Nine South Florida Breweries Going to the 2015 Great American Beer Festival

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What's better than beer at the Great American Beer Festival? Seeing your local brewery representing, and this year nine breweries across Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach counties will be pouring at the GABF in Denver from September 24 to 26. 

It's the most ever for the region since the GABF began in 1982 and since craft beer began taking off in Florida. 

This fact came as a bit of a shock to Florida Brewers Guild President Mike Halker, who's also the owner of Due South Brewing Co. in Boynton Beach. 

"That's surprising," Halker says. "I guess I need to start making phone calls and seeing what everyone's doing."

The following South Florida breweries will attend: Due South, Funky Buddha Brewery, J. Wakefield, Wynwood, MIA, Saltwater Brewery, Barrel of Monks, Biscayne Bay, and Gravity Brewlab

In total, 20 breweries across the Sunshine State will pour at the GABF — almost double from last year. 

It's a big deal because the GABF is considered the Holy Grail of beer festivals. It's arguably the biggest festival of its type in the United States, with more than 900 breweries pouring this year. It's where local breweries get exposure on a national level and where average drinkers get a taste of the unknown. 

The three-day event is expected to attract up to 49,000 attendees, including judges, volunteers, brewers, and members of the media. Individual tickets for each five-hour tasting session, which run at $84 a piece, are sold out. Last year, tickets sold out in 32 minutes, according to the GABF website. 

In addition to the public tasting event, there will be a private judging contest in which breweries compete for best in show across 90 categories. Last year, Wynwood Brewing took a gold medal for its Pop's Porter in the Robust Porter Division. 

Not all GABF breweries are competing; some are there just to pour. That's what Ryan Sentz did when he took Funky Buddha to the GABF for the first time several years ago. But it's the tastings that sell tickets, Sentz told New Times.

With tens of thousands of festivalgoers and more than 900 breweries pouring their craziest brews, the GABF is sure to turn into a "shit show," as many, including Sentz, describe it. Even with the one-ounce tasting cups, one can still get sloppy wasted on beer by trying a sample from each brewery. The key is having a plan.

"Go with the breweries you want to go with because there are so many breweries, and drink lots of water, and go to as many outside events as possible," Sentz says. 

Breweries — like festivalgoers — compete for space to pour. There are a lot of costs associated with pouring the beers, including the cost of making the beers and then shipping them over, according to Sentz. 

Almost all of the breweries at the GABF have brick-and-mortar spaces with taprooms, kitchens, merchandise, etc., that helps generate funds and clout. But an actual brewery isn't necessarily needed, as long as they have a brewer's license.

Diego Ganoza from Miami's Gravity Brewlab doesn't even have an actual brewery yet, but he's pulling no punches. It's Ganoza's first year as a brewer at the GABF. It's prime territory to feature unorthodox small-batch brews. While Gravity's entering its Sunshine State of Mind into competition, it will also pour some off-the-cuff test batches of Biscayne Gold hoppy pale ale and a mamey beer, which is like a beer milkshake but without milk. Without a doubt, mamey beer is something unique to Florida breweries. 

"It's a chance of a lifetime," Ganoza says. "We're like, screw it, man, we're going all the way."

Compared to longstanding beer cultures in other parts of the United States, could Florida beers be at least par for the course? 

"Compared to North Carolina, California, and Portland, I don't think we're on par with that yet," Sentz says. "But I think Florida is putting out really good beer. As long as the beer is good that's being put out, it's a good thing for all of us, and it makes people want to open a brewery."

Follow David Minsky on Twitter and Instagram.

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