A few thoughts on the 2007 GABF…

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I’ve been collecting my thoughts for a Beverage Magazine piece on the recent GABF since returning home a few days ago. Despite its extraordinary size (46,000+ attendees at four events, each of which sold out in advance), the event and its accompanying events were actually pretty low-key this year. The crowds at Falling Rock seemed subdued despite some excellent offerings (Elysian’s imperial pumpkin beer was a festival favorite, though at 9-percent alcohol it’s no favor to serve this beer in a pint glass – *ouch*). The connoisseur tasting event, or members only event if you prefer, was similarly relaxed for the most part. That is until the awards ceremony. What started as a small, simple event in a Boulder hotel has grown into a slickly produced business affair. Beyond the volume of attendees, the number of beer style categories judged at the event has also grown. This year’s judges evaluated nearly 2800 beers in a ridiculous 75 categories (up from 67 in 2004, 55 in 2000, and 37 in 1995).

The staff of the Brewers Association is never shy in providing a bevy of statistics about its signature event and the 2007 GABF was no different. In the end, the judges awarded 222 medals to 142 breweries. Thirty-percent of all breweries participating left with a medal, with 62 breweries, or 13-percent of the total participants, winning a gold medal.

As a writer based in Boston, I find this last set of numbers particularly interesting. New England breweries have long had a love/hate relationship with the GABF (starting with the festival’s ill-fated and controversial consumer preference poll). Only 18 New England breweries decided to participate in this year’s festival and the region continued to experience some difficulty in the competition, bringing home only four medals. Cambridge Brewing Company’s Cambridge Amber won a silver medal in the Cellar or Unfiltered Beer category, Allagash Brewing Company’s Victor won a bronze medal in the Experimental Beer category and a its Four won a bronze medal in the Belgian Abbey Ale category, and the Portsmouth Brewery won a silver medal in the Wheat Wine category.

Four medals out of 222 awarded.  Doing the math, New England breweries went home with less than 2-percent of the medals awarded.  If you add in the Boston Beer Company’s gold medal for its Samuel Adams Double Bock in the German-style Strong Bock category, we hit 2-percent. With that said, New England breweries only accounted for 4-percent of the total number of participating breweries.  I would venture that our participation is less than that of any other region at the event.  Rhode Island didn’t send a single beer and only one Vermont brewery (Wolaver’s) attended the event.

I know New England breweries proclaim some understandable reasons for not attending this leading event (expenses and long traveling distance), but I think the reason goes deeper, to the point of a core belief that judges at the event are biased against New England beers.  Putting the debate over whether such bias exists aside, I think it’s lamentable that more New England brewers, especially the larger ones, choose not to attend the festival.

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A 2007 GABF Preview…

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GABF 2007

The beer industry is gearing up once again for the overwhelming experience that is the Great American Beer Festival (GABF). Held annually in Denver, the GABF (now in its 26th year) is one of those things every beer lover should experience at least once. It is at once an incomparable tasting event and an unmatched opportunity to rub shoulders and clink glasses with brewers, distributors, bar owners, writers, and beer enthusiasts from nearly every state and dozens of countries.

The GABF is an event I have long-enjoyed and although I am a relative youngster in this industry, this will be my twelfth consecutive year in attendance. My first visit to the GABF was a watershed event for me. I was just beginning to acknowledge and appreciate that there was a difference in American beers. I had just spent a semester in London, where Guinness taught me to taste and feel again. Upon my return, a brewpub opened up in my college town and I stopped by on its opening night to find a stout wholly different from Guinness (the cream stout!). So it was that I happened to be visiting a friend in Denver at the same time the festival was taking place. My friend bought us tickets and upon entering the beautiful environs of Currigan Hall (long since replaced with the cold, soulless Colorado Convention Center) , I actually shed a tear or two at the splendor of American beer.

While the event remains a must attend, today’s GABF is no longer the simple, cozy event of years past. The GABF is a slickly produced show, tightly coordinated, and business first. It is also a place where lazy journalists can coast on information provided to them by the Brewers Association. To get the fluff out of the way, 1408 breweries will be present on the festival floor (24 more than 2006), serving 1884 beers (230+ more than 2006), 474 breweries will participate in the judging event (24 more than 2006), which will involve 2832 beers (442 more than 2006) in 75 categories (a ridiculous increase of 6 from 2006). For a look at the GABF’s judging process, review the article on the value of a beer medal.

I could bore you more data, such as the average number of competition beers in each category (37) , but what would I have left to report?

For those who have never experienced the carnival that is the GABF, BeerScribe.com offers you its annual review of the past five festivals as part of our eco-friendly article recycling policy. Enjoy.

GABF At 25 – The 2006 GABF.

A look at the 2005 GABF.

Revisit the 2004 GABF.

The 2003 GABF.

The GABF Turns 21 – The 2002 GABF.

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