Sunday, October 9, 2022

2022 Great American Beer Festival celebrates 40 years of beer

Cheers to 40 years of beer at GABF (Photos © Brewers Association)!

Returning to its normal in-person format after two years of being competition-only, the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) celebrated its 40th anniversary this weekend in Denver, Colorado. The event, which began in 1982 with just 24 breweries in attendance, played host to nearly 500 breweries in 2022.

The latter number was down significantly from pre-Covid times, when roughly 800 breweries were on hand in 2019. Attendance was limited for patrons as well, but even with curbs in place the Thursday night session was the first in recent memory not to sell out.

This resulted in a smaller event on paper, though it didn't feel less crowded considering the festivities took place in a smaller section of the Colorado Convention Center. Lines seemed longer at popular booths - think Dogfish Head, Firestone Walker and Russian River, not to mention the annual gathering of the masses for a microscopic pour of Utopias from the folks at Samuel Adams. 

Lower attendance also extended to local participants, with only four North Texas breweries present and pouring at the festival - 903 Brewers of Sherman, Denton County Brewing Co. of Denton, Peticolas Brewing Co. of Dallas and Twin Peaks Brewing Co. of Irving. While each enjoyed steady traffic, 903 was noticeably busy as it served a variety of slushy beers and sweet stouts to a lengthy and persistent queue.

An expanding presence outside of Texas has helped to raise the visibility of 903, as the brewery now distributes to over ten states in the country (with more to come). Plus, 903 was one of at least two hometown breweries to hold events at Denver accounts this weekend. The other being False Idol Brewing Co. of North Richland Hills, a group that is quietly working to build a larger out-of-state distribution network as well.

Regarding trends, while IPAs remain king, lighter beers seemed more in vogue this year. Given the season, you'd expect to find plenty of märzen and Oktoberfest beers, and there are always pilsners-a-plenty, but to my eyes Mexican-style lagers were also much more in abundance. There certainly didn't seem to be as many stouts (only a handful of which were of the pastry variety), and forget about finding any barleywines - I think I tried every one of the half-dozen or so listed on the MyGABF app. I guess bigger isn't better in the current market environment, though I did find a few gems...

Favorite beers included an Oak Barrel-Aged Flanders Red Ale from Moody Tongue Brewing Co. of Illinois (the ONLY Flanders on the floor), Kelly's Private Stash Barrel-Aged Barley Wine from Third Eye Brewing Co. of Ohio, and Sandstone Whiskey Barrel-Aged Baltic Porter from Well 80 Artisan Brewing of Washington. Oh, and for the obligatory IPAs - Spirit of the West from Westbound & Down Brewing Co. of Colorado, and Polar Bear Toenails from Precarious Beer Project of Virginia (both medal winners in 2022).

As for the competition, local results and a rundown of key numbers can be found below. Following that, I offer up my regular roundup of select taprooms I visited outside the festival.


Competition results

Judges evaluated 9,904 beers from 2,154 breweries during this year's competition, awarding 300 medals across 177 style categories. Once again, IPA categories garnered the greatest number of entries, with "American Style IPA" taking the lead, followed by "Juicy or Hazy IPA." Rounding out the top five were three German-based styles, those being "German-Style Pilsener," "German Wheat Ale," and "German-Style Maerzen."

Six breweries from North Texas brought home medals, which is the most area wins in a single year since 2015. For those curious, the graphic below shows how the region has fared overall at GABF since the start of the modern craft beer boom.

Source: Individual research.

First time winners in 2022 included 3 Nations Brewing Co. of Carrollton, Edgewise Eight Brewing of Weatherford, Maple Branch Craft Brewery of Fort Worth, and Windmills of The Colony. Among repeat honorees, Community Beer Co. of Dallas landed its sixth GABF medal, while White Rock Alehouse & Brewery of Dallas snagged its second.

Incidentally, the White Rock win is notable in that it occurred in the highly-competitive and second-most entered category, "Juicy or Hazy IPA," where it went up against 374 other hoppy brews.


  • Windmills for Sonidero - American Amber Lager.



Founders Stuart and Allyssa Maples and crew from Maple Branch Craft Brewery gather to celebrate their win (left), while owner Kevin Carr (right)
offers a thumbs-up after receiving Community Beer Co.'s award at the 2022 Great American Beer Festival (Photos © Brewers Association).

Taproom trips

  • My first brewery visit outside the festival was to what might best be referred to as the church of Colorado Springs craft beer. Local Relic Artisan Ales is part of a cooperative space set up inside a former church, which also houses a restaurant, along with wine and cocktail bars. Creative house beers at Local Relic are poured alongside a curated selection of guest taps - which on this particular day included beers from Jester King Brewery of Austin.
Local Relic's beers are available on tap, or in bottles to go. (Photos © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D).
  • Continuing explorations I began last year with a visit to Cabin Creek Brewing in Georgetown, Colorado, I once again sought out destinations with a bit of outdoor ambiance. Having good beer is one thing, but it certainly doesn't hurt to create a destination where an intangible or two is added to the taproom experience. Breweries like Red Leg Brewing Co. in Colorado Springs, along with Evergreen Brewery and Lariat Lodge Brewing Co. in Evergreen provide just that.
Left-to-right: Red Leg Brewing Co., Lariat Lodge Brewing Co., Evergreen Brewery (Photos © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D).
  • I've yet to visit the original location of Bruz Beers in Midtown Denver, but the company's satellite taproom off Colfax Ave. in Downtown may be my new favorite haunt. Hypeheads should seek their treasures elsewhere, because Belgian-style beers are the specialty here. Dubbel, tripel, quad, grisette, saison, bière de miel...the list goes on.
Belgians big and small are the specialty at Bruz Beers in Denver (Photos © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D).

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