This year’s trip to the Great American Beer Festival was a whirlwind tour, one in which it often felt like I was somewhere other than Denver. From my arrival on Thursday through leaving this morning, we were always on the way to something else: another book signing, a new restaurant, or an event. For the first time in years, I spent less than an hour at the Falling Rock Tap House during the entire weekend. This was, however, tempered by meeting its owner, Chris Black, who stopped by to buy my book during a signing. I want to focus this post on the festival itself but I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the Brewers Association for inviting me to sign books at the festival and to touch briefly upon the book event we held while in town. Conceived as part book release party and part celebration of the many brewers who never get any air time in Denver, we titled the event “The Great American Craft Beer Experience.” I was joined at the excellent Stoney’s Bar and Grill by three wonderfully talented and engaging brewers, Matt Brynildson from Firestone-Walker, Paul Philippon from Duck-Rabbit, and Doug Odell from Odell Brewing. We held a tutored tasting of seven of their beers (all but one are featured in my book, Great American Craft Beer) and a panel discussion about the craft beer industry. The audience was engaged and we (the event was co-sponsored by my buddies at BeerAdvocate) look forward to hosting more of these events during next year’s festival.
By all numeric quantifiers, this year’s Great American Beer Festival was a resounding success. With a record sell-out time, record number of beers entered, and record number of attendees, the festival continues to grow with every passing year. After attending parts of three of four sessions, I left the festival with some new impressions, both positive and critical. On the positive side, the festival staff have clearly gone to some lengths to improve the educational components surrounding the massive consumption of beer. The cooking events were informative and packed and the educational seminars were well-considered if slightly under-attended. The Brewers Association also set up a few helpful displays throughout the hall that attempted to teach attendees more about appreciating and understanding beer. A display of different types of glassware was especially interesting as were the many beer-related vendor booths.
But where the festival succeeds due to the planning and dedication of its staff, it has also become a victim of its own success. Approximately 49,000 people attended the various sessions and at times the hall felt spacious and then curiously ill-designed for the event. While the back of the hall boomed with space, the middle and front sections were impassably crowded during much of the fest. But this quibble aside, the vibe of the festival has definitely changed in recent years, from a niche event to a full-fledged, general public mass gathering. The attendees by my view now skew considerably younger than a decade ago. Now I acknowledge that I have not attended the GABF around fifteen times so I have aged as the fest has and this could be a factor. With that said, I attend a dozen or so beer fests throughout the year and go out a few nights a week, so I’m not exactly a wallflower or homebody. But, as many commenters would likely be quick to tell you, age is not necessarily an indicator of seriousness when it comes to beer, a point I willingly concede. With that concession made, age does, in my opinion, add a new level of perspective to the proceedings and you don’t usually see a lot of older inebriates at the GABF.
Where the Thursday night session used to offer beer enthusiasts an early reprieve from the boisterous booze storms that are the Friday and Saturday night sessions, this year things took a turn for the worse in the first hour of the first session. The overall vibe now tends more towards consuming a large number of samples as opposed to consideration of the beer in front of the attendee. I’d be curious to see whether the GABF keeps any count of its beer stock, in order to make an estimate about the change in consumption rates at the festival over time.
This brings me back to my original point, namely educating consumers with an aim towards fostering a greater appreciation of beer. As I spent more time on the festival floor this year than I usually do, I noticed by Saturday night that I had run into only a small fraction of the industry people I usually see at the festival and its outside events. I also met a surprisingly large number of many beer industry folks who weren’t even attending a single session of the festival or were only planning to visit for the awards portion of the Saturday afternoon event.
After some consideration, I think the issues I witnessed at the festival (beyond the usual acts of drunkenness and poor judgment that can be seen at nearly any alcohol related event, be it beer, wine, or spirits) can be addressed by a single, simple rule: breweries that choose to pour beer on the festival floor should be required to have a representative at the booth at all times. There are several other well-regarded festivals around the country that have this rule and the reason is simple: craft beer is about place, about the people behind the brands. And where the people behind the beers are removed, beer simply becomes an inefficient means to an end of inebriation (to paraphrase the late Michael Jackson). Attendees have no reason to linger at a table if the volunteers pouring their beers know nothing of the brands and breweries (a refrain I heard repeated countless times from well-meaning volunteers). And so they simply slam their sample and move on to the next beer with a funny name that reminds them of their pet dog or cat.
