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Ten initial observations about the Great American Beer Festival 2011

1. You’ve got to love a beer festival where there are touts on constant patrol outside the venue, because tickets sold out after just one week
2. Something has changed. 
This event is louder, more raucous, more masculine than it was five
years ago, last time I was here.  There
are fewer women here than there used to be.  The vast hall is a constant roar.  I think there might be a link between extreme hops and elevated testosterone.
3. “There’s no margin in having enemies” – John Hickenlooper,
Governor of the state of Colorado and former craft brewer, perfectly sums up
the good business sense that drives the spirit of cooperation in craft brewing
4. A sample pour size of 1oz (ie one twentieth of a UK pint) is not enough to really coat the
tongue, so it’s impossible to taste any beer properly.
5. After fifteen years, in business, Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head is still constantly behind the Dogfish Head stand, still selling his beers personally to a queue of
fans stretching down the hall, tirelessly greeting everyone who wants to shake his hand, have their photo taken with him, have him sign stuff.  You still want to not be impressed by him, to not be taken in by his boyish charisma.  But you still are.
6. It’s too busy. 
Despite the tiny sample pour size, every single beer I’m interested in
trying has a huge queue to get those miniscule measures.  The size of the measures simply feeds back into making the queues bigger.  It’s therefore impossible to get a good taste of a great beer. 
The system is broken.
7. In general, it reminds me a lot more of the Great British
Beer Festival than it did when I was last here five years ago.  I think
this is partly due to the GABF not being quite as good as it once was (see points 2 and 6), but mainly due
to the GBBF being quite a bit better than it once was.
8. Wells & Young’s have relaunched Courage
Imperial Stout here.  Wells & Young’s
is often criticised in the UK for having a dull portfolio of beers relative to
its competitors.  (They rationalised the
range of interesting Young’s beers when they took over that range, and they don’t
place as much emphasis on seasonals and limited editions as their key
competitors do.)  Now, they’re reviving a truly legendary beer –
but it’s only going to be available in the US. 
It won’t be available in the UK for another year.  I have no idea why, in the present British beer climate, any company with such an amazing asset would be so over-cautious with it.
9. There are carpets. 
And the teeny sample glasses are made of plastic.  (All events are a mix of good and bad, swings and roundabouts)
10. There is life after extreme hops. And it’s here too.  And that’s good.



Alexander D. Mitchell IV

You know, I don't feel right judging any beer after even four ounces. All a sample tells me is whether I want a proper serving. One-ounce samples are pretty much an excuse for me not to even bother with the GABF or any festival of that size and scope. Yes, there's such a thing as "too much beer."

Adrian Tierney-Jones

I had similarly mixed feelings after the Vermont Brewers fest, especially about the size of servings — I picked up a sample of Alchemy’s Imperial Pilsner and after tasting it immediately went back in the queue…

Martyn Cornell

"There are fewer women here than there used to be. The vast hall is a constant roar. I think there might be a link between extreme hops and elevated testosterone."

As it happens, the worries about hops are to do with the oestrogenic effect of some chemicals found in hop extracts, rather than their effect on testosterone.

Jeff Alworth

Pete, a pleasure to meet you–and an unexpected one at that.

It's odd to read the reflections of a Londoner who knows my national fest better than I do, but there it is. As this was my first GABF, I have no historical perspective.

However, I do agree about the testosterone. Two stories. During the Friday session, I was standing next to an elderly gent when a group of roaring drunk men lurched backward and nearly trampled him. They never saw him, but I did, as he was buffeted in my direction. Turned out he was a Glaswegian who comes to the fest every year with his brother. He's a fan of the fest, but echoed many of your complaints. There's no space for conviviality at the fest–or, since we shared a moment, very little.

The second story takes place in my shuttle van on the 700 mile journey from Denver to the airport. It was full of fest-goers, each one from a different hotel. I was the penultimate pick-up and entered a den of extremely overripe, boozy air. People were lolling and venting that sweet, decaying scent of digested alcohol. It may be that you don't get enough of a taste in an ounce to evaluate a beer, but you can certainly drink enough one-once drinks in a four-hour session to get blasted.

I felt the pours were adequate to get a sense of the beer. There were over 450 breweries at the fest, and I wanted to circulate and find samples that encouraged further follow-up. For me, it was a fine system.

Kyle Romell

I had similar feelings last year when I attended Thursday's session and Saturday Night's session. Thursday was an absolute blast, the crowd was more controlled and the the lines were minimal and all the brews were still available that I wanted to taste. Alternatively, on Saturday night, there were a lot more costumes and dropped cups as the crowd was loud and more incoherent.

This year we (Mom, Dad, Fiancee and I) decided to go on Thursday Night and Saturday Afternoon. The Thursday Night was still a blast and Saturday Afternoon was great. Getting a glass cup instead of the traditional plastic was appreciated and the crowds were minimal I never felt like I had to wait more than a minute or two to get a brew I wanted.

Jordan @ food, sweat, and beers

Great write-up for someone who longingly sipped from a 2010 GABF tasting glass and watched the twitter feed of lucky ducks like you. But I love reading up on other folks' experiences on the off-chance that I end up there next year (or another year)!


Sorry to hear that the GABF is starting to lose it's luster. I've wanted to go for the past five years, but now it sounds like more trouble than it's worth. There is something positive about the over-crowdedness: craft beer is becoming more popular – and that's a great thing! Cheers!


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