The annual event in Denver once again drew a record number of breweries and entrants.
Leading up to the 2017's 36th annual Great American Beer Festival, one discussion surrounding this year's annual event was whether interest in GABF was waning. The Denver Post's The Know blog lamented that tickets took four times longer to sell out this year than last year – a still impressive four-plus hours instead of last year's 67 minutes. Well, if GABF interest has hit a tipping point, the final numbers on entries and breweries sure aren't providing any sort of indication that that's the case. According to the Brewers Association, this past weekend's event garnered 7,923 entries from a mindblowing 2,217 breweries. Both of those numbers are new records and represent a 15 percent and 24 percent increase from the same stats last year. To help put those numbers in perspective, more breweries entered GABF this year than existed in 2011. Meanwhile, somewhere around 40 percent of all breweries in the US made the trek to Denver.
Once again, India Pale Ale was the most entered category with 408 entries, up from 312 entries last year, an increase of over 30 percent. Illinois's Hailstrom Brewing, California's Auburn Alehouse and Oregon's Breakside Brewery took the gold, silver and bronze honors in this category respectively. None of those three breweries are more than a decade old, proving that experience only gets you so far in the brewing world. That being said, in the second most contested category, Imperial India Pale Ale, which had 221 entries, none other than California's Ballast Point Brewing took the gold with its Manta Ray. The San Diego brewery was famously bought out by Constellation Brands in 2015—and even though craft brewer status was a big talking point leading up to GABF this year, this win proves that the medals don't discriminate.
But possibly 2017's biggest story is that this year's GABF could prove to be Wyoming's coming out party. For years, the western state has languished towards the bottom in total number of breweries (despite being high on the list as far as per capita goes), but this time around, the state sent 46 entries to Denver and came home with five medals, the second highest ratio of medals to entries for any state (behind West Virginia which scored two medals from its 12 entries). Capping off the success story was Melvin Brewing, which cemented its growing national profile by taking home the award for Brewery Group and Brewmaster of the Year. Despite any talk of a potential slowdown in the craft beer business, as the number of breweries and the success of Wyoming proves, craft beer continues to have far reaching roots throughout the United States.