The lack of education at the tables only matched the number of lost opportunities to interact with potential craft beer consumers. And I don’t mean this in the sense that some small, local brewpub in Arizona, Georgia, or Michigan is likely to get any business from a local Denver attendee. The Great American Beer Festival is about much more than promoting individual beers and breweries, a definite forest over the trees situation. It is a celebration of and testament to the continued success of flavorful beer in its fight against interchangeably flavored beers. By not having anyone around who can tell an inquiring consumer about a particular brewery or beer, or more generally educate them about a particular style or hop variety, the organizers of the festival are failing at the very goal they profess their dedication to achieving. For an organization dedicated to promoting craft beer and educating consumers, the Brewers Association shouldn’t relegate information and knowledge to 100 person capacity dens of beer nerd-dom. Many of the attending consumers want a more interactive experience and the Brewers Association should do a much better job of giving it to them. The association is trying to promote craft beer, not throw the world’s largest keg party.
The unfortunate vibe I am describing also leads to an unfortunate self-fulfilling prophecy. Brewers travel from all over the country (and the world) to attend the festival and promote their craft. But as many, many brewers have expressed to me, both this weekend and at past festivals, they don’t really want to spend a lot of time on the festival floor because it tends to devolve into a semi-drunken shit show, especially at the weekend evening sessions. Seasoned festival veterans long for the brief moments in between the raucous screams that accompany the near-constant dropping of glasses (many of which are now done on purpose). Many brewers simply don’t bother to attend the sessions because they have no role to play and the scene isn’t about their talents and what they do for a living.
Beer education at the Great American Beer Festival needs to be about more than just token displays of beer education. And I certainly understand that there may be some reluctance to require brewers to attend all four sessions. And I also appreciate that hard-working brewers view the festival as a camaraderic opportunity to relax and enjoy beers with their brewer friends from around the country. Despite these concerns, the Brewers Association can still encourage brewers to spend more time during the sessions at their booths interacting with the attendees. The association can also ask the attending brewers to educate the volunteers working their booths or at least provide them with some information and promotional literature about the beers. Each brewer (or the association itself) should also be required to provide a laminated sheet identifying and describing the beers on offer for attendees. The brewers who presently provide these services are rewarded by more engaged volunteers and better informed attendees, many of whom tend to linger a little longer at the booth and thus develop some connection to the brewery and its beers.
Gearing up for its 30th anniversary, the Great American Beer Festival should always be evolving and looking to improve. The organizers should appreciate that bigger is not always better and that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if fewer breweries poured beer on the festival floor. If attending breweries think it is too big a bother to help educate consumers during the craft beer world’s largest marketing opportunity, give them more time to hang out with their buddies at Falling Rock or the Cheeky Monk.
With these points made, I’m certainly interested in hearing from brewers and their thoughts on the subject and how the festival itself can improve (or how it is perfect just the way it is). I’m also interested in hearing from consumers, attendees, and anyone with some thoughts on better educating people at beer festivals.
I could not agree more with breweries having representation at the booths. We reiterated that fact several times throughout the night. I appreciate that the volunteers were there to help, but very few knew about the beer. They could only offer if they liked it or not. Maybe 1 or 2 volunteers and 1 or 2 brewery representatives would be perfect at each booth, so both questions and volume can be satisfied equally.
And breweries can definitely switch up who is in attendance. I don’t care if it is the brewer or just a local buddy of theirs who has been briefed on the beer. The latter would be a great start for me. Obviously some of these breweries bring a number of people, so just assign some hours at a session and improve the festival, beer knowledge, and your brand.
Excellent reporting and observations. It leads me to a few things:
1. What is the chance that the whole “enjoying more flavourful beer in moderation” thing is all a big load of willful blindness? What if 90% of craft beer sales are really to people who like to get blasted but just with tastier stuff?
2. Does the centralization of the event create its own maelstrom of drunkenness. You get a local crowd plus a lot of fans who spend a lot to get there and by God you are going to have the time of your life. What if there were 12 monthly regional fests instead of one annual one.
3. If the brewers do not actually like the event, why has it not been transformed already? Is there a disconnect with the bureaucracy of the BA and the member brewers? Are their business plans actually in sync?
Just a few thoughts.
Number 1 is entirely possible but even with some other larger fests around the country, you don’t see that level of dedicated inebriation. So I think it could be a mix with the GABF but that my suggestions would serve to discourage or temper it.
