The Great American Beer Festival sees some 900 breweries dish out 1 oz. samples to the masses. With so many breweries you’d think there’d never be a line, right? Well, the crowd at GABF is fairly plugged in and know the hot names before they’re handed their tiny cups. In fact, looking at the lines at GABF is an easy way to see who the most buzzed-about breweries are right now, the ones everyone will soon be talking about. So who drew the biggest crowds? Which brewery was inundated with the most glassware? We were there to find out.

Great Notion

Portland, Oregon

We don’t mean to toot our own horn, but we’ve been on the Great Notion train for some time. After a visit to their brewpub in Portland, Oregon, last year, we proudly proclaimed them one of the breweries to watch in 2017. Well, the word is officially out, as Great Notion drew quite the crowd at GABF, thanks to their collection of juicy IPAs and flavorful oddities. Ripe IPA was a standout for those that crave hops, but our fave was Blueberry Muffin, a wild ale that mimics that taste and aroma of a freshly baked blueberry muffin. Often you have breweries that really nail one style; Great Notion nails many. Link

WeldWerks Brewing

Greeley, CO

You know a brewery’s good when their physical brewery exists only an hour away from the Great American Beer Festival yet they still get a line. Our guess? Lots of people made the drive out to Greeley, Colorado, to visit WeldWerks and, since they couldn’t get enough, they hopped in line at the festival as well. Multiple times. And you know what? Those are some very intelligent people, as WeldWerks offered up a handful of awesome beers. Double Dry-Hopped Juicy Bits was a fruity, hazy IPA that rose above a crowd of similar beers. The Key Lime Pie Berliner wasn’t overly tart and was loaded with fresh lime flavor. The highlight for us was Coffee Maple Achromatic, a 9.8% ABV brew that’s chewy and loaded with breakfast flavors. Link

Scratch Brewing Company

Ava, Illinios

There are so many beers at GABF that you begin to feel like you’ve already tasted whatever you’re consuming. Then you run into a brewery like Scratch. Scratch doesn’t do things like other breweries. Located in a farmhouse just miles from the Shawnee National Forest, Scratch plays of its outdoorsy roots, crafting beer with local ingredients like nettle, elderberry, ginger, maple sap, juniper, and chanterelle mushrooms. A lot of beers aren’t even brewed with hops so they can highlight the unique ingredients. Being unique and being good will earn you a line at GABF. Scratch is both. Link

FATE Brewing Company

Boulder, Colorado

FATE brought an impressive display and drew crowds for the duration of each session. The Boulder-based brewery poured a unique array of beers that included a Coffee IPA, a honey wheat ale brewed with Earl of Grey tea, and a gose infused with pinot noir grape must. So, yeah, the beers were different. They were also really tasty, as each was fairly delicate and approachable, which was a nice change of pace from the in-your-face offerings some breweries relied on. Link

Speciation Artisan Ales

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Speciation does open fermented ales, which, when done well, are the kind of beers many nerd out over. Well, not only does Speciation do them well, they do them better than almost any brewery we’ve sampled from. We’re not the only ones who think so, as the line for Speciation rivaled any other at GABF this year. Pouring a collection of variants of Incipient, their golden sour, Speciation delighted fans with tart-loving taste buds. The Incipient aged in tequila barrels with blood orange, guava, limes, and salt was a stunning treat, with flavors that somehow all played together nicely, and the Incipient with Sweet Cherries was a fruit-forward masterpiece. Link

Melvin Brewing

Jackson, Wyoming

Melvin isn’t some small upstart, but they also haven’t reached the level of fame that’s clearly in store for them. That pending appreciation was on full display with their large party booth at this year’s GABF. Was it because Hacksaw Jim Duggan was there? Was it because of the booming music? Was it because they won “Brewery Group of the Year”? Yeah, probably a little of all those things, but also because they brew damn fine beer, beer that’s not pretentious and is meant to be consumed while having a good time. Now more than ever, people want to drink a beer while brewers wear cartoon chaps in front of a giant yellow party van. Melvin proved that. Link

Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ale Works

Denver, Colorado

One look at our ranking of beers we tried at GABF will tell you that Black Project impressed us. We weren’t only only ones who thought so, as the line for Black Project shot to the opposite side of the row consistently through the festival. Everything they brew is made with microbes captured from the local environment, and that’s one of the things we love about wild ales, the sense of place. Those microbes do their magical work in some next-level beer, as Jumpseat and Cygnus were some of our favorite brews at GABF. The beers were complex, interesting, and, above all, delicious, and Black Project should absolutely be on your list of stops should you find yourself in Denver. Link

Bottle Logic

Anaheim, California

Bottle Logic didn’t always have a line at GABF. Whenever it was the rotation of three standard beers (all of which were solid), they saw a calm yet steady stream of fans. But when they opened something special, boy, oh, boy. The crowds that gathered for Bottle Logic’s special tappings—which included Fundamental Observation, Jam the Radar, Darkstar November, Picture If You Will, and others—were some of the largest during the festival’s run. This comes as no surprise to hardcore beer fans who know of what it takes to acquire a bottle of any of those beers. Basically, you need to part with your first born. Want to keep your child? Get over to Anaheim and snag some. Link


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