Saturday, October 13, 2007

GABF 2007: Half Way Point

The Great American Beer Festival is on the downhill slide to completion, with the two final session occuring this afternoon and evening. I took the evening off last night, largely due to an actual pain in my neck that wasn't going to heal itself by standing in lines at Falling Rock or the Flying Dog parties, so I am feeling pretty darned good today - ready for some business in a glass.

Here, once again, is a quit hit list of various thoughts from GABF.
  • My DRAFT VIP dislikes from Session One were corrected, in shocking fashion. No, it still wasn't the coolest place on earth, but it was clean, the food was good and it was the good place to relax I'd hoped it would be the whole time.
  • Two new beer magazines on the floor, going two very different directions.
    • Beer Northwest is a sharp looking magazine highlighting, of course, the Northwest USA. I wasn't surprised to like it when I read that Jay Brooks was a contributor, his passion for the industry and quality are exactly what the industry needs - so I assume that he wouldn't contribute pieces of his work to anyone with a different focus. BNW features very well done articles on pubs, brewers and even a few homebrew tips - and the story on Hops that Jay put together is a must read for those inclined to learn something when reading.
    • Beer is 180 degrees apart in direction and focus, it would appear. With articles teaching me 7 ways to open a beer without an opener, featuring three attractive ladies in little in the way of clothing, pretending to open bottles in these seven ways - which includes using your teeth - I was pretty sure this magazine was not intended for me.
      To make it worse, their feature story was the "Great American Beer Shootout - Blue Collar Beer". This 'shootout' features nine economy beers, like MGD, Schlitz and Old Milwaukee. The piece bothered me from the get-go, the notion that 'blue collars' and cheap beer somehow go hand in hand - it doesn't! I this this frustration around this piece may spark a whole post of it's own, but for now I'll just leave it at that.
      There were shining spots in this magazine, don't get me wrong. They have a Beer 101 section that is wonderful, something I've been trying to get other publications to do for a while now. This month's Beer 101 focused on Pilsners and was several pages in length - looking at the ingredients, proceess, history, variations and overall characteristics of the style. Very well done.
  • There is something almost perfect about a soft, warm pretzel at a beer fest.
  • The stage area, where the Brewing Network did their live podcast, is just not good. Hard to hear, and not really a well thought out place for entertainment.
  • Pliny the Elder still kicks ass, and it was a treat that Vinnie brought their Toronado 20th Anniversary beer for the early birds to enjoy.
  • Speaking of Vinnie... he and his wife, Natalie, are among the coolest owners out there. Prior to opening the gates, Natalie was talking with the volunteers for their booth, and being very complimentary toward both of them. She'd requested that they resist any requests to relieve another booth, that having the same team at their booth was important. And, as a thank you, she was taking their names and contact info so they could send out thank you gifts once they returned to Santa Rosa. I suspect Vinnie and Natalie will be treating their volunteers well -as all brewers should.
  • People are crazy! I love to watch people, and beer fests provide a lot of opportunity to do so. On this day we say a man who'd shaved the words "Beer Me" into his head, several guys dressed in sharp suits... from the '70's and a more crazy shirts than I can really do justice for. It is great to see, especially because most of the outrageous looking people were really quite nice.
  • It is truly amazing to see brewers genuinely excited to be at a beer fest, and so many brewers at the GABF are. I spoke with one brewer about the cause of his excitement, and he was quick to point out just how great it was to see the first impressions of the people drinking his beer, often oblivious that he is right there watching. So, with him, I watched people for a minute or two, and the faces told it all. There was a woman trying a sour beer he'd made, her eyes got really big for a second, and then sorta contorted into something not so pleasant - but she immediately told the man with her that he "needs to try this". About that same time a young guy with attitude written on his face took a drink of a pale of some sort. After his first sip, his head nodded and it was almost as if he were relieved - he clearly appreciated his beer. So, I could see how a brewer could get excited here, I suppose they can learn more then any panel of folks with pen and paper could afford him.
  • Two breweries I think need your support: Sacramento Brewing and Rubicon Brewing, both of Sacramento. Yes, this is my town, but the reason you should check them out is the fact that they surround Russian River, and often are treated pretty poorly by people who are just after the liquid gold of Santa Rosa. SacBrew is pouring a beer called Petersen's Pride, a British Double IPA unlike most beers I think you'll find, and Rubicon had a great lineup of beer all around. I actually watched a guy with a camera ask a brewer to kindly step back as he tried to get a picture of Vinnie... and that wasn't a good thing to witness. Yes, I agree that Vinnie is a rock star in brewing, but don't become so singularly focused while around him to miss some really good beers right next door.
  • I enjoyed the second session a bit more than the first for one big reason - I'd stopped looking for the beers I had to try. In fact, on day two I didn't even have a paper/pen. My goal really was to seek out beers I'd never heard of, small brewers who don't get a lot of airtime, so to speak. Shorts Brewing was one of these places, and the owner/brewer was a great guy to talk to. There were many more, and today at the Members Only session I suppose I'll continue my trek to find new beers from places I've never been to and probably never heard of.
  • Beer is good.
Well, I have places to go, so I'd better call this a post. Thanks to those I've met who have been very encouraging - Stan in particular. Oh, and thanks to Jay for a classy t-shirt, which I promise to wear with pride.