Saturday, September 22, 2018

Navigating the Thursday Session: GABF 2018

The best gets better, as long as it's just the beer we're talking about. The Great American Beer Festival is by far the largest beer festival in the world by number of breweries represented (800+) and beers served (4000+). Each year, the Brewers Association plays around with the floor plan, ensuring there is no way to find the brewery you are seeking the first time around: "Ok, you're looking for Section 7? Well, you're just outside of 21, so you're only 5 sections away!" Wait, really? Because I don't see how-"Yeah, because it goes 21, 19, 17, 15, and then 11 and 7 run perpendicular to that!" Ok, now is perpendicular the one that runs the same way as-"Got it? Simple, right?? Enjoy the fest!" This blog didn't come with a cartography degree. But, with help, I was able to find my way both in and out of the building.

And now, thoughts on the evening as they come to me:
Some sponsor was giving away bags of potato chips, and that was really popular. As was Buffalo Wild Wings, who was apparently giving two free wings to people who came to their giant setup.
Food choices overall seemed to be above par compared to previous years. I had some pretty good red beans and rice. I'm not the type of person who goes to these things looking for a meal, but I think it is important to have food in you (as well as lots of water) and a hot dog is not food unless you are at a baseball game.
Started the night at Weldwerks before (as I predicted) the line got totally stupid. I think this: Weldwerks became known for Juicy Bits and other hazy IPAs. But their BA Imperial Stouts like Medianoche are what they are doing best right now. QDH Juicy Bits was fine, but the stout variations were outstanding.
How was there no line for Duck Duck Gooze? Has the deomgraphic changed that much in a couple of years that festgoers don't know about that beer? Russian River still had probably the longest line that I saw so I don't see how the same people aren't hip to Lost Abbey rarities.
Speaking of Russian River, Beatification was tasting great.
Good on Brew Kettle for having fact sheets in front of the beers. Bad on them for having them face the people pouring the beers. Their El Lupelo Libre is still a top DIPA.
You know what else was a top DIPA? Alpine Bad Boy! I actually said, "Whoa! This smells like an Alpine beer!" I had forgotten the distinct smell of Alpine's beers when they were "on" and not "Green Flash trash".
Great Notion, my top brewery at the fest last year, has caught on with all the fest kids. Their line was loong.
And welcome back New Glarus, who skipped last year. Welcome back outrageous line.
Avery used to have the most elaborate booth (before Melvin started bringing that actual bus and a DJ), complete with full barrels of beer that they would fill pitchers directly from. This year, they were in a plain old booth in the middle of a row with other booths. Kind of sad to see. Adam Avery was still there, faithfully pouring and talking to everyone.
The king of GABF, Sam Calagione, was also manning his booth, smiling for pictures with everyone. I'm convinced that if Sam told the crowd to go find Charlie Papazian and bring him back for hanging that there would be the biggest mad rush since people found out about the free cheese booth.
Was happy to see Firestone Walker pouring Parabanilla right at the start; no "Pouring at 7 pm!" hassle.
But what is a hassle is Bottle Logic only pouring certain beers on certain nights. Yeah, I got to try all the Lost Colony I wanted. But Fundamental Observation only being poured on Friday night? Didn't the Thursday people pay the same price for a ticket? I asked the BA's Craft Beer Director Julia Herz about this practice two years ago and she wasn't against it then, doesn't seem to be now. But I sure am. I don't care about personally not getting to try that beer; I've got all the bottles I want. But it sucks for the people who are excited to try what is a whale for many, and they see it listed on the beers Bottle Logic is bringing, and they get to the booth and FUCK YOU! NOT TONIGHT!
J Wakefield's Haterade made me realize I could like a beer that smells exactly like fruit punch.
And the "We ran out of all our beer by 7:30 so we went to the strip club" award goes to: Funky Buddha. Again.
Columbus Brewing brought Bodhi DIPA this year, always worth stopping by for, but their Pallet Island BA Imperial Stout with coconut was possibly the best beer at the fest for me.
Maybe second best of the night was the storied Wooden Hell from Floosmoor Station. Also was the only Barleywine I sampled that night.

A note to the Brewers Association: Make dump buckets and water pitchers available at EVERY single booth. Don't put us in the position of going to a booth just to rinse out our glasses and have the poor brewery rep who is just waiting to talk to you about their beer say, "Oh, you just want to use my water? Well, the deal is you have to try my beer as well!!" I dealt with this twice and heard it told to others many times. Each time, the brewery rep was very friendly about it, but just don't put us in that situation. Don't make us force a sample down and pretend to like it since we have to stand there and rinse out our cup again before getting the beer we wanted in the first place.
Another issue: volunteers. I know the people pouring (who aren't there on behalf of the brewery) are volunteering in exchange for admission to the festival, but some of these people are real dopes. I've given up on trying to get any info on beer they're pouring, because most don't care to educate themselves, but I shouldn't have to interrupt a conversation that has been going on between two volunteers for over 30 seconds so I can get a damn sample. I'm standing right in front of you, guys. You're there to do one thing. Talk to your buddy as you pour samples.

Keeping it upbeat and positive, as I'm known to do: the corral system they've utilized to handle the lines coming in seems to work well for everyone. I interviewed a number of people waiting and they were all in good spirits, probably because they were about to enter a beer fest rather than an abattoir. Anything beats the 2008 "Line starts 3 blocks that way, folks!"
Meet the Brewer booths were prevalent and make up for the don't give a damn pourers. I saw a lot of brewery people taking the time to answer many a homebrewer's questions, which can take some patience.
The Heavy Medal section, featuring past medal winners, is also a great feature, especially for those of us too lazy to seek out winners during the Saturday session. We just have to wait a year to try them.

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