Tuesday, October 3, 2023

2023 GABF Final Wrap Up

I arrived at the festival early this year because there was such a backup of people waiting to enter the festival floor in 2022 that I almost missed the bagpipers. And you don't want to miss the bagpipers. I needn't have bothered, as the time it took from when I entered the Convention Center to the time I made it through the metal detectors was about 3 minutes. I call them metal detectors but they were unlike any I've been through. You could keep your phone, change, rings, etc on you and walk through with nary a beep. And the people working the detectors were actually friendly.

So I ended up having a half hour to walk the festival floor before the crowds were unleashed. Standing out immediately was how much open space there was. Because of construction at the Convention Center, GABF had 350,000 square feet of floor space in 2022, as compared to over 580,000 in 2019. This year, they were up to 437,000, though that's still almost 150,000 less than 2019. My unofficial count had 367 different breweries' beers being poured either at their own booth or at the Heavy Medal or Wish We Were Here booths. About 340 breweries had a booth on the festival floor. This is down from the reported 800 breweries attending pre-pandemic. As stated in a previous post, Albuquerque favorite La Cumbre did not pour at the fest this year, though their Malpais Stout was available at the NM Guild booth. Boxing Bear is another large Albuquerque brewery presence not at the fest, but they were represented at the Heavy Medal booth. Santa Fe had quite the beer trailer display as one of the featured breweries, and had heavy traffic all fest long. It was interesting to see Albuquerque's 377 Brewery as a Featured Brewery, considering they are one of the smaller NM breweries and don't distribute their beers. It seems to me that one of the reasons you pony up thousands to be a Featured Brewery is to get more people to buy your beer. Will that many people who attended the fest come to Albuquerque and visit 377? Let's hope.

Ironically, the 2023 GABF was not the place to go if you were thirsty. For water, that is, as the water coolers, which used to be dispersed throughout the festival, were all in one large section this year. Ths was a move that makes very little sense to me, as one of the nice features of the fest was being able to take a quick break with water that was always nearby. Those coolers also made for a good place to rinse out your glass of that 13% stout you just drank before trying a pilsner. There were squirt bottles and pitchers of water at every booth for rinsing, but those stouts really coat the glass. You can only stand there for so long rinsing your glass when there's people lined up behind you.

New to the festival this year was the large Gluten-Free beer section, which I joked would also be free of people, though they stayed busy in the times I observed the area. There was also an International Beer section, though the beers being poured were the standard ones you can find at most stores. I like the idea though. Can't expect them to bring in Cantillion. For the first time, the BA allowed seltzers, ciders, mead, and other things I don't want to drink into the fest. Also new was the National Black Brewers section, which garnered large crowds throughout the fest. The state guild section had some nice options from breweries not attending the fest, such as New York pouring Mortalis and Other Half.

On to the beer highlights: At the time the bagpipers marched into the fest (always a highlight for everyone), I was close to the 903 Brewers booth, so I thought it wise to grab a sample while I could. Last year, 903 had the longest lines at the festival at times. Weldwerks was conveniently close by, with their usual giant booth and large selection of barrel-aged goodies. They were one of the reasons I was wishing for a better glass rinsing option. Medianoche=thick. Other thick stouts were brought by Bottle Logic, who get my award for longest line at the fest. Saying that, Russian River probably had the longest sustained lines, but the longest at one time went to Bottle Logic (pictured). I will say that the Weldwerks booth was the only one that I saw two men sprinting for as the festival began. Literally sprinting. My kind of drinkers.

It was nice to see people lined up for The Lost Abbey this year. As I wrote in my GABF preview, I was the only one at Lost Abbey's booth a few years ago while Tomme Arthur was pouring me sample after sample of Duck Duck Gooze and Churchill's Finest Hour. This year I counted a line of 15 people at one point. A brewery that used to have them lining up is The Bruery, but this year it was simple to walk right up multiple times for Scoops on Dunn, which I thought was one of the memorable Stouts of the fest. The Stout with the most hype this year was Wren House's Triple Vanilla King Snake, which was poured at 6 pm. Thursday night, it was gone in eight minutes. On Friday, I watched the crowd start to gather around 5:45 and there was quite a long line to get a pour. It was a lot easier to get a pour of Nobo's BA 2nd Breakfast, the French toast and cinnamon roll inspired Imperial Stout. Best Stout of the year at GABF would have to go to Modern Times' Modem Tones: Samoa Cookie Edition. I needed to run my glass through a dishwasher after that one.

My surprise favorites of the fest are hard to admit, being someone who looks sideways at people adding lime to their lagers. But I have to say, Hoosier Brewing and Yah Brew Co were the most memorable this year, with the least-beer-like beers you could ever drink. First, Hoosier blew me away with Boxo Fruit: Cherry, a bright red fruit punch-type drink (I know, I can never judge another person's taste in beer again); and they also killed it with Fruit Fusion: The Phoenix, a strawberry, birthday cake, and birthday cake soft serve concoction.

And Yah Brew Co only brought two beers to the fest: Hazed By the Bell, a perfectly serviceable hazy IPA, and Orange Sherbet Push Pop, which tastes exactly how it sounds. And it was one of the biggest hits of the fest, with word of mouth spreading about this so quickly that by the time I returned to Yah's booth Friday night, the Push Pop was nothing but a memory! It may have been gone before the end of pouring Thursday night.

As the fest ended I thought of the overall experience, which was quite positive. Organization was on point in all aspects of the event, though I do have two issues: the water cooler section, and the pour size. The water cooler section can easily be changed. Now, the one oz. pours have been in place forever, but that doesn't mean a policy has to stay in place forever. Would the BA consider a glass with two fill lines that allows you to get the standard one oz. pour, but also a four oz. pour if you choose? I can get a good idea if I like a flavorful Imperial Stout from an ounce, but a good German Pilsner deserves more than one ounce (yes, I still appreciate a good German lager even after professing my smoothie love). And yes, you can get unlimited pours at GABF, but do you like to be A) the person standing at the front of a line getting pour after pour while people wait behind you, or B) the person waiting in line, getting your one ounce, then getting back in a line you just waited in for another ounce? With a four ounce pour, you can eliminate the first option, and if you get back in line to try something else, you'll have something to drink while you wait. The BA could sell the traditional ticket, currently at $95, and maybe have a higher price of $125 for an optional pour size ticket. We all need larger pours of peanut butter maple birthday cake push pops. With a lime.