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The Great American Beer Festival featured breweries from across the country at this year's event in Denver. Photo courtesy of GABF
The Great American Beer Festival featured breweries from across the country at this year's event in Denver. Photo courtesy of GABF
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Brews aplenty at the Great American Beer Festival

Have you ever wanted an interlude? How nice would it be to take a moment to pause the chaos, feel the relaxation so often absent wash over you, and be aware of all the good surrounding you? 

I recently headed to Denver, Colorado, for what I hoped might be an extended interlude: a working vacation at the Great American Beer Festival. If you’re a beer person, GABF has likely always been on the list of beer adventures to take before you die. I’m lucky in that I’ve been able to attend several times. This was my first trip back since the onset of that pandemic thing you may have heard about.

I was there Thursday night for the kick-off of this year’s event featuring 2,033 breweries from every state, plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, entering 9,298 beers into a competition of 99 categories.

At first, it was all work. How do I get to the convention center? What breweries are here? Where is the food pairing event? What’s new? What’s not? And then I walked out onto the floor.

The 2023 Great American Beer Festival featured more than 2,000 breweries from across the U.S. Photo courtesy of GABF
Bagpipers kickoff this yer's Great American Beer Festival. Courtesy photo/GABF/Brewers Association
Bagpipers kick off this year’s Great American Beer Festival. Courtesy photo/GABF/Brewers Association

We were 10 minutes out before the lines were released. I walked the lines. I said hello to some brewery people, getting excited for the onslaught. I looked out at the masses, waiting for what might be their first GABF or their 20th. I waited for the sound.

How does one describe the bellow emitted from a troupe of traditional bagpipers when it isn’t just music? When is it a release of all the build-up for thousands of beer lovers communing in a single place and time?

This year, there was raucous shouting when the first bagpipe blew and a long, sustained cheer when the last note floated away.

The ropes were cut, and the festival was off to the races.

Visitors talk with breweries from across the country at Great American Beer Festival. Photo by Ryan Woldt
Visitors talk with breweries nationwide at the Great American Beer Festival. Photo by Ryan Woldt

This year’s festival was different. I won’t try to compare it to years past. Nothing is the same anymore. I will say that being in that room again affected me unexpectedly.

Not long after the event was in full swing, I looked for a place to be still. I went downstairs into the food pairing section wing of the festival (formerly on the main floor) and found myself as far from the GABF floor as possible.

Would you believe that was having a slice of craft pizza paired with a Karl Strauss Golden Stout served by none other than Karl’s Brewmaster Paul Segura? I wouldn’t have believed it either, but it is true. I also sampled the 34th Anniversary Chard-Aged Wheat Wine.

Eleven years ago, Karl Strauss’ 24th anniversary party at their Pacific Beach location was the very first craft beer event I attended in San Diego. At that moment, my beer journey felt very full indeed.

San Diego area breweries took home 18 medals from this year's Great American Beer Festival. Courtesy photo/GABF
San Diego area breweries took home 18 medals from this year’s Great American Beer Festival. Courtesy photo/GABF

I left and found a quiet corner to sip my beer alone. This was my pause from the chaos. This was my interlude. I had a cold beer, and the white noise thrum of thousands of tap handles pulled simultaneously above me.

The Golden Stout was perfectly balanced with sweet chocolate and vanilla beans, intertwining with Bird Rock Coffee roasted Ethiopian coffee and oat in a fabulously golden color. Then my beer was gone, and it was back into the fray — refreshed and renewed.

Congratulations to the San Diego-area breweries that took home 18 medals at this year’s GABF competition. The complete list of local winners is available at San Diego Beer News, and all the winners from the 500+ participating brewers nationwide are on the Great American Beer Festival website.

One final note: My last beer of the evening was an Alesmith Oktoberfest. It felt right to toast to home for my finale.

Do you have a local beer to recommend or a story to tell? Send a message to @CheersNorthCounty on Facebook or Instagram, or e-mail me at [email protected].

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