Thursday, October 14, 2010

Great American Beer Festival, 2010

Two years ago, if you had told me that I would be a person to willingly travel almost 1200 miles to taste hundreds of beers over a weekend, I would have said "save the cash and pass the Corona."

essentialshops in the beer

It's pretty impressive how much I've learned about beer over the last 18 months. And this coming from someone who had to learn to like beer via ubiquitous light lagers in Japan (which I still enjoy, lest you think that all this education has changed me).

Before I delve into details, here is my GABF in numbers:
  • Number of beers at the festival: 3,523
  • Number of beers I tasted at the festival: 115
  • Number of beers I tasted during the weekend: 135
  • Number of GABF winners I tasted: 15

Because I was nervous about getting out of control during the weekend, I restricted my tastings to sours, stouts, and porters for the most part. Here are my favorites:

First of all, if you've never been to one of these things before, here are the things that worked well for me.

1. Stay hydrated.
Not only was I consuming alcohol 20% of the time, but since we were in Denver, the elevation of 5,280 feet meant that I was fearful of exaggerated alcohol effects (although apparently this hypothesis doesn't hold up). There are water coolers everywhere, and each booth had a pitcher of water to rinse out your glass, but you could also use them to get a quick sip between tastings. Outside of the convention center, I drank nothing but water the entire weekend.

This may have been overkill, but it also meant that I didn't get really get that drunk, nor did I feel the any hangover effects during the weekend.

2. Drink what you like.
This may be something with which some folks don't agree. I can imagine folks thinking "this is a great opportunity to branch out and try different styles that I wouldn't normally taste." That is a great thought: since you've already paid for the admission, you may as well try out as much as you want. Plus, you can get a sense of how diverse styles are. I don't like IPAs normally, but I have tried some of my friends' IPAs over time, and have liked a few of them. A beer festival is nice because you don't have to commit to something you don't like; you can taste it and dump it if you aren't a fan, and aren't stuck with a pint.

However, I went into it trying to expand the range of styles I like. I focused mainly on sours, stouts, and porters, with some associated styles sprinkled throughout: dark ales, wild ales, barleywines, etc. I think I was also trying to figure out the difference between a stout and a porter, but was unsuccessful (clearly, there is also confusion in the homebrew world as well). GABF recommends paying attention to how different regions approach the same style of beer. I think that is an awesome suggestion, and hope to do it at a future festival.

3. Take notes.
Jason's notes
An hour into the first session, I already had a hard time keeping track to where I had already gone. And with 462 booths, it is really overwhelming. I actually spent a fair bit of time over the weekend and a few days afterward repeatedly reviewing my notes, remembering how beers tasted, how I felt about the brewery representatives if they were present. I restricted my notes to the brewery, the beer name, and whether I really liked it ("+" sign next to the beer name). Jason, who is an actual brewer and judge (not for GABF), was keeping track of actual information. I did get lightly teased multiple times over the weekend for trying to take notes, so you need to be prepared to defend yourself in a humorous way.

4. Don't let your stomach get empty.
Dina trying to make a pretzel necklace
The ubiquitous pretzel necklace serves two purposes: a) to roughly keep track of how much you've been drinking, and b) to line your stomach with something during the tastings. There's also a few food booths selling cheesesteaks and sausages.

5. Try to observe the other events at the festival.
Did I mention that there was karaoke and "Silent Disco"?
karaokesilent disco
Other sessions included beer and food pairings and how particular beers are made. I'd like to take advantage of these opportunities next time. And I am definitely getting up on that karaoke stage to rock some Tom Jones.

6. Bring your friends.
I would have been pretty sad and miserable if I hadn't participated with a group. Ted was basically my BFF the entire weekend, and it was really nice to have a partner around which to wander. It also meant that you could be twice as efficient with your tasting.
Jason and Ted in lineJason face plant into the hops
second failed attempt at a Jason pictureLes and his magical shirt

However, to better find each other next year, we are wearing these hats:

FYI: Next year's GABF is September 29-October 1, 2010.

1 comment:

Molly said...

I'm watching TV at the same time I check blogs and didn't notice that I had skipped from another friend's blog to yours. I got to this post and was so incredibly confused. My friend has never tasted beer in her life and I totally thought this was her post. Funny!

That's a lot of beer....