The Mountain States are a gold mine for good beers; the region hosts a mother lode of breweries and beer festivals. Colorado dominates the area—the state ranks behind only California, Washington, and Oregon in sheer number of breweries—while states like Utah and Idaho are staking their own claims to craft beer riches. It’s impossible to try all of the beers from this area in a single summer, but the festivals below will give you a good head start.
Craft beer has always had an easy partnership with the outdoor adventure lifestyle (especially now that many of our favorite brews are in cans!). What better place to celebrate that pairing than Colorado, America’s outdoor playground? The Centennial state hosts scores of summer beer festivals each year—Wildernesstival is one of the newest and is the only one to focus so heavily on playing outdoors. Attendees to the Aspen Canyon Ranch festival can camp, bike, tube, fish, and check out live bands while sampling craft beers, ciders, and spirits from nearly two dozen local and regional producers.
Salt Lake City, UT
Utah’s relationship with craft beer would best be described as, “It’s complicated.” On the one hand, Utah has some of the most restrictive liquor laws in the United States. Yet, although the state has only 18 breweries, the list includes nationally sought-after breweries like Epic Brewing and Uinta Brewing. Clearly, Utah craft drinkers know that quality can outweigh quantity, and the 6th annual Utah Beer Festival celebrates the love that the small-but-growing number of UT beer geeks have for their state.
When Oskar Blues started canning craft beer in late 2002, beer cognoscenti shook their heads. Thirteen years later, those early canned beers are seen as a genius prediction of what was to come. CANFEST is an annual festival dedicated to that premonition. Since 2009, this event has celebrated and advocated for high quality beer in cans. There are approximately 1954 canned craft beers available in the US market, and about 10% of those beers will be at CANFEST, the country’s oldest (and possibly only) all canned beer event.
Given that this is the biggest beer festival in America, we find it perfectly acceptable that the dates fall slightly outside of the summer range. GABF hosts nearly 500 breweries with approximately 2400 beers available to sample over the course of the three-day event. A competition as well as a tasting event, GABF medals are badges of honor for the breweries that take them home. Started in 1982 by the grandfather of homebrewing, Charlie Papazian, and put on by the Brewers Association, the event draws 49,000 attendees. Tickets go on sale July 28th for association members and July 29th for the general public. But be ready to log on and frantically hit your browser’s refresh button—last year’s tickets sold out in just 32 minutes.
Idaho Falls, ID
This annual festival, put on by the North American Brewers Association (NABA), turns an appropriate 21 this year. NABA has been active since the mid-‘90s in promoting craft beer, working to improve beer quality, and educating the public. Their annual event raises funds for a variety of charities, including a local zoo and a hospice organization. Last year, the event netted over $134,000 and, all told, the group has donated nearly a million dollars to charitable and non-profit organizations. Sample the best of the Mountain States with over 100 breweries in attendance. Keep this one in mind for next year.