Velvet Donkeys and Texas Razzlesnakes: Inside America’s biggest beer festival

DENVER – The cavernous room where Velvet Donkeys vie with Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Texas Razzlesnakes and White Wine Sour Wenches looks a lot like heaven to Nathan Woodring.

“You can get beers here that you can’t get anywhere else,” Woodring said.

“Here” is the 2018 Great American Beer Festival in Denver, where hundreds of breweries across the United States are pouring 1-ounce samples of about 4,000 beers to eager fans, including Woodring and his friends, who arrived three hours before the doors opened so they could be first in line to samples beers brewed with everything from traditional ingredients to malt balls, peanut butter and oysters.

“There’s tens of thousands of beers on the marketplace, and brewers are looking for anything to differentiate their product,” said Chris Swersey, the GABF competition manager.

The festival is the single-largest beer event in the United States, drawing an estimated 62,000 enthusiasts to sample from brewers ranging from Avery in Colorado to Zwanzigz in Indiana, in every conceivable style. Brewers from every state are attending.

The festival is also the country’s largest beer competition, with hundreds of judges privately critiquing thousands of samples to find the best examples of pale ales, bourbon stouts and cream ales. Results from the blind-tasting competition will be announced this weekend, with the winners vying for not just bragging rights but a significant boost in subsequent sales.

This year, the largest competition category is the “Juicy Hazy IPA,” with about 400 entrants vying for the newly created category carved out of the broader American IPA category. Juicy Hazy IPAs tend to be less bitter, hazier and with a juicy, tropical aroma, Swersey said. The new category reflects a change in Americans’ palates, he said.

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