IF YOU haven't gotten your tix yet for October's Great American Beer Festival, in Denver, too late. The world's largest beer-judging event is sold out.
But here's an insider's tip that will give you a taste of some of the champions: The last week of August is when local breweries deliver their bottles to Colorado for the medal competition. That means that specialties brewed especially for the event - the very best of their portfolios - go on tap locally over Labor Day weekend.
Which means that, come October, when you hear that a local brewpub like Stewart's, in Bear, Del., or Round Guys, in Lansdale, has won a gold medal, you'll be kicking yourself if you don't get out there and taste 'em this weekend.
With that in mind, Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery (646 Germantown Pike, Lafayette Hill) this weekend is pouring Biere de Extra, a strong (8.7 percent alcohol) French-style biere de garde that won a bronze medal at the World Beer Cup last spring. This is a malty, warming brew - a sipper that's making an infrequent appearance on the brewpub's tap list this weekend because it was recently bottled for the competition.
Likewise, at Nodding Head Brewery (1516 Sansom St., Center City), look for George's Fault, a honey-flavored grand cru that has previously medaled at GABF. Look also for Goldihops, a low-alcohol "session" beer; the wonderfully named Just Anudder Stout, entered in the cream stout category; and the always-popular Ich Bin Ein Berliner Weisse.
Finally, don't forget Iron Hill Brewery locations throughout the region. Its brewers have won GABF medals in 16 consecutive years, which means that there are plenty of potential award winners to choose from.
My money this year is on brewer Bob Barrar's Vienna Red Lager, at Iron Hill's West Chester location, and Paul Rutherford's Golden Child ale, brewed with funky Brettanomyces yeast in Chestnut Hill.
Of course, there's no shortage of other fine Labor Day weekend beer-drinking opportunities. An ice-cold can of Sly Fox Helles Lager on the beach . . . a refreshing glass of Abbatia Grisette, brewed especially for Iron Abbey (680 Easton Road, Horsham) by Free Will Brewing . . . an Eagles game glass of Summer Love, at Victory Beer Hall at Xfinity Live, across from the Linc . . . a live-jazz Sunday brunch with some fruity Schuylkill Punch at canal-side Manayunk Brewery (4120 Main St., Manayunk).
Need more ideas? Read on.
* Drink like a German at the Labor Day Festival (Cannstatter Volksfest Verein, 9130 Academy Road). This three-day event starting Saturday is about as traditional as it gets, with Bavarian music, dancing, potato pancakes and plenty of German beer. Bring the kids - it's family-friendly. Get a one-, two- or three-day pass for $6, $9 or $11.
* Drink like a horse - a Budweiser Clydesdale, that is - at tonight's Fairmount Clydesdale Parade & Festival, at Urban Saloon (2120 Fairmount Ave.). Even if you're not a huge fan of the suds, you're going to love Bud's awesome team of horses, which will be hoofing it about 5 p.m. Tomorrow they'll be clomping through West Chester, with a stop at Barnaby's (15 S. High St.).
* Drink at a new joint. Beast & Ale (4161 Main St., Manayunk), from folks known better for Mexican food (e.g. La Calaca Feliz), opened this week with burgers and a decent tap list, including cask ale on the hand pump from Forest & Main.
* Drink at an old joint. When Revel casino, in Atlantic City, closes its doors this weekend, so will its many bars and restaurants.
This is your last chance to visit Mussel Bar & Grille, whose 150-bottle beer list skews heavily toward Belgium (and the high end of your wallet). Order Antigoon, chef-owner Robert Wiedmaier's house draft.
Likewise, Sept. 4 is last call at Tangier (18th and Lombard), one of the city's longest-running beer havens. And Resurrection Ale House (2425 Grays Ferry Ave.) is celebrating its impending sale with a two-month closing party. On Tuesday, it'll be pouring a bunch from California's Port Brewing and Lost Abbey.
* Drink in the great outdoors, at Spruce Street Harbor Park (Spruce Street at Penn's Landing), which has been extended through September. This might've been the summer that Penn's Landing finally came into its own, with crowds flocking to the hammock-infested public space at the bottom of Spruce Street.
A healthy walk north along the river takes you to Morgan's Pier (221 N. Columbus Blvd.), where Friday happy hour is the final stop of Visit Philly's summerlong beer garden series. Try Evil Genius Turtle Power, a pale ale with Citra hops.
* Drink like a Viking at SmorgasBeer'd (American Swedish Historical Museum, FDR Park, 1900 Pattison Ave., South Philly). Extend your summer fun till Sept. 6 with this fourth-annual Swedish food-and-beer fest. Tix $25 at americanswedish.org.
* Drink like a kid, and build a Lego brewery at the Institute (549 N. 12th St., Spring Garden). The neighborhood's annual Lego Build-Off on Sept. 6 tests creativity and speed, not to mention less-than-sober architecture. "The Lego Movie" will be on the screen and Flying Dog beers will be on tap.