I’ve been doing a lot of traveling over the past month, and decided, after thinking hard about it, to not go the Great American Beer Festival this year. This is the first year in many years that I won’t be going, and there will be some regrets, but I need a couple of weeks at home and in the office before I travel again, to Austin at the end of October for the Master Brewers Association of the Americas National Conference (in my mind, the best set of brewing technical sessions in the USA).
I remember the first time I went to the GABF, back in the early 1990s when I lived in Colorado and was working for Anheuser-Busch. I had a couple of friends fly out to join me, and along with my wife, we went to every session. My expectations were quite high, I had been hearing about this event for several years, and was really glad we finally got to go and experience it. And plus I was able to visit a lot with Bill Millar, who owned San Andreas Brewing Co. and gave me my first brewing job. The number of breweries serving beer blew me away, and I enjoyed trying beers from many brewers I wasn’t familiar with.
Since then, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve missed this epic beer festival. I went again on my own while I lived in Ft. Collins, and then was able to convince the folks at the Anheuser-Busch Specialty Brewing Group that we were missing out by not participating in a big way. Fortunately they agreed with me, and we had good booths featuring some of our specialty beers and even some experimental beers over the years. We also worked with the Brewers Association to host some off-flavor training booths at the fest, which we did for a couple of years.
In the late 1990s, when Tom Schmidt, the taste training guru at Anheuser-Busch, decided to retire, he nominated me to take his place on the prestigious Professional Judging Panel that awards the medals every year. To say I was thrilled was an understatement, and I have since judged nearly every year. I’m going to miss it this year, but Stone Brewing Co. will be represented with a judge, and I’ll get back on the saddle for the World Beer Cup at next spring’s World Beer Cup.
So what will I miss? Mostly I’ll miss seeing my friends in the business. There are years where this is the only time I get to see them, and it’s easily the best part about being there. I’ll also miss the judging sessions, which, though very rigorous and fatiguing, are also very rewarding, inspirational, and educational. And they are a great way to get to really know other brewers and the affiliated beer industry folk that serve on the panel. I’ll miss the post GABF parties at places like The Falling Rock, Euclid Hall, Cheeky Monk, Hops & Pie, and Star Bar. I’ll miss visiting the local breweries: Wynkoop, Rock Bottom, Flying Dog, Copper Kettle, Breckenridge, Sandlot, Crooked Stave and others. And I’ll miss the beer, all the new beers I would get to try, and the joy of discovering an excellent brewery that I hadn’t previously known.
So with this list and all these accolades about the GABF, what drove me to not go? Several reasons, the biggest one simply being a need to be at home and get back into my routine for a couple of weeks. The GABF is a marathon for everyone, it’s loud and crowded, especially the Friday evening and Saturday evening sessions, and I tend to lose my voice every year, probably because I spend too much time speaking at high volume, drinking beer while doing so, and getting affected by the altitude and dry air. And when I get home from many consecutive nights of too little sleep and many consecutive days being “on the go” from about 8:00 am till about 2:00 am, it’s taking me longer and longer to recover every year. And finally, since I’ve been at Stone, the only time we’ve won medals have been the years where I haven’t attended, so maybe my staying home will be a good luck charm! Wish us luck this year!
This is the biggest, and still in many ways, one of the best beer events that America has to offer, and if you are a beer fan and haven’t gone, please do yourself a favor and make the arrangements to go in the near future. It gets bigger and better every year, it’s an extremely well run event, and it’s a bucket list item for sure if you like beer. Stone is going to have a great booth this year. We are serving some very special beers, and for the first time, we will also have a booth representing our Liberty Station Brewery.
This past week, I did a quick trip to Yakima, WA to wrap up our hop selection and speak at the Master Brewers District Northwest meeting. It was a very good trip, and I’m excited about our hops this year. It was great to see my brewing friends from WA and OR, and try “new” (at least for me) beers from breweries like Worthy, Icicle, Pfriem Family Brewers, 10 Barrel, Pike, Bridgeport, Fremont and Two Beers, among others. A lot of brewers in the Northwest are canning their beers, and there was a great discussion on mobile canning lines during the MBAA meeting. And it was neat to see Haas’ new experimental brewing operation, which is an absolute technical marvel, and also Bale Breakers Brewery, owned and operated by several 4th generation hop farmers from the Smith Family at Loftus Ranch. Try their Field 41 Pale Ale, brewed with Simcoe, Citra and Ahtanum hops, some of our favorites at Stone. Wonderful beer.