5 Things I learned at GABF 2017
The Great American Beer Festival was held this past weekend in Denver, filling the city with more than 60,000 people ready to celebrate the wonderful elixir that is craft beer. 800 breweries from across the country attended, pouring 3,900 beers for thirsty attendees. There were almost 8000 beers entered in the competition, in 98 style categories. With so much beer to drink in so little time, the Thorn team knew that we had our work cut out for us. Attending this year was me, Jay Jones (sales), Eric Shelley (NP head brewer) and Scott Smith (Barrio Head Brewer). While it was my first year attending the fest, the other three are seasoned veterans. Other than being an insanely fun weekend filled with craft beer, delicious food, and…other enjoyments, there are five things that I learned about GABF which make this festival bucket-list-worthy.
Denverites Are Absurdly Nice
While the city of Denver is really pretty and clean, what was most notable about the city was how incredibly nice the residents were. Now I like to think that San Diegans are nice and helpful, but we don’t hold a candle to Denverites. Not sure where you are going and looking at your iMaps to figure it out? No problem, someone will stop and ask if you need help with the directions. This happened at least 4 times. Yes, maybe we were lost more than the average bear, but the Uber app is very confusing when it comes to pick-up points! People sitting at tables beside us in the restaurant were always friendly and offering advice. The staff from the breweries, restaurants, and bars that we visited were incredibly accommodating and just friendly. And that goes for the whole city…just super friendly people all around.
So Much Beer, So Little Time
This sentiment goes not only for the actual GABF festivals but also the surrounding watering holes. There is so just much great beer. At the fest, the hall is so huge, I’m pretty sure there are parts that we didn’t even get to, even though we walked and walked around tasting beers. One ounce pours at each booth made it so you could taste more beers than a normal festival, but even then, with 3,900 beers pouring, it was nearly overwhelming. When not working the fest, we set out to experience Denver’s beer scene. We hit up Recess Beer Garden for a kick-ass food and craft brews, Star Bar for live music and more beer, Prost Brewing, Denver Brewing Co., The Source, and Trve Brewing Co. for some damn fine sours.
One thing that really struck me (and maybe this goes along with Denverites being nice) was that all of the volunteers working the festival were awesome. Whether they were pouring our beer and learning all they could about the brewery so they could be the best ambassadors or they were trying to keep the brewers and festival attendees safe by patrolling the stairs leaving the venue (I guess sliding down the bannister was a beloved and dangerous pastime of festival goers), they did so with humor and grace. They had so many volunteers you could always find one when you need one, and the festival organizers treated the volunteers well, making the whole event enjoyable and a real party-like atmosphere.
Shame is the Name of the Game
One of the funniest aspects of the fest was immediately apparent on the first night. I was sipping on some fine craft beer and all of a sudden I heard a huge rise in the crowd noise. Every few minutes you could hear the crowd start cheering/booing and in a venue that huge with so many thousands of people it was certainly loud. Turns out, like a lot of fests, when someone drops their taster glass the whole crowd around starts cheering and pointing. When it happens at GABF, it’s a hole other ballgame based on the sheer size of the crowd. Yes, you are getting shamed by hundreds if not thousands of people at once, but it lends to the party atmosphere of the whole event and somehow turns the embarrassment of dropping your glass into the entry to an exclusive club of slippery fingered people. Thanks to What’s on Draft for capturing the madness on video…
Brewers Are Romantics
Saturday morning was the Awards Ceremony. There is an electricity in the air as brewers file into the huge conference room, hoping to bring home one (or more) of the nearly 300 medals given out in 98 different style categories. The IPA category is always the most popular one with more than 400 entries, so in an effort to keep the hall filled with brewers until the end, they announce it last. While Thorn didn’t bring home a medal this year, lots of our San Diego beer-brethren did and we were super excited for them, cheering extra loud whenever an SD brewery pulled a medal (14 in all!). But the sweetest moment of the awards ceremony came when a brewer from Wibby Brewing, from CO, got down on one knee, on stage, after winning an award and proposed to his girlfriend. The ceremony stopped for a moment as all of the hardened, beer-soaked, brewers cheered like crazy as the two lovebirds celebrated the proposal. She said yes, thank goodness because that would have been awkward otherwise, and after a few moments, the ceremony continued.
All in all, the weekend was a huge success. Coming together with brewers from all over the country was an incredible time and one that we are only just now recovering from. If you are a serious craft beer fan, I would highly recommend making the trip to at least one GABF in your lifetime, not only for the fun that can be had in Denver and GABF but also for the awesome people you will meet throughout the entire weekend.