GABF: Where I Was Not

This time last week, 60,000 people were preparing to converge on Denver for the thirtieth annual Great American Beer Festival, October 6-8. The collective anticipation was growing into a frenzy. It seemed like every social media beer acquaintance I’ve ever known was posting photos of half-packed bags and tweeting of how they’d all soon be together again.

GABF @HerzMuses tweetMeanwhile, I was sitting at home, slowly disappearing into the maelstrom of incoming messages swirling like snowflakes in a blizzard. (Okay, maybe that’s hyperbole overkill, but you get the loser idea, right?)

And then I saw it. That one little tweet on Thursday evening that told me I wasn’t the only one.

GABF @Notteham tweetIn case you’re not a beer writer, blogger or fanatic, @Notteham is no loser. I mean, this guy writes regularly on beer-related topics for Market Watch, a financial information website, and other media outlets like The New York Times. And he wasn’t in Denver. I’m no @Notteham, but maybe I wasn’t such a loser. (Never mind that the only like his tweet got was mine.)

Before long, @Notteham had not only liked my tweet in return, but he’d even retweeted it.

GABF @lpatinoauthor tweetAnd then a thread started to develop.

GABF @TheCellarMonk tweet

I went to bed knowing in my heart that if there were three of us, there had to be more out there.

Then, on Friday morning, I awoke to Hurricane Matthew wreaking havoc in the Caribbean and Florida and @BryanDRoth’s reply from sunny Denver.

GABF @BryanDRoth tweet

@BryanDRoth is a top-of-the-game beer writer who apparently knows just about every other beer writer and blogger out there, including me. So, the tweets and tongue-in-cheek jokes continued for a while, along with the blizzard about all the cool happenings where I wasn’t.

GABF @BMTbeerblog tweet

GABF @John_Holl tweetThen I posted a comment on Facebook.

GABF Full Pint snipVirtually everybody I follow on Twitter has a craft beer connection, while my Facebook friends are more daily-life friends, many of whom aren’t beer drinkers. The first response to my post was, “Why?” The next one: “My thought exactly…”

So, let’s see if I can communicate for non-craft beer fans what it’s like to attend a huge craft beer conference.

Even before you walk into the great hall of the convention center in whatever big city the event is in, you’ve already started to feel the vibe, the excitement, the exhilaration. You’ve probably walked several blocks from a light rail stop, a parking area, a hotel along with other eager attendees. The closer you get, the more of you there are. You easily identify each other by the conference badges or pretzel necklaces or brewery t-shirts. You’re all headed to the Emerald City with one, simple goal—and it’s not to see the Wizard. Every single person is there for new beer experiences.

Sure, you go to see old friends and make new ones. You’re there, too, to see what’s new. The tradeshow at the annual Craft Brewers Conference is nothing short of amazing. Shiny new brewing systems two stories high have been trucked in and set up. Bottles flash round and round on state-of-the-art bottling machinery. There’s lots of money to be made, as the 200+ vendors at this year’s CBC in Philadelphia knew so well.

You go, too, to hear and see craft beer’s glitterati, and let’s admit it, to be near them. I went to Chris White’s presentation at the June HomebrewCon in Baltimore even though I knew I wouldn’t understand everything the founder of White Labs would say. (And I didn’t.) This was the visionary homebrewer with a Ph.D. who began searching for better quality yeast and today owns a company that sells yeast to homebrewing supply stores all over the U.S.

There are more presentations, activities and parties than any one person can attend. The climax event at GABF, HomebrewCon and biennially at CBC is the awards ceremony. You might think it would get boring watching over 90 brew crews troop to the stage to receive their medals, handshakes and photos with Charlie Papazian, the man who started the Brewers Association that spawned all three conferences and the awards. On the contrary. It’s more like a sporting event with fans cheering on their home teams when they earn one of these prestigious awards.

But, what about the beer, you’re wondering. Yes, it’s a huge part of these conferences. Registration materials include a commemorative glass that’s your sidekick for the next few days. All the beer is free, and breweries are more than happy to provide their products for these diehard craft enthusiasts. You go in knowing there will be lots of good beer—and a little where you take a sip and discreetly toss the rest into the nearest dump bucket. And every participant is on the never-ending quest to discover that new, truly exceptional beer.

So, yeah, it was tough not being in Denver last week, but it was cool to be able to email congrats to our two hometown medal winners, Peter B’s Brewpub and Alvarado Street Brewery & Grill who are doing what they love and doing it very, very well.

Alvarado St. Brewery at 2016 GABF

On a final note:

What popped up when I Googled “White Labs”:

White Labs


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