The Great American Beer Festival in Denver is so huge you can get lost in a sea of beer.
This year, a record 800 breweries are pouring at a festival that covers the size of seven football fields inside the Colorado Convention Center.
GABF veterans know you need to enter with a plan — and a map — to guide you to the best beer. To help, we consulted with beer experts and brewers to compile a list of the must-taste breweries at GABF 2017.
The breweries on the list include veterans and newcomers and all styles to offer something for everyone, whether you’re hunting rare white whales or just trying all the best IPAs. So get out your list: Here are the 50 must-try breweries, organized by section:
Meet the Brewer: Now located in the middle of the action, the most popular section of the festival expanded again to include 136 brewers. Spend time here talking to brewers about their beers.
Deschutes Brewery (Bend, Oregon): Endcap booth
Deschutes Brewery’s expansion to the East Coast makes it easy to find one of the nation’s premier brands. You can find all styles here, but the best beers to try are the “pub exclusives” that rarely leave the brewery, as well as the much-coveted Abyss and Dissident.
Fat Head’s Brewery (Cleveland, Ohio): Endcap
Fat Head’s won so many GABF medals in 2016 the crew didn’t have time to sit down between award presentations. The mid-size brewer of the year specializes in IPAs — the classic is Hop JuJu — and its a good place to stop to calibrate your palate to award-winning beers.
Short’s Brewing (Elk Rapids, Michigan): Endcap
The Short’s Brewing booth is a spectacle that befits its eclectic beers. Avoid the folks hopping around in green shorts and head for the big bar where you can try unique and often innovative beers.
Fremont Brewing (Seattle, Washington): Booth S27
Don’t let the Oktoberfests fool you — this is fresh hop season. And Fremont Brewing makes a series of them worth trying. Take an early taste of winter with the hard-to-find variations of their B-Bomb winter ale and Dark Start stouts.
Kuhnhenn Brewing (Warren, Michigan): T6
You will remember the first time you taste DRIPA (Double Rice IPA), so clean and hoppy. A recent pilgrimage to the brewery also showcased many good seasonals and traditional beer styles.
Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery (Goochland, Virginia): T2
A trip to Lickinghole Creek is a tour of the Virginia countryside. If you can’t make it, taste it while you can at GABF. The brewery’s chili beer is a medal winner.
Odd13 Brewing (Lafayette, Colorado): U21
A specialist in hazy IPAs and kettle sours, Odd13 is a go-to in Colorado. Let’s hope the brewery brings Hopperella, a new juicy IPA made for its third anniversary, so we can all celebrate together.
Prison City Pub and Brewery (Auburn, New York): V26
Prison City makes what Paste magazine calls the best IPA in the nation. The Mass Riot won the magazine’s blind taste test of 247 IPAs in 2016. And it previously took home a GABF medal for a Belgian pale ale.
Right Brain (Traverse City, Michigan): V21
When you visit Right Brain Brewery, you never know what you’re going to find. This is what makes it a must stop on the GABF journey. Wake up your palate with Thai flavors, peppers, pig heads, asparagus and more — the brewery made different beers with each in the last year.
Surly Brewing (Brooklyn Center, Minnesota): V5
Known for the bitter goodness of Todd the Axman IPA, Surly’s Darkness stout (often poured in multiple vintages) also will stand out from the crowd.
WeldWerks Brewing (Greeley, Colorado): U9
WeldWerks is one of the most-celebrated breweries in Colorado and just began packaging its Alpha Bits IPA in cans, only cementing its reputation as favorite among beer traders. But don’t miss variations of brewer Neil Fisher’s stouts, either.
Mountain Region: From the Meet the Brewers section, head toward the far wall in the back to find the massive Mountain Region, home to Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Montana and Utah breweries.
Melvin Brewing (Alpine, Wyoming): 174
Melvin Brewing is located at the far end of the section with its own booth where you can find some of the best IPAs in the nation, each more complex and hoppy than the last.
Avery Brewing (Boulder, Colorado): Endcap
Avery Brewing is hard to miss on the festival floor, but you want to time your visit for when the brewery taps its special boozy beers straight from the barrel, including Rumpkin at 17.5 percent and Tweak at 16 percent.
4 Noses Brewing (Broomfield, Colorado): W4
It’s October, so you’re forgiven if you want a pumpkin beer. Find a great one at 4 Noses. And make sure to try the IPA, ‘Bout Damn Time.
Black Project Spontaneous and Wild Ales (Denver, Colorado): W10
Look for the line to find Black Project, it’s worth the wait. The cult-status brewery specializes in beers made with yeast and bacteria derived from open-air fermentation and then carefully crafted in the barrel, often with local fruits. Get back in line a couple times — again, it’s worth it.
