Tuesday, September 29, 2009

GABF Wrap-up

Its taken me a few days to finally get around to writing up a summary of this year's Great American Beer Festival. I needed some time to recover and return to a more normal lifestyle again.

Although we didn't get any medals, its always great to see wins for breweries from Texas. It was also the largest attendance of Texas breweries which hopefully helped people realize that we don't all drink Shiner Bock and Lone Star. Its old news by now, but here are the Texas winners:

Gold (Kellerbier/Zwickelbier) - Hell In Keller by Uncle Billy's Brew & Que
Gold (Munich Style Helles) - Summer Pils by Saint Arnold Brewing
Silver (German-Style Wheat Ale) - Weizenbock by The Covey Restaurant and Brewery
Silver (Belgian-Style Strong Specialty Ale) - 100 by The Covey Restaurant and Brewery

The full list of winners is available at the Great American Beer Festival website.

We arrived on Wednesday and after checking in to the hotel and convention, we headed down to the Wynkoop Brewery for the brewers gathering. Its almost like a mini festival with beers from various breweries available at different stations spread around inside. Since its industry only, its a great opportunity to chat with other brewery folk and you always run into people you haven't seen since last year's festival. Once that started to wind down, we wandered over to the Falling Rock Tap House which was a complete madhouse as it usually is during the festival. Its a great place to have a beer, just not during the GABF. However, we fought our way up to the bar and grabbed a few beers (always get two at a time, you don't want to wait again). I also got the chance to meet Amy and Tim Brady from Here For The Beer website which has some great video coverage of the festival.

On Thursday was my annual "Rock Bottom Summit". Basically, every year on the Thursday of the convention week, I meet some friends from Denver at the Rock Bottom Brewery for lunch... and typically stay for about six hours. An amusing story that a friend likes to tell is that one year he called me shortly after I got to the Rock Bottom to say that he was driving to the Houston airport to catch his flight to Denver. And when he finally arrived in Downtown Denver, we were still at the Rock Bottom.

The festival opened that night and I split my time between wandering the booths to sample winners from last year and pouring beer samples at our booth. Independence Brewing had its first booth at the GABF convention this year and it was fun talking to people about the brewery and the beer. Lots of current and former Austin residents came to chat as well as those who just know someone in Austin and wanted to say hi. The convention hall was larger this year and although there were all the same long lines at all the same booths, it was a lot easier to walk around inside.

Friday was another big day with several great events. Every year there is an industry event held at the Sandlot at Coors Field. The Sandlot (renamed to Blue Moon Brewing Company at the Sandlot) is basically a R&D brewery for Coors and is the place that developed Blue Moon and other variations of the Moon brand. Each year the brewmaster picks a particular style and brews different distinct versions of it. This year seemed to be Pilsners, but there were other styles available as well including some rauchebiers. We couldn't stay for all of it this year as a couple of us had tickets for the Rare Beer Tasting that afternoon (wrap-up of that in a separate post).

General fatigue was starting to set in as we arrived for the Friday evening session. We didn't spend a whole lot of time sampling on the convention floor after getting the opportunity to drink so many amazing beers at the Rare Beer Tasting. However, we did run into a old hero of mine and got my picture taken with him. George Wendt (Norm on Cheers) wandered into the Draft Lounge at the GABF and sat down at our table. As it turns out, he was there to promote a new book called Drinking with George: A Barstool Professional's Guide to Beer

After the Friday session wrapped up, we met-up with a few other Texas brewers and wandered down to the Great Divide Brewery and had a few beers while they were closing up for the night. Great Divide has really grown and expanded over the past few years and continues to put out some really great beer. We caught a cab back to the hotel and decided that some food was probably a really good idea. Unfortunately, not being from Denver, we had no idea where to get food after midnight in downtown. Otis noticed someone carry a pizza box for Mary Jane's Pizza which indicated they delivered from 11:00pm to 4:20am. I can't say that it was very good, but no one really cared or noticed at 3:00am.

We were a little slow to get going on Saturday morning. The drinking and standing around for hours and hours on concrete floors at the convention center and bars was starting to wear on everyone. However, this was the day the winners were to be announced so there's always some level of excitement about a potential win. The Saturday afternoon session is usually a little calmer then other sessions. A lot of people are here to watch the results being announced, so its typically quiet around the booths until the ceremony is over and there's a rush to visit the booths that got a win. Independence Brewing didn't get a win, but we got great feedback at the booth as people sampled the beer. The Stash IPA and Convict Hill Imperial Oatmeal Stout where very well liked. The Freestyle Wheat was always popular towards the end of the sessions as people were getting burned out on sampling heavy beers and wanted something light and refreshing.

I had a quick nap and a bite between the afternoon and evening sessions. This was the first Saturday evening session that I had ever attended. I usually skipped the last session, opting for a quieter evening at a local restaurant or bar instead. However, the rest of our group had to head back to Austin that afternoon, so I stayed around to wrap up the booth and pour beer for the thirsty masses. It was surprisingly very busy and not nearly the large "drunkfest" that I had always heard it was. By the Saturday evening session, all the popular and winning beers are typically long gone, but that's not to say that only bad beers are left. There are still hundreds of great beers to sample, you just may not get your first choice. When it was finally over, I made my way back to the hotel and collapsed on the bed, not sure if my feet were still attached to my legs or not.

For me, the GABF is not simply about drinking lots of different beers (although, its obviously a big part of it), its the overall atmosphere of being in place with so many great beers and people who are enthusiastic about those beers. Everywhere you go, people are enjoying good beer and talking about it which I'd say is the overall goal of the festival. If you've never been, I highly recommend going. If you want to start planning now, the 2010 Great American Beer Festival will be Sept 16th ~ 18th.

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