Craft beer culture is practically a religion in some circles, and the good word is spreadin’ faster and faster in recent years. It used to be when you went to your local brewery, it was akin to church and you’d see the same congregants week after week (if not day to day). There’s a written code, and then there are the unwritten rules, both for the actual process of brewing and more generally for how to act for established members and newcomers alike. Now if ever the religion of craft beer ever had a mecca, it’s safe to say Great American Beer Festival is it. Established way back in 1982 (yes people, craft beer is not an invention of the post-Y2k generation) GABF has been growing and evolving along with the American craft brewing industry ever since. Each year, GABF represents the largest collection of U.S. beer ever served, in a public tasting event plus a private competition. After getting the opportunity to attend Hunahpu’s Day, Cigar City’s annual festival and namesake bottle release earlier year, I didn’t think it was possible for me to be more excited to attend another beer festival. And yet here we are… I’m STOKED!!! I’m bringing along my craft beer yoda, Ariel Calemczuk of Good Brew Draft Tech, and gearing up for a full immersion into the holy waters of Colorado’s sudsy goodness. The key to any good excursion of course is being prepared, and so in that spirit, I asked Ariel to round up a few of the breweries he’s looking most forward to sampling while we’re out there: “I’m thrilled to try hundreds of new breweries bringing the absolute best they have to offer, especially with some having limited distribution networks , rarely making it down to us in South Florida. I’ve always been a firm believer that craft beer should not be consumed through anonymous labels; it’s meant to be experienced through each unique brewery and its people, exploring their varieties and revisiting them to see how they’ve developed. Here are a few words on some specific breweries I’m looking forward to revisiting at GABF: M.I.A. Beer Company (Miami, FL) Miami traffic sucks more than your traffic, it’s multilingual. Given the option of somewhere I have to drive to get to or not I usually choose the latter, and M.I.A. is on the other side of the city making solid beers all over the spectrum. Their Mega Mix is one of go-to pale ales, and when I do visit them I really enjoy their taproom rarities. Tragically, M.I.A. and the entire South Florida craft scene recently lost one of its dearest in Piero Rodriguez. I’ve known him since the scene was in its infancy, and he truly represented everything craft beer culture is about. I’m sure this GABF is going to be bittersweet for them, but I think some of Piero’s last recipes will be on tap which hopefully will leave their marks. It seems funny to fly all the way to Colorado to try a brewery that is in my backyard, but I’m very curious to see what they bring to GABF. Bottle Logic Brewing (Anaheim, CA) This is a brewery I got a glimpse of at J. Wakefield’s 1 Year Anniversary and Cigar City’s Hunaphu’s Day. Their Darkstar November and Fundamental Observation BA stouts were epic, but I was particularly fond of an eccentric saison called Strangematter I got to try. Looking forward to finally sampling some more of their beers, and hoping they continue to impress. 12Degree Brewing (Louisville, CO) I very recently visited Colorado for the first time since I was a child, and of course made it a point to get out to some of the great breweries based there. I focused most of my time on Boulder, and planned to try an inhuman amount of beer, but thankfully I was distracted by the mountains. On one of my hikes , some locals pointed me to a little town called Louisville, home of the charming 12Degree Brewing. It represented exactly what I want breweries to become: A neighborhood spot, focused on awesome beer, food, and people. Rarely do I come across breweries focused on Belgian styles; let’s face it, it’s hard to compete with the monks who have been crafting the styles for centuries. 12Degree manages to do Belgians really well to their credit, with some beers sticking to tradition while others get an American twist. After I got back home I found out they won gold at the World Beer Cup for Small Brewpub so apparently I’m not the only one noticing they’re great work! If I have time on this trip out, I might even make the drive out to Louisville to visit them, but either way, revisiting their beers at GABF will be a welcome consolation prize.