The fest has been in Denver for a long time and it is primarily local driven, many of whom may not be craft beer appreciators but are craft beer drinkers. I think people who travel for the event generally are not the heart of the problem as just being there, surrounded by so many great beers, and outside events and bars, is providing the time of their lives. And 12 monthly fests (or moving the fest around the country as has been done previously) just won’t work for a host of reasons.
The dirty little secret is that brewers and many serious beer people (however you define that) don’t attend the fest. Whether it’s because they are enjoining hanging with their friends or dislike the vibe, they aren’t there. They stop by for the competition and then take off. The Brewers Association likes to tout numbers and the fest is a big money maker, so it doesn’t have incentive to significantly alter its approach. And with the brewers coming for the medals and to hang with friends, the Brewers Association probably doesn’t receive many complaint.s
I agree with all points. It seems to me that GABF is turning into just a very large fraternity party. Saw loads of people throwing their glasses at each other just to hear the crowd boo. Lots of folks disrespecting beer.
Also ran into a group of kids at one of the floor maps who were dismayed at all the breweries there. All they wanted to find was the Yuengling or PBR booth. Horrifying really. Why pay that much money to go to a festival and drink those brands? For the cost of the ticket they could have bought a case each.
I also found it hard to find any brewers to speak to out on the floor. However, I ran into every brewer I knew at the outside events. Seems almost disrespectful to leave the poorly educated (on beer anyway) volunteers to man your booth.
I have no problem with folks wanting to try macro beers and even with them being at the festival overall. But the crowd definitely does skew towards that perspective during certain sessions. And I obviously agree with your entire second paragraph.
Lord have mercy if they don’t hire me or at least consult with me in some way to deal with their line maintenance issues…. Every year they manage to muck that up worse than the year before. I watched it on Saturday morning and I could easily solve all of their problems with a 15 minute consultation.
I agree with you about the beer lines. They are frequently in terrible shape when the festival starts. We bring our own clean lines to the festival, swap them out for the grungy ones, and bring brushes and cleaners for the tavern heads and faucets. There is no point in showcasing our beer at the annual national championships of beer with dirty lines.
Having a brewery representative on the floor would (hopefully) also cut down on the volunteers who warn you away from certain beers they are pouring by telling you how terrible they are. I always feel badly for the breweries who pay the money and spend the effort to send beer to the fest, only to have the person at their booth discouraging people from trying their beer.
That is always disappointing and disconcerting and it happens more than brewers probably want to believe.
Someone suggested that the fest should travel to different cities ever year, and this would do a lot to curtail the frat-party atmosphere and also advance the cause of education. I’d say it’s time to consider a change like that.
I don’t think that is a particularly viable option as these events take a ton of work to put on and the Brewers Association is not actually in the events business overall. SAVOR is in essence a festival in a new city, although much smaller in size of course. And when the association tried to run a GABF event in Baltimore more than a decade ago, it didn’t work at all. I think local fests do a good job of achieving the goals I describe. I just think it’s time for the parent festival to follow their lead.
All I can say is, Thank God for the Great Taste of the Midwest in Madison. That is how to run a beer festival! In a park, on the lake and only allow a manageable amount of people, while booths manned by actual employees.
Cheers to that.
I agree 100% Kelly – GTMW is still my favorite beerfest!
Amen to that. Although I’d argue that GTMW could still sell more tickets. There are a lot of well-behaved folks that would love to get in. There’s a fine line between keeping it a reasonable number and unnecessarily exclusive. As much as I like the lake location I think they’d be better served setting up at the Alliant Energy Center/Dane County Coliseum/Willow Island. They could easily have 2x as many people with ample parking and facilities and an indoor alternative if it rains. My only other beef is how the tents are set up. There is no exit flow to lines and people congregate under the tents clogging things up. Every brewery could have a simple rope that leads people in and guides them right out. Either that or increase the number of tents and decrease the number of breweries in each tent. And an external listing of beers would be outstanding. Some of the breweries do this but many have an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper on a cooler and you have no clue when they’ve run out of something until you wait in line for ten minutes to hear “all out.” I still love the festival just think they could make some improvements.