Comrade Brewing (Denver, Colorado): X3
Comrade Brewing owns the fresh hop category with its award-winning Superpower IPA, but its full lineup is strong, so fans of all types can find something to like. And if you want a fiery Mexican stout, stop at the next table for Copper Kettle Brewing.
Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project (Denver, Colorado): X6
Keep the Denver beer love flowing down the row at Crooked Stave. A mainstay for sour beer lovers, the brewery’s new lineup of IPAs is now winning new fans.
New England Region: Head to the other side of the Meet the Brewer section, but don’t blink because you’ll miss the small New England section.
Two Roads Brewing (Stratford, Connecticut): Endcap
Once only a mirage for beer fans outside the region, Two Roads is now distributing its top-flight beers to a larger area, including its sell-out hazy IPA and nuanced sours.
Cambridge Brewing (Cambridge, Massachusetts): P27
A mainstay in the New England beer scene, CBC makes the standard beers, and some rave about the barleywine if they bring it.
Pacific Northwest Region: Nestled next to New England, the beers of the Pacific Northwest cover Oregon, Washington and Alaska.
Cascade Brewing (Portland, Oregon): P11
Cascade makes high-end barrel-aged sours that carry a steep price tag at the beer store. So GABF is a perfect time to try these inventive sours without breaking the bank.
Great Notion (Portland, Oregon): K9
The brewery’s slogan is “a passion for hops and the patience for sours” and its beer list reads like a dream tasting flight: a passion fruit gose, blueberry muffin sour, hazy IPAs and a coffee and maple syrup imperial stout. Let’s hope all those beers come to Denver.
pFriem Family Brewers (Hood River, Oregon): K28
The Belgian beers stand out, or you can just drink a lot of their pilsner. It’s hard to go wrong here.
Reuben’s Brews (Seattle, Washington): K26
The beer board at Reuben’s is stacked high with all types of beers and variations. It’s hard to taste them all when you visit, so stop by the booth to work down the list of award-winners and experimental brews.
Southeast Region: The explosion of craft beer in the Southeast, led by North Carolina, is evident at GABF with a huge presence this year. Even with Anheuser Busch’s Wicked Weed absent this year, there’s plenty to taste.
Foothills Brewing (Winston-Salem, North Carolina): J15
This is the place to find Sexual Chocolate. The stout — and its even tastier bourbon barrel-aged cousin — are divine. And the Jade IPA, showcasing unique hops, will stand out from the crowd.
Holy City Brewing (Charleston, South Carolina): J8
Holy City makes the best beach beer and it tastes like sunshine at GABF. The Washout Wheat is a traditional south German hefeweizen and it’s refreshing after all the boozy and hoppy beers at the festival.
NoDa Brewing (Charlotte, North Carolina): J28
NoDa landed on the scene with its award-winning Hop, Drop ‘n Roll IPA but now offers new takes on all sorts of styles, including a wheat beer with a mojito inspiration.
Southwest Region: The beers of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana are featured in this region and the beer runs the gamut.
La Cumbre (Albuquerque, New Mexico): Endcap
Colorado is full of great beer, but for more than a few of us our go-to IPA is made by La Cumbre in New Mexico. The Elevated IPA and the brewery’s Project Dank series are full of big hoppiness.
Austin Beerworks (Austin, Texas): N5
Seeking a diversion from hops and stouts? Austin Beerworks’ core beers include a schwarzbier and a pilsner. The brewery makes other traditional German styles that will please, too.
Saint Arnold Brewing (Houston, Texas): I21
Saint Arnold is typically a spectacle at GABF, as an impersonator of the patron saint of brewers holds faux marriage ceremonies (typically between a person and a beer). This year, stop and offer cheers for spearheading the #ReliefBeers campaign to raise money for hurricane victims.
Pacific Region: The largest region at the festival showcases beers from California with established pros and emerging favorites dominating the list.
Bagby Beer (Oceanside, California): G13
Owner Jeff Bagby scored top brewer awards at GABF for three years straight when he worked for Pizza Port brewpubs. His own brewery offers classic West Coast hopped beers and other surprises.
Beachwood Blendery (Long Beach, California): L5
The Beachwood BBQ and Brewery is worth a visit on its own, but its new sister is stealing the show. Beachwood Blendery is dedicated to barrel-aged, old-world sours. The first batches are winning rave reviews.
Bottle Logic (Anaheim, California): L11
The brewery likes to say it makes beer for those with curious minds and adventurous palates. Sounds good. And don’t miss the saison.
