Attending the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) is like going to the largest school on the planet for beer. Its stuffed into a three-day event that allows you to try more beers than humanly possible, many will be overwhelmed by the shear magnitude and some will succumb to the greatness of it all. For those of us with the fortitude to brave this challenge I ask Julia Herz the Craft Beer Program Director for the Brewers Association to give us some insight to what it’s all about.
What are the origins of the GABF?
The first festival was in 1982 in Boulder, Colorado. This year marks the 27th and we have now sold out, 2 years in a row, in advance of opening session. The Brewers Association President, Charlie Papazian, started the Great American Beer Festival along with some other enthusiast brewers and home brewers way back when our organization was just The American Homebrewers Association. The first festival had 22 breweries, 40 beers and 800 attendees. This year we have 46,000 plus people attending (including attendees, brewers, volunteers and judges), 432 breweries serving and over 2,900 beers being judged and over 1,900 available for sampling by the public.
What is the most exciting part of the festival for you?
I personally have been going to the festival since the 90’s which is when I also started homebrewing. I started out volunteering at the festival by serving beer in the hall and then worked my way to stewarding. Then I was so interested in everything I got a job at the Association. I’ve been hooked ever since, and also have been working on my beer judging skills. Today, I love working on behalf of small and independent craft brewers (1420 out of 1463 breweries in the U.S. in 2007 were either brew pubs, microbreweries or regional craft brewers). The people who own and work at these brewers are not just making world class beer. They are furthering the beer movement and also very involved in their communities as well.
What is most important about the festival?
1. The competition and the beer. The GABF competition is the most prestigious beer competition in the U.S., and if a brewer wins a gold medal it means they make the best example of that beer style (75 different categories are judged) in the U.S.
2. The beer. Oh the beer.
How can the regular beer drinker relate to the GABF?
Today’s regular beer drinkers are likely ‘cross drinkers’. (2/3 of craft beer drinkers drink wine and 2/3 wine drinkers drink fuller flavor beer including craft beer.) Cross Drinkers are experimenters and want a different beverage for different occasions. The GABF is the perfect place to try beer that normally is not distributed out of state. Therefore anyone who enjoys beer regularly is guaranteed to appreciate the selection at the festival. Did I say there were 1,900 beers to choose from (that’s one ounce serving at a time)?