Brewnited

Goin’ virtual at the Great American Beer Festival

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Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver speaking at the 2019 Great American Beer Festival
Michael J. Casey

This won’t come as a shock to most of you, but for those just joining us, there won’t be a Great American Beer Festival (GABF) this year — at least not the way we’ve come to expect it.

The crown jewel of the beer festival circuit, GABF is three days, four sessions, 60,000 attendees, 800 breweries, 4,000 beers and another 8,000 in competition for 300 medals. It’s an extravaganza, one that incorporates the killer Paired session, a pavilion dedicated to beers aged in Jameson whiskey barrels, talks with brewers, live music — GABF has it all and then some (some might even say too much). Well, there won’t be any of that this year. It’s hard to celebrate like that in a pandemic, so, like everyone else, GABF has gone virtual.

Which has its benefits: The festival will be longer (Oct. 1-18) easier to access for those who cannot make their way to Denver, and considerably more localized.

First, you’ll need a GABF passport. It costs $20 (greatamericanbeerfestival.com/tickets/public-tickets/) and will net you special deals from more than 1,000 participating breweries — mostly in the form of free beer and discounts. Plenty of Boulder County breweries are included: Avery, The Post, Twisted Pine, Vision Quest, Front Range, Liquid Mechanics, Wibby, Crystal Springs, Left Hand and more.

But the passport is more than just discounted beer; it also allows you to access GABF’s online content — 10 sessions with an opening and closing ceremony — broadcasting Oct. 16-17, and kicking off with the announcement of the 2020 medal winners.

Two sessions not to miss: The Michael Jackson Foundation for Brewing & Distilling (8:10 p.m. Oct 16), hosted by Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver, and The Black is Beautiful Project (7:25 p.m. Oct. 17), hosted by Marcus Baskerville, head brewer and co-founder of Weathered Souls Brewing Co. in San Antonio, Texas. Both were developed in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, and both are designed to make a predominantly white and male industry more inclusive and diverse.

Named after the beer writer, not the King of Pop, the Michael Jackson Foundation for Brewing & Distilling is a scholarship program directly funding accredited technical education within the brewing and distilling fields for people of color in the United States (Jackson was a Scotch aficionado in addition to being a leading beer scribe), and Oliver — one of the most prominent faces (and hats) in the craft beer movement — brings his signature level of education and enthusiasm to the foundation.

Similarly, Baskerville’s Black is Beautiful initiative has garnered enthusiasm with more than 1,000 breweries across the U.S. brewing a stout under the moniker Black is Beautiful and donating the beer’s proceeds to local charities committed to fighting racism.

Oliver and Baskerville’s advocacy is encouraging. The world feels divided on just about every level imaginable. But for 18 days in October, GABF offers a chance at unity over a glass of beer. They’re calling it Brewnited. It’s a hope.