Musings about the Great American Beer Festival

By now lots of people have chimed in with their thoughts and experiences regarding this year’s GABF, so I’m not going to clog up the interwebs with yet another long-winded post about this brewery or that beer. Rather, I’m just going to share a few impressions and move on. This was only our second trip to the Big Show, but I noticed a lot of changes from last year. Here they are:

How much is too much?
This year’s crowds were huge. Uncomfortably so in my opinion. The noise alone forced you to shout at the person standing next to you, and on some aisles (particularly the Pizza Port / Lost Abbey / Russian River row), the press of humanity was a little too much to bear.

Record crowds at the 2008 GABF
Record crowds at the 2008 GABF

I happened to be lucky because my brewer’s pass allowed me to skip the lines and go behind the tables to get a taster, but even then the brewfolk in their booths were so busy it was near impossible to have even a short conversation.

Additionally, I noticed a rise in the number of what I’d called “beerfest fratboys” — guys that weren’t there to experience the beer, but to wear goofy hats, get plowed and generally act like jackasses.

I have nothing against these guys when they’re doing that at home, but when they’re at GABF all asses and elbows and demanding “whatever the strongest stuff you got,” I think its insulting the brewers and real beer enthusiasts.

Anybody want more peanut shells in their beer?
Anybody want more peanut shells in their beer?

Mad scientist nee brewer
Here in San Diego big ales and high ABVs dominate the beer scene. And while our local guys are no slouches when it comes to pushing the boundaries of beer, I was surprised to see the breadth and variety of suds brewers around the country were making.

Like banana in your bock? Someone’s got it. Roasted lime leaf lager? Check. Peanut butter beer? Oh yeah, somebody got jelly? Salt and sour pils? That was there too. Fact is, if you could dream it, it was probably in one of the 2,000 or so beers on the show floor.

Sure, standard American lagers and pale ales still dominated most of the taps, but I thought it was impressive how many folk were willing to brew outside the box (admittedly to varying rates of success).

Beyond convention
The best times we had at GABF weren’t actually at the convention center, but at the enormous number of brew pubs and beer bars within walking distance.

Many of these hosted receptions or special parties where we got to talk to brewers and fellow craft beer lovers in more relaxed settings. Great Divide, Breckenridge, SandLot and Wynkoop all played host to some really fun celebrations (as did Flying Dog and a couple of others we didn’t get a chance to attend), but if you wanted to be where all the cool kids were – including your favorite brewers – Falling Rock was the place to be.

Falling Rock was almost better than the GABF itself
Falling Rock was almost better than the GABF itself

Time and time again we found ourselves back there sampling all kinds of beer and chatting with friends new and old. Better yet, aways from the madness of the GABF show floor people could actually sit back and have a conversation about beer, whiskey, life and whatever else interested them.

Okay, enough babbling, time for pics. Here you go:

(Note: clicking the slideshow will take you to the photo album)


Author: Sage
I'm a writer, marketing strategist, tech weenie and craft beer lover.

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