You love the blog, so subscribe to the Beervana Podcast on iTunes or Soundcloud today!

Friday, September 30, 2011

What Distant Northwesterners May Be Interested To Know About the GABF, Part 1

It's always fascinating when your expectations meet your actual experience in a dark alley. Experience always wins. Coming into the GABF, I had on my Portland beer goggles, which as we well know completely blur our understanding of the rest of the country. Perhaps you wear the same goggles as I, and will benefit from experience-by-proxy.

1. Huge. I have always chafed with parochial slight at the GABF's claim to be the biggest beer fest in America--when in fact the Oregon Brewers Fest is. I'm prepared to change my opinion. The Colorado Convention Center is the size of four airplane hangars, and it's filled with hundreds of breweries offering thousands of beers. The place is so large that I got lost in the aisles looking for beers. The breweries are helpfully arranged by region, but it took me three hours to find the Northwest. The worst thing is you have to really parse your decisions, not only among which breweries to try, but which of their five beers to sample. One nice thing is that they pour beers in one-ounce increments, so you can sample broadly. There are no tickets, so if you want more than an ounce, you just get another pour. And finding people? Forget about it. I saw Angelo entering the fest, let him get out of eyeshot assuming I'd see him again, and never did. Here he is, in my last sighting of him:

2. They don't covet the beers you covet. There are some badass breweries at the fest, as you would expect. I was delighted to finally get to sample broadly from Jolly Pumpkin's line (flipside of the many-decisions downside is that if you want to really sample a particularly brewery's beer to get a sense of it, you can; with the OBF, you don't know if the beer you're tasting is representative). I scoped out New Holland and dropped by Boulevard for a pour of Brett Saison (and saw Steven Pauwels). Getting these beers was no problem. Some breweries had insanely long lines, but they weren't the ones I expected. New Glarus, which has a totally standard lineup, had a line of 100 people before they even started pouring beer. All their beer was gone by nine. (Great brewery, but it was still bizarre.) A Michigan brewery I'd never heard of called Short's was packed. The Venn diagram overlapped at Cigar City, which I also wanted to check out. Here's that crazy New Glarus line:

3. They give the NW a "meh." Because the fest organizes the breweries by region, I was able to see the relative activity by region. The South seemed to be getting the most attention, and the East Coast in general seemed to be popular. The Northwest was getting surprisingly little attention. Toward the end of my evening, I went over to taste some of the Washington beers I've missed--Chuckanut and Black Raven. In our region, these breweries are getting big attention, but that's just the thing: in our region. I've come to think of the Northwest as a little bubble, mostly sealed off from the rest of the country. This did nothing to disabuse me of the notion. (The Chuckanut, by the way, was seriously fantastic. Regular commenter Jack R is my brother in pilsner, and he would love theirs. The Helles, too, was sublime.)

I'll keep posting on what I see here, which I have no doubt will include more minor epiphanies. I leave you with the obligatory Charlie Papazian shot, which is sadly slightly out of focus (the light was horrible).


  1. Correct on every count, Jeff. Still, an amazing experience!

  2. Seriously, great information. Thanks for sharing. Please keep the updates coming.

  3. Do you think it is possible that the Northwest section does not get as much attention because Northwest beers are "known" - for lack of a better term? Sure, there might be some new breweries, or some exciting new beers, but fest-goers might feel like they already know what to expect since the beer scene here is mature. NW beers have been at the GABF since the outset. Now that there are some quality breweries in the south people want to check them out.

  4. Sounds like you're finally seeing how the rest of world looks at Northwest Beers. Kinds shrinks the bloated arrogance that so many seem to have here the Northwest. ;-)

    Those standard ale styles are a dime a dozen out there... IN THE REAL WORLD.

    So... tell all the nice readers where the real hype is focused in the REAL beer world. Why are fest goers not interested in the NW?

    Maybe you're beginning to understand why the Doc was so bored with the local offerings.

    BTW.... Chuckanut deserves the kudos!

  5. The GABF is a place where Beer Bloggers are nothing more than another drunk with a glass.

  6. I'm kind of on board with jfwellspdx's possible explanation. Just from a "largest number of attendees live in CO/parts west" aspect, you have to figure that other rare-to-find-out-here regions are going to get the lion's share of attention. That's not saying NW Beers Are Better or Worse or whatever - just a different way of looking at it

  7. I think the distribution issue is part of it, but there's also the issue of what beers/breweries "buzz" I different cities.

    Doc Wort!--a ghost among us! You will be unsurprised to learn that I disagree. Having sampled largely from breweries outside the West Coast, I found many so-so beers, and a couple screaming duds.

