Why Denver Is A Poor Place For The Great American Beer Festival

Great American Beer Festival Outfit

The Great American Beer Festival is the biggest beer fest in the United States. It attracts more than 60,000 people to Denver, Colorado each fall and serves up some of the best beers in the country. With more than 750 breweries and over 3,800 beers, it’s a beer lover’s paradise. There’s just one problem. Denver is a bad place for the Great American Beer Festival.

Why Denver Isn’t The Best For The Fest

Denver is an awesome town. Home to more than 75 breweries and tons of great beer bars, it’s a place every craft beer lover needs to visit. With gorgeous views of the Rocky Mountains, it’s located a mile high. And that’s the problem.

At an elevation of 5,130 to 5,690 feet above sea level, Denver has less atmospheric pressure than we experience in most of the US. Low pressure does a couple things. At higher altitude you get less oxygen in your blood, which makes your taste and odor receptors less sensitive. It also allows the mucus in your nasal cavities to expand, making it harder to taste.

Denver has one of the lowest relative humidity levels in the US. During late September and early October when the Great American Beer Festival takes place, the relative humidity drops below 32% three out of four days, which dries out your mouth and nose, lowering your sense of taste even further.

The combination of low pressure and low humidity combine to congest and dehydrate you, much like having a bad cold. Foods taste less sweet, less salty. And because of this, beer can’t be fully enjoyed as it should be. Though fruity aromas and acids aren’t as heavily impacted (think IPAs), salt can be 20-30% less intense (Gose for example) and sugar 15-20% less intense (Belgians, porters, brown ales, etc) at altitude.

Keep Denver, Move The Great American Beer Festival

The negative impact Denvers location has on our ability to really smell and taste beer doesn’t mean it’s a bad place for beer lovers. It just means it’s not the perfect spot for 265 judges to rate over 7,300 beers from brewers across the country. How can one really pick the best beers if they can’t fully taste them? If a judge said they had a bad cold, would you want them picking which beers should and shouldn’t receive the honors of a GABF medal?

The first experience we have with a brewery has a big impact on our future interest in their beers. If GABF attendees don’t taste a beer for what it really is at the fest, it will likely impact their choice to seek that brewer out in their local market when they return home, or in the future when they travel. With over 60,000 attendees, that’s a lot of potential people to influence.

Brewers want to ensure that people enjoy their beer fully. This is why they put a lot of effort into properly cleaning equipment, bottles, kegs, tap lines, and glassware. So why not be concerned with how the environment impacts the beer too?

Denver may have a lot of breweries and beer bars to choose from, but there are other places in the US that offer a craft beer fans a place to gather and celebrate beer, without the negative impact The Mile High City has on our ability to fully experience taste and smell.

A Change In Tradition

The amazing growth of craft beer we’re experiencing today wouldn’t have been possible if brewers hadn’t broken from the long traditions ingrained in the American beer industry at the time. Like those enterprising brewers, the Great American Beer Festival could break with the traditional location which is negatively impacting the beer it was created to showcase.  Maybe it’s time we consider what’s best for the biggest beer festival in the country and find a place where the beer we love can be enjoyed in the best way possible.

Image Credit: Daniel Spiess

Author: Beer Blogger

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2 Comments

  1. I respectfully disagree. This is Denver’s festival that Denver built. If you want a better festival at a better location, spend 35 years building one. If you don’t like the festival in Denver, don’t go. Don’t submit a beer to be judged. Don’t blog about what happened there. Don’t give any weight to medals awarded there. GABF is Denver’s festival, and it shouldn’t be taken away because people outside the city decided it’s important. Pick a weekend in a lower elevation city with a wetter climate and start inviting breweries to send samples.

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  2. And that’s why there’s the World Beer Cup that roams the US…. stick to that pal and quit disappointing yourself with your sensory depravation. We seem to make pretty well received beers here that seem to be dialed in when they leave our state to are distributed to less arid lower elevated states. I wonder how we dial those in if what you are saying is true?

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