Iconic Tour

The most popular beers at the 2016 Great American Beer Festival

Chris Morris, special to CNBC.com

There are two types of winners at the Great American Beer Festival: Those that walk away with one of the coveted medals from the show's judges and those that claim an unofficial people's choice award.

People serve beer with oysters at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver.
Helen H. Richardson | The Denver Post | Getty Images

The two often intersect, but it's not a sure thing. Yet in the two days before the awards are announced at the country's premier beer festival, beer lovers roam the hall, which is roughly the size of seven football fields and hosts roughly 800 brewers, sharing notes and rushing to try offerings with the strongest word-of-mouth buzz.

Some of the brewers that regularly have lines of 50 or more people are already iconic names in the craft beer world. Russian River Brewing (maker of the eternally popular Pliny the Elder) and Avery Brewing (whose Callipygian has been especially in demand at this year's show), for instance, regularly see people wait patiently for a 1-ounce sample of their products, only to walk to the back of the line and wait again for another.

Others, though, are up and comers — regional brewers whose name hasn't quite made it onto the lips of beer lovers. Last year's breakout was The Rare Barrel, a Berkeley, California-based brewer of sour beers. And so far this year, there are a number of beer makers who could be on the verge of becoming craft beer's next big thing.

Here's a look at the brewers who have been reinforcing their iconic status (or building it) among craft beer fans at the 2016 show:

Dad & Dudes Breweria. This Aurora, Colorado, brewer has been boasting some of the longest lines at the show, as people rush to try General Washington's Secret Stash, a cannabis-infused beer that was the first to obtain approval from the federal government to bottle and sell. (The THC is stripped, meaning there are no psychedelic qualities to the beer.)

Source: Dad & Dude's Breweria

Black Project Spontaneous and Wild Ales. Pretty much everything from this Denver maker of reinterpreted takes on historical beer recipes has been a hit with show-goers. Cherry Oxcart, a fruit-infused sour, was one of the standouts.

Prison City Pub and Brewery. Prison City exploded onto the craft beer drinker's radar earlier this year, when Paste Magazine named its Mass Riot IPA the best in the country. Not surprisingly, that led to long, long lines as soon as the festival opened. When that ran out for the night, attendees happily sampled the brewery's other offerings (including Crime of Passion, its well-done sour beer). Prison City, perhaps more than any other brewer at this year's show, could be on the verge of becoming a breakout name in the craft world.

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Jester King. One of the craft world's more revered names, this Austin brewer sells 90 percent of its product at its brewery and often doesn't pour at GABF. It's already an icon, so when fans saw it would be there this year, they lined up early and often. The first night of the show, it had exhausted its supply within 90 minutes.

Fate Brewing. The Boulder, Colorado, brew-bistro's Morai Coffee IPA is one of those beers that has seemingly gone viral at this year's GABF. Word began to spread early among the thousands of beer enthusiasts at the show, quickly resulting in notable lines.

The Lost Abbey. Already an iconic name among some craft beer fans, this brewer of Belgian-inspired beers had a steady wait. Among the most in demand was the 2016 installment of Churchill's Finest Hour, Cable Car and Veritas 017.

Source: The Lost Abbey

Wicked Weed. Another familiar name among craft beer fans, this Asheville, North Carolina, brewer had steady long lines, with half the audience eager to try its award-winning hoppy beers, like Freak of Nature and Pernicious, and the other half determined to taste its renowned sours, including White Angel and Red Angel. (Wicked Weed has steadily been increasing its distribution footprint and could become one of craft's next giants in the years to come.)

Cigar City Brewing. There's always an enthusiastic reception for this Tampa, Florida, brewer, due to the popularity of its Jai Alai IPA. This year the official GABF app announced it would be pouring one of its rarest and most popular beers — Hunahpu's Imperial Stout, which made for an even bigger, sustained rush.

Night Shift Brewing. One of the faster-growing (and most buzzed about) trends in craft beer is the New England–style IPA, an unfiltered, hazy, fruity take on the popular style. However, there aren't a lot of brewers here pouring those beers. Night Shift is one of them, though, and people are lining up to try it. The 87, a double IPA in the style, was a particular standout among attendees.

—By Chris Morris, special to CNBC.com