Cellarmaker Brewing (San Francisco, California): L20
On plenty of lists as one of the nation’s top new breweries, Cellarmaker continues to evolve with an ever-changing beer list to keep it fresh. Look for beers with unique hop profiles.
Highland Park Brewery (Los Angeles, California): G32
Highland Park lands on best-new-brewery lists and top-IPA lists like its other California brethren. And don’t miss the sours, either.
Libertine Brewing (San Luis Obispo, California): H14
Libertine is one of a cadre of breweries making coolship beers, which use large, open air containers to ferment wort and add an element of terroir. The resulting wild ales are dynamic and delicately crafted after months in barrels.
Modern Times Beer (San Diego, California): M9
This seems to be the year of Modern Times Beer. The San Diego brewery is expanding to Portland, Ore., and showcasing its beer all over Denver for GABF. See what all the tasty excitement is about.
Societe Brewing (San Diego, California): H25
The breadth and depth of Societe’s beer list will make you want to take laps in the line. From old-world Belgians to two medal-winning IPAs, the brewery offers quite a flavor journey. Brewmaster Travis Smith worked for years at the famed Russian River Brewing and The Bruery.
Russian River Brewing (Santa Rosa, California): M33
Make this the first stop on your journey to pay respects to the king of craft beer. Even in Denver, where Pliny the Elder pours from a tap, you can’t get enough of it. Get here fast — the keg will kick.
Great Lakes Region: Positioned closest to the entrance and exit, the Great Lakes region is probably either first or last on your journey. The breweries hail from Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota.
Bell’s Brewery (Galesburg, Michigan): Endcap
Bell’s Brewery is home to America’s top beer, Two Hearted Ale. The midwestern IPA — with its malty backbone to balance the bitterness — is a standard-bearer.
Dark Horse Brewing (Marshall, Michigan): D33
After a brief absence, Dark Horse is back. Expect the beer to go fast again — and not just because of its past TV show popularity (it landed a show on the History Channel in 2015). Its stout series and Smells Like a Safety Meeting IPA are not to be missed.
MadTree Brewing (Cincinnati, Ohio): E4
MadTree made a name for itself by canning its beer. And when the brewery opened its second location earlier this year, 15,000 people showed up and drank 385 kegs, or nearly 50,000 pints. Thankfully, they made more for GABF.
Scratch Brewing (Ava, Illinois): F13
Scratch’s mushroom-inspired beer series was one of the most memorable at GABF 2016. This year, the brewery is sure to do the same with five farmhouse ales made from trees and plants that surround the brewhouse, dubbed Leaves, Roots, Seeds, Bark and Flowers.
Speciation Artisan Ales (Comstock Park, Michigan): F9
Open only once a month for bottle releases, Speciation’s wild ales rank as some of the most interesting beers in Michigan right now. The Incipient golden sour and Genetic Drift wild ale variations are complex and quaffable.
Three Floyds Brewing (Munster, Indiana): F2
Three Floyds is back. Make this your first stop (or second after Russian River). The cult-favorite makes unapologetically bitter-bomb style IPAs that are unlike any other.
Midwest Region: The plains states didn’t send too many breweries this year. But make sure to put one on your list.
Toppling Goliath (Decorah, Iowa): C33
Psuedo Sue is a beer bucket-list item. And the brewery’s other hop gems and stout variants are worth the trip — and much easier than getting to the source in Northeast Iowa.
Mid-Atlantic Region: Don’t forget about this region near the Brewpub Pavilion. It holds masters of the craft and their acolytes.
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery (Milton, Delaware): Endcap
Dogfish Head is not in the Mid-Atlantic region, but an endcap in the Pacific area, according to the map. But it’s worth the journey to find it. Founder Sam Calagione often slings beer samples from a mad-hatter list that never disappoints.
Adroit Theory (Purcellville, Virginia): A31
This nanobrewery knows no bounds, so naturally it has a huge following among adventurous beer fans. Adroit Theory’s gose series pushes the limits to interesting new places.
Kane Brewing (Ocean, New Jersey): A3
Kane Brewing created a lot of new fans with its beers at last year’s festival, so it makes this year’s list. Let’s hope the brewers bring plenty of their small batch experimental beers.
Union Craft (Baltimore, Maryland): B5
Union Craft understands that simple beer is often good beer. But why stop at traditional altbiers and lagers? The brewery keeps pushing into new tasty new styles. Stop to see what’s new this year.
*A disclaimer: The Brewers Association does not release the beer list until just before the festival opens, so references to beers above may not be available. This list represents wishful thinking for what breweries will pour.