on you, especially coming from sea level. “

Middleton Brewing’s Clayton Rahmberg didn’t have a particular tip about GABF for me, but he did say that the festival is “a great place to culture new relationships and gain inspiration for new recipes, events, etc.” At the festival, Middleton will have Pepperhead IPA (“an American style-IPA that we dry hop with a variety of Texas peppers”) and the Texas Pecan Amber (“our American-style amber that we dry hop with a large amount of Seguin pecans”).

To get the full list of beers that will be at GABF’s big tasting sessions (and a map of where they are), download the GABF app. The breweries are divided by region, so it’s a good idea for festival-goers to plan ahead and know which parts of the crowded convention center they’ll want to get to first.

Although the tasting sessions are a large component of the festival, the awards ceremony on Saturday that will announce the winners of the competition is what I look forward to the most.

Think of the competition as the Academy Awards of craft beer, if you will. It’s an honor to receive a medal, a gratifying signal of breweries’ hard work and ability — and Texas beer makers have been increasingly taking home the gold (or the silver or bronze) in the past few years. At last year’s festival, they won a combined 10 medals, with Austin breweries in particular earning the most at six.

Hops and Grain, Hare said, is entering The One They Call Zoe in the Experimental Beer category, PorterCulture in the Baltic-style Porter category and their adjunct lager Pils Party in the Premium American Lager category. PorterCulture is going to be the next beer the brewery will can; look for it later this fall.

And check back on the blog in the next few days for more GABF updates.