Last week, I arrived for the 27th annual Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado. After a full day of judging Wednesday, the rest of the brewers, beer people and civilians began arriving in town (except for those that weren’t locals, natch) and GABF week kicked into high gear.
GABF sold out again this year — that’s not new — but did so a record two weeks before the event took place. That’s frankly amazing, and the increased number of scalpers was a testament to just how popular the event has become. A beer festival like a Dead show? That’s also pretty remarkable. Can a Friday afternoon session be in the works for future years?
That’s the plus side. On the other side of the equation, the sell-out crowds also means that the festival is likewise more crowded even on Thursday, where in year’s past it was relatively easier to walk the hall and sample the beer. It used to start out with a more modest crowd Thursday and get increasingly more densely packed until Saturday when it became wall-to-wall. Now it’s roughly the same every night with only the Saturday afternoon session having more breathing room, though several hours of that session are always spent at the awards ceremony instead of out on the floor, tasting.
Without a change to the layout (wider aisles, different rooms, booths more spread out, etc.) it’s just going to get worse, I suspect. It seemed like there more merchandise and beer-related booths this year, and that’s a welcome trend. I think the “You Be the Judge” booth is a great idea and I liked the expanded bookstore, too. I’d like to see even more of those types of activities to give people something else to do instead of just drinking as fast as possible, which is what inevitably many still do, though I confess I was bit perplexed by the free haircut and goatee trimming booth.
In recent years, the festival seems to have lost a bit of the educational component to the festival, apart from some food events and hard-to-hear roundtable discussions. Admittedly, that’s hard to do in such a large setting. But some more hands-on education would, I think, be a welcome addition. Perhaps a homebrewing demonstration where people could see how it’s done or even a little BYO set-up where people could get a taste of the brewing process. I seem to recall that when the festival was still held in the outskirts of Denver back in the early 1990s (some one correct me if my memory is faulty) that the hall was either in separate, connected rooms or had much higher temporary ceilings so it felt that way. Being more separated created a feeling of more intimacy and it seemed less overwhelming as a result. In those days when someone dropped a glass, the resulting cries wafted through the hall and sounded more like a choir, whereas nowadays it’s just obnoxious sounding — and people do it on purpose just to get a rise. Of course, I could just be romanticizing the past, awash with nostalgia as my progression to old curmudgeon nears completion.
Anyway, enough quibbling, it was a great event again this year and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. As always, the festival is about two things: the beer, of course, but also the people I see year after year at GABF. If not for them, I don’t think the beer would taste as good. Because unshared beer never tastes quite as delicious as when it includes conversation, camaraderie and friendship. Click on the link below for many more pictures from the Thursday and Friday sessions.
The calm before the storm, just moments before GABF began.
As usual, the hall was filled with people in the beer world, so walking around was like old home week. Here, Bruce Paton, the Beer Chef, Sean Paxton, the Homebrew Chef, and Dave Keene, from the Toronado, in the convention center.
For many more photos from this year’s Great American Beer Festival, visit the photo gallery.