What’s worse, other festivals aren’t any better. Last weekend I was at a wine festival in Omaha. In five hours two of us tasted a grand total of 1.25 bottles wine between us – for 85 bucks. (That, and we had to endure a band playing gloomy Gordon Lightfoot songs!) Most of these were $10-15 bottles, with only a couple costing around $40. We discovered two or three good ones, but really, with all the blisters, broken glass, and line cloggers… arghh!
You might not realize it, reading my opening diatribe, but I love beer festivals, and I love the GABF. It has so much energy it would glow if the lights went out. Astronauts can probably hear it from low orbit. After all, it has about two thousand beers to choose from being served by close to 500 breweries. You have four and half hours… Ready, Set, Go! It has bagpipers and clowns, for crying out loud. There are herds of fist-pumping twenty-somethings rambling though the crowd leaving a vapor trail of testosterone in their wake while catatonic agoraphobes clutch their cell phones in the wings. That’s right, it’s just you and 12,000 of your closest friends, per session, that is.
It is a spectacle indeed, but here are some ideas for enjoying it all the more.
• Line your innards. Eat a rich meal before the event to stem the absorption of alcohol.
• Make a plan. Here are some ideas:
• Try beers you can’t get at home. GABF is organized by region.
• Look for beers on a theme – stouts, pumpkin beers, etc.
• Stay away from the media darling brewers – you’ll wait forever.
• Take advantage of some of the alternate activities inside the fest:
• Attend a food-beer tasting.
• Buy groovy schwag from the concession.
• Sign up for a “You Be the Judge” class (keep reading).
• Dance in the Silent Disco – or at least spectate – really weird!
• Don’t forget the off-venue activities!
See Denver Beer Week for ideas.
In a half hour, we can usually get through two beers, but understand in the real judging, we might evaluate six to a dozen beers in the same timeframe. In competition judging, judges conduct an “animated discussion” after they’ve tasted all the beers, so it takes more than an hour, in actual fact. Unlike homebrew judging, the scoresheets are very simple. We don’t award points, per se, just rank the top three in the flight after providing some written comments on appearance, aromas, flavors, mouthfeel/aftertaste, and the… je ne sais quoi… wonderful ideosyncracies of the beer.
There are three or four judges per flight of about 6-12 entries. We are served all of the beers all at once. Each judge randomizes the order in which he/she evaluates the beers to reduce statistical issues like nugget effect, palate fatigue, and something I call creeping incrementalism.
In 2007 a journalist from the Seattle Weekly named Maggie Dutton recorded my session with her and it ended up here. Check it out!