BRAVING THE BIG US BEER BARNSTORM
Once the mind has come to terms with the first rule of the Great American Beer Festival then the patron can truly enjoy the world’s biggest brew drinking exercise.
The golden rule is that no matter the determination, inspiration, indigestion and perspiration, a visitor to the annual Denver event will not get through all the breweries, let alone the beers, on show.
There were just shy of 800 brew makers squeezed together in the Colorado Convention Centre for the 2016 series earlier this month. That meant around 3800 beers. For 14,000 punters per five-hour session.
They’re big numbers. But they’re appropriate because GABF is big! Mammoth. Huge. Uber-large and any other descriptor to suggest far from small.
The size of the festival was clearly evident before a drink had been poured or an attendee come in sight. The Sip had the good fortune of being permitted inside the giant barn that covers 54,000 square metres half an hour before the starting gun fired.
What seemed like a gentle stroll around the different sections and plethora of decorated trestle tables took a staggering 10 minutes – and that was without the burden of another person on the floor. At least a thirst had been earned by the walking workout.
So when the masses lobbed, well, it was very easy to get lost, especially if you didn’t have great geographical knowledge of the 50 States of the Union. Looking up for help and seeing MidWest didn’t always inspire confidence about climbing from the crowds alive.
The second rule of GABF is that it isn’t GABS. To spell that out in greater detail the American festival and our own Great Australasian Beer Spectapular shouldn’t be compared as they approach their ideals from different directions and with incomparable resources.
The GABF is more like a trade expo for beer. Hundreds of minor breweries are sandwiched together with adjoining two metre wide tables. It often required close scrutiny to identify the brand and which part of the country it was from.
For the patrons the compartmentalisation was a joy. A drinker could walk down any aisle and point the finger at a random operation and decide “that’s where the next drink is coming from”. They then had a choice from each company's stable.
Some of the bigger operators in the craft game – they play by different rules in the States – have their own break-out stalls. Fair to say a lot of work had gone into some of the brand representation.
However, those more profitable breweries were brought back to the field with the egalitarian ethos of GABF.
The layout means Nobel Rey Brewing Company’s Baracus BA Brown Ale can be showcased on the main stage alongside Rabbit Hole’s Rude Jester IPA across from Firestone Walker’s Easy Jack Session IPA, which is just down from Oskar Blues’ catchy stand.
In the crowd-drawing crap shoot everyone has as good a chance as everyone to lure a new drinker.
There were 7270 beers entered into the GABF competitions. Some of the big winners were Georgetown Brewing Company in Seattle, Überbrew from Montana and Highland Park Brewery, Los Angeles, highlighting the diversity of the participants.
Homebrewers were represented, there was a book store across from a games area, brewers offered meet and greet sessions, Denver radio stations moved their programs to the festival hall and then there was PAIRED .....
The US Brewers Association held a ballot for breweries wanting to take part in a beer-food matching seminar and tasting. There were 23 far more ornate stations serving superbly complemented drinks and delights. PAIRED was all part of the BA’s attempts to get beer back on the dinner table.