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Monday, October 3, 2016

GABF Boot Camp ... A Look Back From a Year Ago....

GABF. Ask any beer enthusiast what those four letters mean, and you'll likely hear words like "epic," "ultimate," "unbelievable." And, those words probably still don't convey the sheer magnitude of the three-day mega beerfest that takes place in downtown Denver each year. On Thursday evening, October 6, the masses will again converge upon the Colorado Convention Center for the first of four tasting and sampling sessions. After the bagpipes strike the opening notes, the 2016 GREAT AMERICAN BEER FESTIVAL will officially begin! 

This year, the mammoth fest features approximately 800 breweries and over 3800 beers from which to choose. Brewers entered their beers in the medal competition a while ago, and, after the judges taste all of the beers, GABF will announce the Gold, Silver and Bronze medalists in 96 beer categories (along with additional sub-categories). 

Last year was my first time attending GABF.  I had a game plan and did some early research.  Whether it's your first or tenth time, you know you can't drink all the beer (trust me), so whether you use the GABF mobile app, the online site, or the printed maps, it's best to have an agenda (at least start out with one).  Make sure your shoes are comfortable, you drink plenty of water, and you eat along the way. Other than that, soak it all in and enjoy! Although I won't be in Denver this weekend, I'll be following the competition results on Saturday, and all of us in Florida will be looking for some Florida beers to bring home the hardware! Two Florida breweries earned medals last year: AARDWOLF BREWING (Jacksonville; Bronze Medal for Belgian Pale Ale) and BREW BUS BREWING (Tampa; Silver Medal for You're My Boy Blue Blueberry Wheat). Based on the GABF website, 21 Florida breweries will be among those 800 breweries sampling beers at this year's fest.

Here's my excerpted recap from last year (Confessions of a GABF Virgin) when I attended the opening night Thursday session and the members Saturday afternoon session:




GABF is the pre-eminent beer festival in the country.  It's one of those "bucket list" or "wish list" things that you hope you get to do one day. Tickets sell out each year, generally within an hour or two.  Whaddaya know -- I scored tickets to the opening night Thursday session and members Saturday afternoon session. And, then the planning started....hotel, flight, rental car. About a week or so before the festival, it started getting real -- yes, I was actually going to GABF for the first time!

The GABF website is full of awesome information, including the festival map and a list of breweries.  There's also a "MyGABF app." Although the breweries were identified for a while, a list of the available beers was released the day before the Festival. Twenty Florida breweries were in attendance. 

If you don't believe how massive this event is, check out these stats: 750 breweries at the festival hall; 3800 different beers served; 60,000 attendees; 3400 volunteers. 

Breweries arranged by geographic location, Brewpub Pavilion,
Homebrew Marketplace, Beer Geek Bookstore, Merchandise, Brewers Guilds

So, how do you prepare for this?  Study the map and get familiar with the festival layout and schedule of events ahead of time. Review the schedule for the book signings at the Beer Geek Bookstore. Make sure that you have something to eat ahead of time, and make sure that you drink plenty of water during the sessions. I had a list of breweries that I wanted to target, and one particular book signing (more on that below). 

Fast Forward to Thursday night -- Yeah, there was a large crowd waiting to enter the festival hall at 5:30pm:


It moved rather smoothly, and you could hear the welcoming bagpipes playing just inside. And, the 2015 GABF was underway!  Once inside, the enormity of the festival was apparent.  I had a printed map in my pocket, and the regions were well-marked by overhead signage. I wanted to start with the Midwest (Indiana/Chicago) since that's where I'm from, but that didn't work. I got there eventually.  Usually my plan is to start with blonde ales, kolsches, helles lagers, and I pretty much stuck to that.....for a while.



So many breweries, so many beers. Overall, for as many people in attendance, the lines were generally very manageable, almost non-existent, and you were able to walk past the tables and read the beer descriptions. Of course, there were a few breweries that always seemed to have lines that spanned across the aisle, including Allagash, Wicked Weed, and one certain South Florida brewery:


Guess they wanted to Get Funky (Last Snow and more).
You would've thought they were giving it away.....
I sampled beers from everywhere during both sessions, and I especially liked talking to the Chicago brewers. My Untappd checkins really added up. There was just so much beer!


These guys took home a few medals....
Awesome setup!
Big crowds here
Randy Mosher, author of "Tasting Beer"

The highlight of my Thursday night, however, was meeting Randy Mosher, author of Tasting Beer, at the Bookstore.  I knew ahead of time (pre-planned!) when he would be there, and I had brought my copy of the book with me.  This book was instrumental in helping me study for -- and pass -- the Certified Cicerone exam this summer, and it's been through the study-wringer:  tabs and marked up.  I showed it to Randy, and he even took a photo of me!  Very cool talking with him.  He autographed my book, and that was pretty cool!  If you're planning on studying for the Certified Cicerone exam, this one's a must-read. Thanks, Randy!

That was pretty much Day 1 at GABF!  


Recognize them?  Florida Brewers Guild
It seemed like there were many more attendees waiting to get in for the Saturday afternoon session, but once the doors opened, it didn't take long to get in the Festival Hall.  The plan for today?  Visit state brewers guilds, and drink more beer!

The Brewers' Guilds were set up along a wall in the "Meet the Brewer Hall."  Not only could you talk to the reps, but they were pouring some beers that were not available in the Main Hall.  And, they did a really cool thing with a Brewers Guild Passport. Check-in to at least six, and you got a koozie!  I talked to a bunch of the Guild reps, and got my passport stamped by nine, including closest (Florida) and farthest (Hawaii).  It was fun talking to the rep from Indiana, and I got another Three Floyds beer there, too!


Indiana




Wyoming had some interesting animal photos...and captions!



Passport stamps!

And, there probably aren't too many places where you can talk to Brewers Guilds, and then, just steps away, run into a character like the Yeti from Great Divide Brewing:


He's real...... Having a Chocolate Yeti with, well......
And, if you got a little turned around, there were signs to help you find your way. 

Hey, that's a Jax Ale Trail shirt!


And, then, seemingly "just like that," it was last call for the afternoon session. Where did the time go?

GABF is definitely something you need to do.....at least once.  

And, 2017 will be here before you know it, so put this on your calendars: October 5-7, 2017, because that's when GABF happens next year. Tickets will go on sale in early August.

I may not be in Denver this year, but I will be attending a couple of Florida fests. Cheers, everyone!  See you at a beerfest!

Til next time,


Linda






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