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Thursday, October 10, 2013

The GABF and You

The Great American Beer Festival roars to life today for the 32nd time, and tons of giddy brewers are converging on Denver to see if their prize stouts and schwarzbiers might take home the gold.  I was reminded of this when I sent out a batch of inquiries about fresh hop beers yesterday--and got bounce-backs and hasty I'll-reply-laters written from airport terminals. 

Nebraska Brewing at the 2011 GABF.
It makes abundant sense why breweries get psyched for this fest: it's the brewers' Academy Awards.  There are lots of other competitions out there, but they're like the Golden Globes and Independent Spirit Awards--cool, but hardly defining.  As more and more exceptionally capable young brewers have set out on their own, the GABF has, if anything, gained importance.  When a brewery like The Commons, Silver Moon, Breakside, or Barley Brown's wins a medal--and they all did last year--it is a huge honor.  In blind tastings, no one knows you only make a thousand barrels.

For the 50,000 people who live in or travel to Denver, the GABF is also obviously a treat.  Denver turns into one giant venue, and on the drinking floor, festgoers have access to the greatest number of American breweries assembled in one place.  For beer geeks, seeing Matt Brynildson or Garrett Oliver cruise by is something like seeing Ryan Gosling on the red carpet.  I've only been to the fest once, but I can happily recommend that everyone try to make their own hajj, too.  It's worth it.

But what if you're one of the 300 million Americans who don't brew professionally and who aren't in Denver?  Every year I try to find a hook, but except for the Saturday announcement of the winners it's very difficult to think why this fest is relevant to anyone not attending.  It's a big party, people have lots of fun and make lots of connections, but this isn't anything we care about, right?  The selfies and celeb shots will start clogging Twitter as besotted fest-goers immerse themselves in the party, but those tweets contain a big dose of subtext: "don't you wish you were here, neener neener?" 

So tell me, wise hive mind: is there really anything of importance for the mass of men outside Denver?  Should the host Brewers Association think about ways to make it possible for more people to get involved--or is it better that the fest is brief and exclusive?  Is it good or bad that the GABF is one of those you-had-to-be-there experiences for attendees only?

(I am and have been for years on the fence about this.)


  1. I would wait to go until they find another ticket vendor. Ticketmaster makes it an incredible pain to purchase tickets - various issues with member purchases, and you cannot add all the shows to your basket to purchase. You have to check out one show at a time, which is a horrible, horrible pain. I was very upset last year, but still went. This year I tried for 20 minutes to buy tickets and gave up. No more GABF for me until Ticketmaster is gone.

  2. If you check out my blog-the colorado beer scribe, I've written a 4 part series of events going on in and around the city during GABF week. I have only gone once to the GABF many years ago but I've found going to various breweries, tap house, and brewpubs is much more fun. It would be great to tasty the beers from other regions that we can't get here but c'est la vie!

  3. "For beer geeks, seeing Matt Brynildson or Garrett Oliver cruise by is something like seeing Ryan Gosling on the red carpet."

    Perhaps I am in a minority here but I really don't see the fuss that surrounds the whole rock star brewer bullshit - after all how often are they even at the kettle given the amount of time they seem to spend going to festivals, tap takeovers, and beer dinners? And now I will have to Google Ryan Gosling as well, as I have no idea who he is and why he would be on a red carpet.

    As I mentioned on Fuggled this morning, I am not much of one for beer festivals in general, especially not the mega sized ones where you stand in a queue for an eternity to get a spit of beer (trying desperately not to equate it to standing in line to get a mouthful of wine at a communion service, ah shit...). The festivals I have been to and enjoyed were much smaller and about actually drinking beer rather than getting your ration and the bragging rights that go with it. Again, as I say in my post, give me the pub with mates any day instead of being in a faceless throng.

    Oh, and since I am becoming moaner in chief, let's not get started on the mild hypocrisy of the BA slating BMC for their 'crafty' beers, while happily taking their cash for exhibition space...

  4. I think the festival is for festival goers. The people I know that make the trip do it for reasons that are beyond the festival itself; Seeing friends they haven't seen in a year, eating at restaurants and pubs they enjoy in the Denver area, and schmoozing in general.

    Quite simply, if you're not one of the people in Denver and you'd like to be at the festival, then you should go to the festival. I don't really see how it would be possible to enjoy a festival without actually being at the festival.

  5. I'll admit it- I'm a beer geek groupie. I like to see the craft beer culture rock stars and if it was at all possible I'd effing cosplay some people (ohh, uh I have a beard and a hawaiian shirt, who am i?!)

    But, to be honest, the only festival that makes me happy as an overseas un-attendee is the Firestone Walker Invitational. They had great coverage this year by brewingnetwork which made me not only wish I was there, but kinda feel like I got some of the content.

    Does GABF have anything online? Besides selfies and neener, neener tweets...