"Beer in Colorado" is dedicated to that divine elixir born of the marriage of water, malt, hops, and yeast as interpreted
by those living in Colorado. Follow the author as he visits every brewery in the state, creates experimental homebrews,
attends beer festivals, tries interesting beers from around the world, and spreads the good word of beer. Prost!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Beer Festival Showdown: Epic V. GABF

Every beer festival is unique and that’s why it’s possible to have so many just in Colorado— it never feels like the “same old, same old” because there’s something different about one event that sets it apart from the other events.  Sometimes that difference is in what types of beer are served (e.g. Parade of Darks, Boulder SourFest, Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines), sometimes that difference is in the event’s spectacular location (e.g. Rails & Ales Brewfest, Telluride Blues & Brews, Brew at the Zoo), and sometimes that difference is in the event’s sheer enormity (e.g. Great American Beer Festival [GABF]).  People often ask “What’s your favorite beer festival?” but, when you consider how different they all are, it’s nearly impossible to make a comparison.   

Epic Beer Festival
Epic Beer Festival
Then again, sometimes two festivals come along that are similar; a comparison that’s less apples-to-oranges and more Granny-Smiths-to-McIntoshes.  When that happens, it’s considerably easier to make a point-by-point evaluation and that’s precisely what I intend to do: the inaugural Denver Epic Beer Festival (held last weekend) vs. GABF.

First, let’s talk similarities.  The biggest connection is they’re both held in the Colorado Convention Center; GABF-alums may experience déjà vu whilst exploring the Epic.  Secondly, they’re both theme-less and, instead of relying on gimmicks like “all dark beers,” “all sour beers,” or “all lagers,” they attract guests by simply offering a lot of everything.  If one were to be given a split-second glance at either Epic or GABF, they’d be indiscernible.

Entertainment at Epic
Look closer, though, and you’ll realize that there are actually several details that make each event distinctive.  For example:

Overall Size
Epic is big and, if you’ve never been to GABF, it might be the biggest beer fest you’ve ever attended.  However, if you have been to GABF (and if the copious amounts of beer haven’t hazed your memory too significantly) you might notice two very large objects at Epic that aren’t at GABF; King Kong-sized folding accordion walls cordoning off two sides of the festival floor.  I believe this means Epic uses but a quarter of the space used by GABF.  Not too say ¼ of GABF isn’t awe-inspiring, just that GABF is awe-inspiring times four. 

Furthermore, notice the spacing of the rows at Epic; those aisles are a lot wider than usual.  Hell, I bet you could fit another GABF row down the middle of an Epic row!  Not only does Epic use a quarter of GABF’s space but they’re 50% less efficient with their spacing, too.  Thus, Epic is huge but GABF is epic!

Navigating the Festival
There are upsides to being slightly smaller, though.  At Epic, attendees can walk right through the convention center doors and start drinking almost immediately.  In contrast, GABF features a monstrous queue that wraps around the entire building and can sometimes take nearly an hour to complete. 

At Black Bottle Brewery's booth 
Likewise, when you get your beer at Epic’s booths, you’re in and out in a breeze whereas the lines at GABF might be more appropriate at an amusement park.  At Epic, one of the longest lines (and deservedly so) was for Trinity Brewing Company’s TPS Report but, even then, it was a matter of ten of fifteen seconds before beer was in your cup.  At GABF, if TPS Report hadn't already tapped out hours ago, you’d probably have to wait maybe three or four minutes before belly meets booth.  That’s not an interminable wait but it is approximately 15 times longer; those seconds add up.

You’re also less jostled at Epic; sure, those wide lanes mean less beer but it also means you’re less likely to spill because of some drunk dude’s errant elbow.

Beer Selection
Contrary to logic, although Epic is much smaller, it has a beer selection almost as diverse as GABF.  Actually, empirical data would prove that assumption to be absolutely incorrect but Epic does, at least, create the illusion of a GABF-esque variety of brews and does so by serving not only American-made beers but also international brands. 
Well, that's odd

