It is Thursday, one week before the Great American Beer Festival (GABF). Brewers Association staff and volunteers have been burning the midnight stout to get ready for the 28th annual festival. I am sure it is a busy time for brewers getting ready for the trip to Denver. Here is a behind-the-scenes peak at what is happening around the competition portion of the GABF.
The beers at our host distributor have all been sorted into category boxes, inventoried multiple times, palletized by judging session and loaded into the refrigerated trucks that will make the journey to the judging site in an undisclosed, subterranean, urban next week. Competition Manager Chris Swersey has left his undisclosed, mountain location to come to BA headquarters to sort through competition supplies and make a run to an office supply store. Thursday evening to Sunday Chris and the lovely (but gullible—well, she married me) Jean Gatza turn the cooler data into a competition in another undisclosed, mountain location. Chris and Jean assign every beer a judging session, judge table and group of judges. Judges request 20 beer style categories they would like to judge that their brewery does not have entry in. The first judges to respond to Chris usually get their wishes granted.
Each beer gets a random number (it is a blind tasting after all) and a set of cup labels for the tasteless, odorless lexan competition cups, and the assignment to a first round table in its category. By Saturday night, the table captain packets are ready for assembly, which includes all of the paperwork for stewards and captains to execute the competition. Chris moves down to Denver (see www.denverbeerfest.com) on Sunday for the final key GABF staff meeting and begins stuffing the judge packets that detail the style guidelines, judge assignments, medal criteria and contain comment cards for each beer the judge will get to meet starting Wednesday.
The competition officially starts with judge orientation, judge expectations and training refresher on Tuesday night, followed by a judge reception. Stewards start their work Wednesday morning at 7:30 a.m. so that judges can receive first pour at 9 a.m. The judging continues over five sessions through Friday midday. The awards will be presented starting around 1:30. For those not in the hall for the awards, you can check out the live stream from your remote, undisclosed location.