Last year, Steve Finnie of Rochester’s Grand Rounds Brewing Company was in the beer lines at the Great American Beer Festival. This year, he was among the 700-plus breweries offering their goods at the end of them. Finnie was kind enough to document his weekend and take some photos, and give a glimpse into the Festival from a first-time participants’ perspective. His work is below:
By Steve Finnie
Arrival: We showed up to the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) grounds early on Thursday, but it turned out there was no need — the Brewers’ Association (BA) had the forts held down firmly. The BA sent us eight kegs to fill up and drop at a central collection point (Surly’s Brewery, in this case).
From there, the Minnesota Craft Brewers’ Guild arranged for a refrigerated truck to lug the treasure to Denver. When we showed up behind them, the table was already set — no jockeybox futzing, no scrambling for ice, no CO2 hooking-up, just turn up and pour!
Teamwork: Working alongside us on the festival grounds were 3,600 local residents who’d signed up to help. In our booth at the Brewpub Pavilion, a husband and wife team gave us a much-needed assist. Michael and Mary Martinez had been volunteering for 26 years at the GABF, and this year was their last. At the end, they were in tears. It’s a testament to how much the people of Colorado love craft beer and an illustration of how this massive event can run so smoothly.
In the Street: The BA shut down the Hard Rock Café and brought in the brewers for a private party. We dove into a spread of great food and beer, accompanied by some of the country’s most renowned brewers.
On the Festival Floor: True industry stars like Charlie Papazian, Sam Calagione, Randy Mosher, Ray Daniels, Jamil Zainasheff, Chris White, Stan Hieronymous could be found signing books at the Beer Geek Bookstore, or out with the crowd sipping samples. In the Heavy Medal area, you could taste all the beers that won medals at last year’s GABF!
At every corner, in every line, you were truly among friends. Of course, one couldn’t help but take advantage of brewers-only perks like the VIP tent (and especially the VIP bathrooms) and Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout no-wait line.
A Seat at the Beer Oscars: Over 7,000 beers were entered in the 96 categories at this year’s Great American Beer Fest awards, from Brainerd’s Roundhouse Brewery all the way up to Coors Light. Teams big and small sat side-by-side in the auditorium Saturday morning to watch the medal winners announced.
We were especially pleased to see Minnesota breweries bag five medals. A pair of icons — Surly Barrel-Aged Darkness and Summit EPA — strengthened their legends by taking gold medals in their respective categories (Wood-and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout and Classic Engligh-Style Pale Ale).
Baxter’s Jack Pine Brewery and the aforementioned Roundhouse burst onto the scene with bronze medals in the Chili Beer and Rye Beer categories, respectively; and Bemidji Brewing claimed a bronze medal in the German/Blonde category. For Bemidji, this marked the second-straight year leaving with bling.
In Conclusion: It was also great to see people lining up for other Minnesota breweries pouring at the event. Fair State, Indeed, Town Hall, Insight, Lift Bridge, Fulton, North Loop, Surly, Summit, and the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild joined us in flying the Minnesota flag.
The Craft Beer culture abounds, and it reached far beyond the Colorado Convention Center. If you needed to break away from downtown, you could visit many local breweries in the suburbs or even the mountains – but it was much more than that, even. Over 60,000 people came from all over the world for this year’s GABF. To everyone who came out, thank you!
STILL GOT TIME? You can find more Great American Beer Fest coverage here!