As a proponent of the “drink local” philosophy, I don’t know which situation is better.  It’s nice to get a little transnational flavor from time to time if only to let your palate explore the world (and to get myself a few beers closer to the Das Boot badge on Untappd) but I also appreciate GABF’s devotion to American craft; I’m not overtly patriotic but, when it comes to craft beer, I’m all about the red, white, and brew blue.                                                                                        
Certainly, one can’t say a disparaging word about Brouwerij Van Steenberge, Brauerei Aying, or Traquair House Brewery but, being classic breweries of the Old World, they’re long-established and they’re not going anywhere.  American craft beer—even though it seems as though it’s been around for ages—compared to most European brewers is a newborn baby next to Methuselah.  Since American beer is so young, it’s especially important to show support and help keep it running.  Essentially, the exposure that Joe Schmo’s two-year-old brewery receives at festivals is indispensable whereas the exposure a centuries-old, monastic brewery from Belgium receives is really quite inconsequential; Joe Schmo is clawing for his place in the brewing world, that Belgian brewery is rock-solid.  By all means, drink the classics but the beer geek community must really, really make an effort to back-up the little guys.             

Nicole and I volunteer poured on Epic’s Friday night session and earned tickets for the Saturday afternoon session.  I was pouring for New Planet Gluten Free Beer and Nicole was at Magic Hat Brewing Company.  Granted, we’ve never volunteered at GABF but I think it’s safe to say that, from the pourer’s standpoint, GABF has the superior glassware. 

The advantage lies within the shape of the glass: GABF has a tall, tapered glass while Epic’s is a squat, cylindrical mug and, even at the bottom where it’s narrowest, the GABF glass is wider.  Why does any of that matter?  Because when you’re constantly pouring beer (especially from a bottle, can, or pitcher) into a tipsy person’s cup, you want as big a target as possible.  Those tiny Epic mouths are hard to pinpoint.

The GABF glasses are similarly advantageous to the drinker.  While some may think that Epic’s two ounce pours are twice as good as GABF’s one ounce pours, consider this: an Epic glass filled to the brim is two ounces of beer.  That means that even the slightest klutzy move on part of the drinker sends a mini-cascade of sticky beer all over one’s hands and feet. 
Nicole and a bear

With the GABF glasses, however, one might receive half the amount of beer (although it hardly makes a difference when we’re talking about one vs. two ounces) but the glass has the potential for twice as much as an Epic glass.  That’s three ounces of buffer zone; at GABF, you can fist-pump like a Jersey Shore moron and not spill a drop.  For the geeky folks out there, that extra space also allows for some aroma-releasing swirls (and the wide mouth helps get your whole schnozz right in there, too).    

In sum, there’re pros and cons to both events but, really, who’s ever gone to a beer festival and had a bad time?  Go to GABF, go to Epic, go to as many festivals as you can because, despite the positive and negative nuances, it’s still a beer festival and it’s going to be a lot of fun.



Although Chris and I live in a land far, far away (AKA: Suburbia), we still enjoy going downtown to try new restaurants, catch a Rockies game, or meet up with friends.  Now, thanks to RTD’s W Line, we have an easy way to get there!  We rode the light rail on both Friday night, when we volunteered, and on Saturday when we just plain enjoyed Epic Beer Fest.

Volunteer pouring was an interesting experience; Magic Hat didn’t deliver one of the beers advertised on their booth’s poster so we constantly had to tell people that we didn’t have any.  The two beers we did have were #9, a fruit beer, and Circus Boy, a lemongrass Hefeweizen.  When people asked if I liked the beers I was serving, I didn’t want to lie but, honestly, the lemongrass Hefeweizen, tasted like soap.  I find lemongrass to be one of those foods that you either love or hate—no in between. Judging by the reaction of most people at my booth, most people do not enjoy lemongrass.

As volunteers, there wasn’t much time to try any of the other beers but we did start strategizing a plan of action for Saturday and first on the hit-list was Trinity’s TPS Report.  If you haven’t tried it, go to the nearest liquor store that carries craft beer, like, now!  Another sour that I really enjoyed at Epic was Cuvée-Brut from Brouwerij Liefmans.

My goal for the afternoon was to get my Johnny Appleseed badge on Untappd (I got it!).  Luckily, Epic prides itself on being a beer fest that can still be enjoyed by people on a gluten-free diet.  They had plenty of gluten-free beers and, of course, ciders.  One of my favorites is Pome Mel from Colorado Cider Company but I also really enjoyed the Pacific Pear from Fox Barrel.  

Overall, the Epic Beer Fest was a great experience.  I am definitely excited to try it again next year.


Have you heard of this supposedly Colorado beer? I'm confused.
Texas. Wisconsin. Colorado. The explanation just makes me more confused. 
Quick! Get this guy a beer!

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