At some risk of continuing to stray from the main topic, Edward, you have a couple of possibly good suggestions. I agree that traffic flow for some of the more popular breweries can be a problem, not only because of the length of the lines (which isn’t as bad as at many other festivals, but can still be a problem) when people congregate around a booth when several others are waiting. And signs about beers being gone that can be seen could be helpful. But I don’t think that roping off an entry and exit line for _every_ brewery is practical. Think for a moment what that might look like. It might also create its own traffic flow problems in that it would put up an obstacle between access under the tent to different _uncrowded_ booths–if there’s not a lineup for a couple of neighbouring breweries, someone might reasonably try one beer from one brewery, and then move on to the next one or two tables. We already try to put on the corner the brewers that historically draw bigger crowds, and maybe a rope line could be useful for some of them. Ultimately, however, I think it’s a matter of education and maybe a little “peer pressure” to get across the idea that it’s rude to hang around and not make way if there are several other people waiting for that brewery.
The expo centrre and Willow Island? I don’t know. I haven’t looked at the site or know what the expenses would be. All that parking (which is right across the street and I believe is available for anyone to pay to park there anyway) isn’t necessarily a good thing. We actively discourage people from driving to the festival, why would we want to make it easier for people to make bad decisions? As for the suggestion of a possible rain location, the mere presence of the building at the site doesn’t make it a backup. When do we make the call that it might rain heavily on Saturday? Those tents went up on Thursday this year. More to the point, however, is that it would require contracting both for the tents, toilets, and everything else AND contracting for an exhibit hall. Is expo management just supposed to leave the place empty and not sell the space to someone else for that weekend just in case we might need it if there might be rain in the forecast?
I do like your idea of more smaller tents rather than fewer really large tents. We’ve actually gone a very little bit in that direction, although even the smaller ones this year were still rather big. I went to the Great Canadian Beer Festival the first year it was outdoors, and the tents each had four brewers–everyone got a corner!–and they were laid out in a “beer village” fashion. I liked that layout, but I also realise that they had about one-third the number of breweries (at the time; I don’t know how many breweries they have now) compared to the Great Taste. Could we really have 30+ separate tents (in addition to the tents for non-brewery exhibitors/vendors, food vendors, education tent, and real ale tent)? If we were to get it down to, say, a dozen brewers per tent, would we have room for 10-11 brewer tents? Maybe? Would it make it easier to navigate the festival, or would it become overwhelming in another way? I’m not the expert on planning out the layout of the festival grounds, but I can forward the suggestion.
Well, at least I no longer feel jealous in not being able to attend.
We have a small, local “beer fest” in the university town we live in, and stopped going a few years ago due to the overcrowding and poor behavior of attendees (and we’re not “old,” either).
As a plain-Jane consumer and budding craft beer enthusiast, I would have been truly disappointed if I’d spent hard-earned money to travel to Denver and experienced this personally. My expectations would have been that someone who works for the brewer would have been available to at least answer questions about the beer. And I’m frankly stunned to hear of people throwing glasses – this is why serve college kids their beer in plastic cups.
Now I don’t want to overstate the boorish behavior, because it wasn’t totally rampant to my eye but it was frequent enough to be a distraction, annoyance, and even disappointing. It’s the reason many beer folks don’t stay to the end of the sessions. With all of this said, I also wasn’t in attendance to the very end of any of the sessions so I have no idea if it got worse.
Good points Andy. This was my first GABF so I don’t have anything to go on but I thought the crowd was reasonably well behaved. Yea every 10 minutes there was a dropped glass but I heard stories before going of people smacking tasting glasses out of your hand. Every beer fest I’ve gone to has drunk people. I like that fact that people are having a good time, as long as they don’t bother me.
As for the education point, I would definitely love to have the breweries have 1 or 2 staff members to chat with the attendees. More importantly, the guide they hand out should have a description of the beer style and other notes, not just the name. How am I supposed to know what style of beer Bin ich schwarz genug fur dich? is from FFF? There’s lots of obscure beer here never mind the obscure breweries. Far too ofter I went up to a table, and if they had a list of beer descriptions I had all of 5 seconds to read it and pick one.
While I appreciate the sense of trying to cling to the original intent of GABF, as someone who also makes the yearly trip I absolutely can not agree with the brewers being present at the tables. Lines are already bad enough, I don’t want to have to wait for every beer geek in attendance to get done fawning over a brewer or asking 1000 questions. A lot of people tend to not move aside real fast as it is, and the tables are already fairly crammed.
I found the table volunteers to be much better informed this year overall. I would just prefer that all beers have some sort of style designation with the name.
I do agree about being dismayed over Thursday night though, that was usually a “safe” night and it seems to be rapidly turning to a Friday or Saturday night crowd. Perhaps Thursday and Saturday should be AHA-only now?
