Best GABF Ever?

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The Great American Beer Festival has now concluded for another year. How do you think it stacked up to others in the 29-year history of the event? I think it is impossible to measure a term like “best” because of the subjective view each of us has. I don’t know if it was better than the time 800 people had under the striped tent in the rain at the Harvest House in the early 1980s. Perhaps the year under the dome at the Regency Hotel on I-25 later that decade was better for you even though the ballroom floor leaked down to a wedding party a floor below. Doh! How about the Merchandise Mart? I still love I. M. Pei’s Currigan Hall with no internal columns, built in a small number of giant panels.

If the measure for “best” is the quality of the beer, then I think 2010 is the best. I was stunned at so many great beers from small breweries being discovered by beer drinkers as the next great craft brewery. I saw new lines form in front of brewers like Cascade, Founders and Shorts that I hadn’t witnessed before.  If the measure for best is intimacy, I think craft brewed beer is too popular to reclaim a smaller hall with fewer attendees. Other events like SAVOR or the Farm to Table Pavilion will have to satisfy that sense of best. For spirit in the hall, I thought the last several years have showing noticeable improvement in crowd appreciation for beer and behavior. I witnessed people having a great time with friends and enjoying many fine beers. The incidences of poor behavior due to overconsumption have reduced significantly the last few years and the beer knowledge and appreciation continues to improve. For those brewers who wouldn’t be caught dead in the hall on Saturday night, I suggest it out again on Saturday night and working your booth—you may just find valuable conversations that turn people on to your company and your beers. 2010 could be the best GABF ever until 2011.

I missed the Farm to Table Pavilion in 2009 because I was helping Andy Sparhawk and BA brewery members at the National Beer Wholesalers Association trade show and the Craft Brewers Pavilion, which remains the highlight of that biennial event. That piece of the GABF out the back of the hall by separate ticket only, held a handful of brewers paired with chefs and students at the Culinary School of the Rockies and a few hundred attendees and was a nice respite from the din of the hall and chance to relax a little.

For me this GABF was my favorite in 18 years of working the festival. As an evacuee from the Fourmile Fire burn zone, it was great to be in the present with so many friends, rather than having my mind fixated on the disaster in the foothills West of Boulder that began on Labor Day as I was before and after the festival. I get by with a little help from my friends. I tasted many delicious beers and no bad ones. I remember fondly beers like Solar Eclipse, Anastasia Russian Imperial Stout, 30th anniversary Jack and Ken beer, Troegenator and collaboration beers at the Pro-Am booth. That is just a handful of beers I sampled on media and VIP tours of the hall.

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