It has taken over a week to process the experience of the Great American Beer Festival.
I know I should not complain. I know I should not lament. I live here in Denver, so this event is open to me every year. I should feel lucky. Right now, I just feel lost and small.
The Great American Beer Festival event an event that is true to its name....it is Great like the Grand Canyon is Grand. The problem is, like the Grand Canyon, the Great American Beer Festival can not be absorbed or comprehended like Clark Griswold tried to do on the South Rim. It is simply too big, too vast. It also has the same problems as many of the crown jewels of the National Park System. There are too many visitors, and it is being loved to death.
The Brewer's Association has made great strides to make sure that every year runs a little better than the last. In recent years they have added member's only entrances for all of the night sessions, and have a Saturday day session for member's only.
I attended the member's only session for the first time this year, and while just as crowded as any of the night sessions, it wasn't quite as crazy. I appreciated that. I also attended with my brother, which was also a first for me.
We stood in line, got in, got our tasting glasses, and headed to the back of the hall without too much trouble and only an expected delay. This way we avoided a lot of the crowd. We proceeded to taste whatever sounded interesting. I usually try to taste as many of my favorite styles of beer (Brown and Oktoberfest and beers brewed with Pumpkin). Unfortunately, again this year, brown ales are not in favor. Oktoberfest and Pumpkin beers are more popular because the festival is held in the fall, but many of the Pumpkin's were out as of Saturday Afternoon. Almost every brewery had a light beer and at least one offering in the Imperial or Double range. IPAs, of course, were everywhere.
Even so, I had a few beers of just about every style. My favorite beers from my beer stained notes were: Stewart's Old Percolator Coffee Porter (Bear, DE), Shipyard's Sea Dog Pumpkin Ale (Bangor, MA), Barley Island's Dirty Helen Brown, which won the gold medal for American Brown Ales (Noblesville, IN), Left Hand's Oktoberfest (Longmont, CO) which was a ringer that I had at Lagerfest, Drake's Red Glare Red (San Leandro, CA), Buffalo Bill's (Hayward, CA) Pumpkin Ale, Vino's (Little Rock, AR) Oatmeal Brown, and Magnolia's (San Francisco, CA) Porter.
My brother and I tasted until we couldn't taste any thing any more, and we estimated that if we had a 1 oz. taste on average every five minutes (taking trips to the bathroom and a little break for food into account), we sampled over 60-70 oz. of beer each, perhaps only 4-5 pints of beer. That works out to be about $9 per pint for the $45 ticket. Expensive beer. We also did not linger in any of the non-beer booths or events, and I always kick myself afterwards. The problem is, the session is only 4 hours (we stayed only just over 3) and you get hyper focused (and drunk) about trying beer. We just plain forgot to stop and smell the roses. Oh, and I forgot my camera, again!
This event is just too big, too vast. It would be nice to spend perhaps 2 hours each session trying beer, and an hour or two loitering around the other booths, digging the vibe, people watching (not to mention the silent disco...you have to see it to understand), but that would be an even more expensive way to experience more of the beer and information offered. I had more fun at my other tasting events this year (Lager Festival, and the Rare Beer Tasting), even though I enjoyed more of the beer I tasted at GABF. The brewers were more accessible, and the servers somewhat more knowledgeable about what they were serving at the smaller events. Too bad you can't camp at the GABF like you can at the Grand Canyon, so you can take more of it in.