Thursday, September 23, 2010

Recap of the 2010 Great American Beer Festival

Another Great American Beer Festival has come and gone. Over 455 breweries served more then 2,200 different beers in the festival hall to over 49,000 attendees. Just over 3,500 beers were entered into the judging competition which is up from the 3,300 last year.

I did prepare a little for the convention in that I created a list of the breweries that I definitely wanted to try beers from, but I really didn't take the time to write them all down as I sampled. I started to, but that got tedious and cut into my sampling time. I'll just say that there were a lot of great beers, but also quite a few that were not. There were definitely some very unique beers that I was very impressed with that I'll mention though. The Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Brown Ale from Cigar City Brewing (all the beers they were pouring were excellent) was just like drinking a cookie. The Hoppin' Jalapeno Cream Ale from Wasatch Brewery was smooth and creamy with the full flavours of a jalapeno but with only a little of the bite. Rocky Mountain Brewery had beers that can only be described as dessert in a glass. Taking a sip of their Tatonka Blueberry Cobbler, Eat a Peach or Da Yoopers (cherry) and you got a mouthful of fruit and crust flavours as if you just bit into a pie. The Key Lime Pie from Shorts Brewing was another highly talked about beer. All their beers were very popular and they ran out of beer early every night of the session.

Of the four sessions at the GABF, the Thursday night and Saturday afternoon sessions are my favourite. Since Thursday is the first session, everyone is full of energy and excited to be there. Most of the brewery reps are behind their booths and all the different beers are still available. Saturday is great because you get to watch the awards being announced and if you're quick, try some of the beers that won that you haven't already tried (before they run out). Friday is still fun, but a lot of the brewery folks are often off at other events and parties, leaving only the volunteers to answer any questions about the brewery and the beer. The Saturday night session can often just be a mad house (although I didn't see any fights this year). Almost all of the beers that won an award are long gone and quite often so are all the beers at the popular breweries. The brewery reps that are actually there are tired and ready to go home. But its still hard to pass up being there for all four sessions just to be able to soak it all in and enjoy the atmosphere.

One of the hidden gems on the festival floor is the booths for the various brewers guilds. They were moved from the side wall to the center of the festival this year, but most people still seemed to ignore them. What's so special about them? The booths pour beer from the breweries that are members of that guild and in some cases, beers that are not even available at the brewery's booth. Stone's Vertical Epic 070707 was one of the beers pouring the first night along with beers from Lost Abbey/Port Brewing, AleSmith and Jolly Pumpkin to name but a few. If you missed the guild booths this year, I highly recommend you check them out next time.

I spent some time behind the Independence Brewing booth again this year helping to pour beer and answer questions. It was great to see how many people made the trip up from Texas for the festival and there many former Austinites stop by to say hi when they saw where the brewery was from. The Saison was a huge hit and the second keg of it had to be brought out during the first session. It actually had to be rationed during Friday's session to ensure there would at least be some to pour on Saturday afternoon. The Stash IPA was another crowd pleaser and T-shirts for it were for sale at the GABF merchandise booth and it was cool to actually see people wearing them around the festival and out on the streets. There may not have been any medals for Independence this year, but the beer was a bit hit with festival goers.

Overall, it was another great festival experience.  The 2011 Great American Beer Festival will be held Sept 29th ~ Oct 1st.  Circle the dates on your calendar and start making your plans now.

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