  8. The new beer/the new brewery garners attention. It is a basic human trait related to ensuring diversity of the gene pool which facilitated human evolution.

    When I walk into a liquor store/a taproom, I carefully survey the beer looking for a brand/style combination I
    - have never seen before
    - have not had in a long time.

    At a beer fest, my behavior is similar. What's new and unusual.

  9. You stated, "They give the NW a "meh."" In reference to attendees interest in the NW region.

    I asked why is there little interest in the NW beers? What are GABF attendees draw too?

    I know your mindset, it's like many the others in the NW.... 'No matter what anybody says or does, we have the best blah, blah, blah...'

    That said, you showed a glimmer of enlightenment when you stated, "I had on my Portland beer goggles, which as we well know completely blur our understanding of the rest of the country."

    "They don't covet the beers you covet." This needs to be expanded on!

    I was hoping the veil had been lifted and you were seeing the big picture in the beer world. I was hoping for some enlightened sediments, but maybe not?

    Those "Goggles" could soon completely blur your vision and those Portland blinders should have you stumbling in a mass of dark reality.

    You can't deny the truth... but I guess you can try to save faith in your "Goggled" NW brethran.

  10. There might be some amount of truth to what Doc Wort says, but I also think that Northwesterners just don't hype their locals the way that people do in other parts of the country. We might think that, for example, Upright makes fantastic, innovative beers, but even their year-round lineup only has a few dozen reviews on BA ( We don't have any events that rival something like Dark Lord Day. The old HotD dock sales were the closest we ever got to that sort of thing. Also, our breweries don't go in for the "18 limited-edition variations of the same beer thing", a technique which Cigar City seems to have perfected ( And when they do have one-off batches, they are almost never bottled, which means they don't get into the trading ecosystem and their reputation never spreads outside the local population.

  11. FWIW: I worked the Ninkasi booth at last years GABF. What I observed was that the primarily Colorado audience was not disinterested in PNW beers, but were intimidated by them. I got so many "I'm afraid to try because PNW beers are too hoppy..." comments.

  12. I'm not sure what the story is. But I might have headed Doc off had I mentioned that the largely Coloradan crowd were equally "meh" about California beers. Firestone Walker, which today absolutely cleaned up at the awards, had quite modest lines. No brewers on the West Coast had anything approaching the interest of the buzz tents.

    I guess if I were to flip it and think how Oregonians would react to Colorado and Mountain states' beer, I'd expect less interest, too. And more interest in those buzz beers we can't get. (Though I'm still at a loss to explain New Glarus.)

    Btw, Ommegang had modest lines, too, and they had exceptional line-up.

  13. Gee, Jeff, you still haven't answered my questions.

    "What are the masses interested in?"

    There's always a BUZZ about something...What's the buzz beer(s)?

    If it ain't the NW and it ain't CA, what and where is it?

    It's about the Region, it's about what's hot.

  14. Then it's all about Schludwiller Doc!

  15. Well, it was sort of patchy. I think the Southwest section was the most uniformly-packed. It seemed like sections in the Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes region were getting attention, too.

    Relatedly, I was surprised at how skimpy the New England/New York area was in terms of breweries. Apparently they don't care about medals there.

  16. "PNW beers are too hoppy?"

    Seriously? Who thinks that? Probably only people from the PNW who don't travel. We probably have the least hoppy beers of any region. Must be all the soft water. I can think of maybe 3-4 PNW beers I would even consider hoppy, never mind too hoppy.

    I think the lack of interest was probably because PNW beers are laregly mediocre, if plentiful.

  17. I think it all comes down to distribution and what you brought to the festival. New Glarus is not available outside of Wisconsin, so this was many peoples' only chance to try it. Three Floyds doesn't make it too far from IN. Cigar City doesn't make it from from FL, etc...

    Widmer is available in 48 states and brought their packaged beers. Not going to generate much of a line with that. Even Russian River had manageable lines throughout the fest, which was a suprise but they have wider distribution.

    The longest line I saw (and took part in) was for Black Tuesday from The Bruery on Thursday night.

    The one brewery I will say I was surprised by the lack of lines was Deschutes considering they were pouring 2011 Abyss, BBXIII, Stoic, etc...But, again wide distribution?

    All in all a great time. Glad to see you were impressed by some of our fine TX beer Jeff.

  18. With the benefit of hindsight, do yiou now see New Glarus' appeal? Gold for Raspberry Tart and Gold for Blacktop IPA, a casca... Wisconsonian Black Ale.

    This should be like the Lombari trophy wherein they name the award after it's first winner. We'll let everyone in the PacNW vote. Careyan Black Ale or New Glarian IPA.