The GABF and You

The Great American Beer Festival roars to life today for the 32nd time, and tons of giddy brewers are converging on Denver to see if their prize stouts and schwarzbiers might take home the gold.  I was reminded of this when I sent out a batch of inquiries about fresh hop beers yesterday--and got bounce-backs and hasty I'll-reply-laters written from airport terminals. 

Nebraska Brewing at the 2011 GABF.
It makes abundant sense why breweries get psyched for this fest: it's the brewers' Academy Awards.  There are lots of other competitions out there, but they're like the Golden Globes and Independent Spirit Awards--cool, but hardly defining.  As more and more exceptionally capable young brewers have set out on their own, the GABF has, if anything, gained importance.  When a brewery like The Commons, Silver Moon, Breakside, or Barley Brown's wins a medal--and they all did last year--it is a huge honor.  In blind tastings, no one knows you only make a thousand barrels.

For the 50,000 people who live in or travel to Denver, the GABF is also obviously a treat.  Denver turns into one giant venue, and on the drinking floor, festgoers have access to the greatest number of American breweries assembled in one place.  For beer geeks, seeing Matt Brynildson or Garrett Oliver cruise by is something like seeing Ryan Gosling on the red carpet.  I've only been to the fest once, but I can happily recommend that everyone try to make their own hajj, too.  It's worth it.

But what if you're one of the 300 million Americans who don't brew professionally and who aren't in Denver?  Every year I try to find a hook, but except for the Saturday announcement of the winners it's very difficult to think why this fest is relevant to anyone not attending.  It's a big party, people have lots of fun and make lots of connections, but this isn't anything we care about, right?  The selfies and celeb shots will start clogging Twitter as besotted fest-goers immerse themselves in the party, but those tweets contain a big dose of subtext: "don't you wish you were here, neener neener?" 

So tell me, wise hive mind: is there really anything of importance for the mass of men outside Denver?  Should the host Brewers Association think about ways to make it possible for more people to get involved--or is it better that the fest is brief and exclusive?  Is it good or bad that the GABF is one of those you-had-to-be-there experiences for attendees only?

(I am and have been for years on the fence about this.)
Jeff AlworthGABF5 Comments