Andy, I was only their Thurs night, and I noticed that those brewers who had staff working their booths also had long lines in front of them, while those relying solely on volunteers had the occasional visitor. When Calagione was pouring beers, the line stretched out for 30 yards. I think it pays to have somebody there who knows about your beers. As for the inebriation, well, boys will be boys and girls will be girls. I think it’s unavoidable when you’re throwing a big beer fest. But you’ll be glad to know that I never dropped my glass.
Greetings Herr Schuhmacher-
Definitely don’t get me wrong, I’m not encouraging the Brewers Association to throw an all-NA beer salon party. A little rowdiness is to be expected and certainly understood. I just don’t think the association should be able to portray the event as a celebration of craft beer when it often times comes off as something quite different. If the association wants to host the world’s biggest kegger, then just say so. Otherwise, some changes are in order. And from experience, I’ve never seen you drop a sip of beer. Spill entire ones yes, but not sips. Beers soon!
I think you mean someplace in this sentence: “felt like I was someone other than Denver”
also you have a no in there where not is the word you mean.
It sounds like Hell and I’m so glad i did not attend! Every beer should be a beer and a conversation about it.
[Ed. Thanks for the editing eye.]
Herr Crouch, Did I really misuse “their” and “there” above? And I call myself a writer? (I call myself one, others may not see it). Kinsley Amis used to drop his empty glass and let it shatter on the floor when his host wouldn’t fill it fast enough and say, “Oh sorry, I dropped my glass, I guess I’ll have another.” Beers for sure soon.
I pondered over whether to change that error (we all need an editor, just see Chris’s comments about the article), but then something shiny went by. Amis also used to counsel hosts that they should fix the first drink for their guests. After that, it was their owned damned fault if they went dry as they knew where the booze was. Don’t make them like Kingsley anymore.
The Great Canadian Beer Festival (http://gcbf.com/), held in Victoria, BC Canada each year requires each booth to have a representative at all times for this very reason…. Also, the last three years, all the sample glasses are now plastic reducing the glass related incidents during the festival.
I have to concede. Sadly, the problems you outline are the reasons I believe more brewers and serious beer aficionados are skipping the GABF in favor of World Beer Cup or the big guild beer weeks. And they’re being replaced with drunkards.
When Beer Advocate first put out their (albeit lightweight) guide to the GABF, they said not to drop glasses to avoid “unnecessary noise.” I retorted that it’s not the Great Facist Beer Festival. But attending again this year, it seems many more people than in the past purposely drop their tasters or slap them out of each others’ hands.
Further, I can’t tell you how many times I was disappointed to see my pourers shrug and glaze over whenever I asked a question of them. I’d say a good majority of the pourers were volunteers Friday night. Saturday-day session was better.
Wow, the fest sounds like everything I dislike in beer festivals at a grand scale. I was jealous of all the people I saw going on Twitter, but it looks like it was just the cool crowd hanging out around the fest and the fest itself was a wash.
This was my first GABF and I agree the fest was not perfect but, still an enjoyable time. I think the comment that the Thursday session and Saturday afternoon session should be members only is a good idea. I also would suggest that those days should mandate brewery staff in attendance. This would allow for the folks who are very interested in talking to a brewery staffer to know that someone would be there on those days. I would also require informational sheets to be submitted in a specific format that is to be at each booth. Also, have that info included in the guide and online to help people find out more about specific beers.
Whenever I go to the GABF, I’m always torn between wanting to get out and visit every brewery within driving distance, and catch up with brewers there, and see how far they have come in just a year. I always learn so much from touring the different breweries, from the big operations like New Belgium to brewers more on our scale. And the great welcome the Colorado brewers show their fellow brewers reminds me why I love being in this business.
Then I’m torn by the feeling that we have a duty to be at our booths, answering questions and talking about our beer. I have to admit, the past seven years my feeling that it is a duty to be at our booth seems to be dwindling, in direct proportion to the number of people who seem to care about what they are drinking. I think I actually had two intelligent conversations Friday night. I can’t remember the second one, it was late at the Cheeky Monk.
We sent four people to the event this year. Counting airfare, hotels, rental car, meals, plus the cost of entering the festival and shipping our beer, it will come to close to $4000 for the weekend. We got lucky this year and won a medal, which will help sales. But for $4000, I could have participated in five or six different events in the regions where we actually sell our beer (we actually had to turn down attending one because the GABF was moved up two weeks from when it normally is).
