Education and beer guzzling at Great American Beer Fest
DENVER – By Saturday night, the third night of the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), thousands of adults knew what it was like to be Charlie going into the chocolate factory. Instead of Willy Wonka’s factory, GABF-goers lined up outside of the Denver Convention Center. And instead of chocolate, (aside from a chocolate stout), they were there for beer.After waiting in a line filled with people with pretzels tied around their necks, folks from all over the country and all over the world were outfitted with a wrist band and a miniature yard of ale and directed up a flight of stairs. Stirred by Irish pipes, drums and cheering, beer enthusiasts poured into the tasting room to expand their beer horizons, one ounce at a time.This year marked the 24th year that the Brewers Association has put on the beer festival. According to the GABF Web site: “The primary goal of the GABF is to educate the consumer about the vast spectrum and quality of beers currently produced in the United States.” For breweries, it is a chance to be exposed to thousands of beer-drinkers and to win medals. Aside from allowing their beers to be sampled, 463 breweries brought their beer to be judged. The breweries brought 2,350 beers, which were entered in 69 categories where they could be awarded gold, silver or bronze medals. Categories ranged from simple; American India Pale Ale, to more exotic; beers that taste like coffee. If the judges did not find three beers that filled the qualities of the style, they could elect not to award a medal. The famous beer connoisseur Michael Jackson was in attendance as usual.GABF has expanded its role to include cooking demonstrations, lessons on broadening one’s beer palate, pairing chocolate with beer, pairing food with beer, home-brewing hints and more. Each night had an hour of live music and a half hour lesson on beer basics. At 1:15 p.m. Saturday, there was a Beer Journalism awards ceremony, followed by the GABF awards ceremony. There is a very epicurean aspect to the festival that encourages attendees to learn as much as they can while they are there. On the far end of the room is the market place, where everything beer related is available for purchase.Breweries were organized by region and then in alphabetical order on rows and rows of tables. Volunteers in GABF T-shirts dispensed samples of beer to people in various states of sobriety.”By the end of Thursday night, there were people throwing up,” admits a volunteer whose name tag read: “420.” It seems that the volunteers take a GABF name for the night. There is “J-Dog” and “Drink ‘Til I’m Cute” and “Hot Mama.””They train you to cut people off, but who am I to tell someone they can’t drink?” said 420. According to 420, volunteers have to attend training sessions and work for half an hour, after which they are free to join the revelry.Those who didn’t volunteer or work in the beer industry had to pay $55 at the door. Ross White, 26, tossed back another ounce of beer and while laughing, said, “I gotta get my money’s worth!”There was an effort being made to keep the festival safe. A woman handed out pamphlets with the number of a taxi service and there was a booth exhorting, “No DUI Denver.” There was also food being served. Festival-goers could try to mitigate the effects of alcohol with anything from sushi to barbecue.On a more sober note, Abita Beer, from New Orleans, was selling $10 silver ribbon pins with all proceeds going to the Katrina relief effort.Throughout the evening, which ended at 10 p.m., the atmosphere became increasingly raucous. Every time somebody dropped something, a shout went up and spread throughout the arena until the whole place was filled with cries. A group of people in lederhosen walked by arm in arm. There was an unusual number of T-shirts asserting Irish nationality and more T-shirts encouraging drunkenness. By 8 p.m., all of the more sober things like cooking demonstrations and tasting classes were over and people were losing all reserve. Some of the breweries ran out of beer and closed up shop.Sunday morning would be a bit groggy for some folks, but as long as everybody got home safely, it has been another successful festival.Vail, Colorado
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