As brewers are planning which beers to submit to the GABF competition, the beers that you—the beer lover who attends the festival—enjoy are following their own route to Denver.
GABF organizers contact breweries across the United States with preliminary registration information for the festival. Breweries that plan to participate have about six weeks to decide how many, and which beers, to send: a brewery is limited to five beers to be served on the festival floor, though more can be submitted for the competition.
Breweries supply each beer in either two 1/6 barrel kegs (10 gallons) or fifteen cases of bottles or cans. This translates into 1,280 one-ounce festival pours from the kegs, or 4,320 one-ounce pours from bottles to satisfy the curiosity of the festival attendees—multiply that by more than 1,900 beers, and there’s plenty to go around.
Re-uniting empty kegs with their breweries is a major post-festival headache for many events. In a creative piece of problem-solving, the GABF partners with MicroStar, a “keg management company,” that sends empty kegs to participating breweries. The brewers fill the kegs with their beers, festival goers drink the beer in Denver, and MicroStar reclaims the empties. No lost kegs. An added bonus—the kegs are all of the same type, with the same fittings.
During a period of a few days, breweries deliver their kegs and cases of beer to regional drop-off points in the GABF network.
“We have about 36 to 38 designated drop-off points around the country,” says Nancy Johnson, “places like Anchor Brewery, Teton Brewing in Idaho, Boston Beer, Great Lakes. Those guys palletize it all for us.” A given drop-off point will collect anywhere from five to fifteen pallets of beer, which are loaded into refrigerated trucks supplied by the festival. Keeping the beer in peak condition is a point of pride at these centers. In return for their assistance, the drop-off centers get free entry to the festival.
Refrigerated trucks collect the beer from the drop-off points, moving along nine national routes to Denver. For example, says Johnson “One starts in Boston, then hits Brooklyn Brewery in New York, heads over to Great Lakes in Cleveland, stops in Kansas City and then pulls into Denver.”
The Week Before the Festival
The trucks converge on the Anheuser-Busch warehouse in Denver, the festival’s host distributor. As each truck is scheduled to arrive, festival staff are there to meet it, and move the pallets of beer directly to about nine locally-rented refrigerated trailers.
The Final Week
In the Colorado Convention Center, GABF staff are marking sites on the festival floor, hanging up banners, putting up the drape and off-loading freight.
Beginning in the afternoon, the nine trailers of beer begin to arrive one by one at the convention center, where this year the dock team and the beer service team will unload 1,936 different beers. The beers are iced once they’re in place behind festival booths. The GABF uses eight tons of ice over the course of the festival.
Thursday, 5:30 p.m.
Festival opens for four sessions over three days, when 46,000 people will attend.