I wish that the festival could rotate from year to year to different regions of the country. If the World Beer Cup can move, why not the GABF? Having the GABF in somewhere like Atlanta would be like the US winning the World Cup – all of sudden people who were only marginally interested would be blown away by the excitement. Does Denver really need the help in creating a craft beer culture?
All that being said, it’s a great festival, and a great testament to American Craft beer.
Thanks for your interesting and insightful comments, Linus. Very interesting stuff.
Linus – I have heard your point of view from many brewers at GABF.. feel your pain! & congrats on the medal!
I think most of your points are well-taken, particularly regarding the lack of actual brewery reps pouring the beer.
But you’ve previously opined that events like SAVOR in D.C. — at around $90 a ticket — are elitist:
Choose your poison. If the event is sufficiently restricted — by ticket volume, price, or both — is it elitist and snooty? But if it’s wide open spaces — like GABF — for sure, there’s going to be some drunken idiocy, and maybe too much of that for comfort.
It appears to me — and I confess I’ve never been to GABF — that it may be beyond critical mass. When I go to a festival, I like to chart out what beers and breweries I want to try. It appears to these eyes (and from a lot of reports) that GABF is just too damned big for one event. How many beers can you really taste? Not DRINK, taste?
I’ve tried to be clear in my post and comments: I don’t want the GABF to be a NA beer snooze fest. I have no problem with folks letting loose, drinking beer, and having a good time. I just happen to think that some of the more churlish elements of the festival could be significantly diminished by the simple presence of the brewers or brewery reps at the pouring tables. I think it also makes sense in terms of providing customers with a little information about the beers, the styles, and the breweries themselves. Not every beer pour needs to be accompanied by a lengthy monologue or recitation of ingredients. But if consumers have a question or want some more information, they can get it as opposed to simply seeing an endless supply of faceless, nameless people pouring them free samples. Right now, it’s sort of like a grocery store lining its aisles with free samples of unbranded cheeses, free for you to fill up on but serving no other purpose. I think the GABF can easily attain this basic level of fest civility and balance of frivolity and information without blasting through the price points and standards set by SAVOR. And finally, I don’t support the idea of restricting access to any of the sessions (perhaps with exception of the Saturday day, for the awards). The GABF should be accessible to all customers without setting tiers of connoisseurship or requiring a craft beer enthusiast membership card. With that said, the Brewers Association can certainly strike a balance between these extremes without having to radically alter its approach or business model.
Cheers to all who have contributed to this interesting and ongoing thread.
I think you raise some valid points. Personally, I focus my efforts on the outside events that are going on in and around Denver and I use the actual festival as a chance to try some beers I would never see from breweries that I’m familiar with. After hitting that short list I basically seek out interesting beers from breweries I’ve never heard of. Also, I never stay more than a couple hours as nothing good tends to happen after that. Overall, I like the vibe in Denver and I like the festival residing there.
Good points all around.
I think the idea of moving the GABF around (as they do with the AHA conference and the CBC/WBC) is interesting–after all, that might make it more the Great AMERICAN Beer Festival (just don’t ask us to move the Great Taste of the MIDWEST 😉 )–but I doubt it will happen. It’s just too well established in Denver and the logistics all worked out to have to make new arrangements for beer delivery and storage (for both festival beers AND competition beers) at each host city, not to mention the fact that BA staff are right down the road in Boulder.
Andy notes the generally unsuccessful “GABF on the Road” in Baltimore years ago, but one should keep in mind that it was scheduled for Preakness weekend, so that also had a lot to do with the low numbers (both for locals and for those who might have travelled if hotel rooms were more available and not at higher than normal rates). With better scheduling and better publicity (and maybe a decade later with increased awareness of craft beer among the general public), Baltimore could have been a lot more successful. It would be worth trying again, not as a *substitute* for Denver in October (not mid-September!), but as an *additional* festival that isn’t at the small attendance and high ticket price of SAVOR.
I had my first experience with GABF last year. I too was dismayed by the cup dropping comedy and the (small amount of) boorish behavior that I witnessed.
As you have mentioned, it shouldn’t stop people from going because Denver is a great craft beer town. That said, here are my suggestions for tweaking it to make it friendly and fun.
1. In addition to media only sessions, have a blogger only session. It will thin crowds at the media times and the general sessions.
2. Put a cap on beers for the general sessions. It is the only proven way to curb drunkeness. All you can drink buffets entice those who want to put it away.
3. Require the brewers to attend one media session and one blogger session. They don’t have to pour but they could chat with people in line or create a few spots around the hall as “sit with the brewer sessions.”