GABF 2011, A Trip Down Memory Lane
This year’s Great American Beer Festival was my seventh, which means I’ve been going long enough to start feeling nostalgic. And this year, more than before, made me feel particularly nostalgic; Perhaps it was the 1982 GABF Pavilion, or watching as some breweries grow while other seemingly diminish, or was it the massive popularity of the whole thing? Either way, GABF seems bigger, bigger, and… wait there’s more than 450 breweries at this thing now? Damn that’s a lot of beer.
At my first GABF all of these craft brewers were still micro brewers. And they felt micro. And a part of me misses that. Now that some of these breweries can afford to have a full-time marketing person on staff their booths feel like there’s a full-time marketing person on staff. There’s still the new up-and-comers using a Sharpie to label their beers, but now there’s also flashing lights and moving signs. Take Short’s Brewing for example (I’ve always liked them because they share my last name): their booth used to be a simple wooden structure with some good looking signage. But now! Now! they have a massive corner booth with a fancy tap station and atop the taps is spinning logo in all its glory. Sure it’s cool and all, but it seems a bit over the top. Although, I have to admit it was better to see them on a corner where it was easier to get access to their in-demand beer. I am sure this is only going to get worse as these hundreds of breweries try to distinguish themselves and grow from marketing managers into marketing departments. Is that a good thing? I am not sure.
There’s still good beer here! The best thing about the Great American Beer Festival, and I feeling dumb for saying something so obvious, is the beer. Even though you have to dig a bit more than before, you can find some true gems. For me the best part is the crazy experimental beers. At this year’s fest I found a few great and weird ones. The white truffle beer from Goose Island was both weird and delicious. The peanut butter beer from Blue Moon, interesting. But the booth that kept me coming back was Sun King Brewing. What’s up with these Indian breweries? I need to make a trip to Indiana. Wait, did I just write “I need to make a trip to Indiana”? Wow, I did. Anyway, Sun King’s brews were outstanding! Seriously, each of their beers tasty and their Wee Heavy was outstanding. When I learned that they had won for several of the beers I felt happy to have spent as much time at their booth as I did. Despite their Disneyland like booth, Short’s Brewing was well worth spending some time at. Nebraska Brewing Company, and Sly Fox Brewing also both stick out in my memory. I know, I should try and keep better notes of all the beers I liked, but it’s GABF and I only have a few hours and I would hate to waste time writing things down. With so much beer, it’s kind of amazing to think about all of the good beer I am sure that I missed.
The best part of this year’s festival, and probably the thing that made me feel the most nostalgic was the 1982 GABF Pavilion. In the Pavilion all of the beer at the first GABF was served in a subdued atmosphere. It was odd to walk into the Pavilion, everything was quieter and more reserved. I should clarify something, I wasn’t nostalgic because I went to any of the early GABFs (I had just learned to use a toilet when GABF started), I was nostalgic because many of the beers in that Pavilion were among my first loves in the world of beer—Henry Weinhards, Sierra Nevada, Anchor Steam Beer. It was fun to see both how few beers there were at the first GABF and also how much brewing in America has changed in the last 30 years. I would love to see some sort of historical Pavilion at all future GABFs. It’s not always easy to know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.
Oh yeah, where was Surly Brewing? They’re supposed be sooo good or whatever and they don’t even show up to GABF.
I have seen a few people suggest some changes to the festival, and there is one thing I would like to see: more brewery representatives. Where are the brewery representatives? I don’t expect volunteers to be experts, but if your beer is being poured don’t you think you should have someone around to answer questions? The best experiences at GABF are when someone from the brewery pours the beer and says a couple things about what the beer is and why you should think it’s special. Now that’s marketing! That’s way better than flashing lights and moving signs. I think we’re going to get fancier signs before we get more brewery representatives.
And now I wait for next year.