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Monday, October 13, 2008

Looking Back at GABF 2008

Well, I managed to survive another Great American Beer Festival. This one was my fifth going back to 1993. I know this because on my beer festival t-shirt collection, which tends to be a pretty accurate metric for most of my beer tourism.

There were plenty of interesting things to take away from the 27th GABF besides just t-shirts. Here are some not so random thoughts still fresh in my mind from the event.

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Craft Beer is Strong

Consumer support for craft beer continues to be extremely strong even in these tough economic times. You can measure it in several ways, but the clearest view is from statistics released by the Brewers Association with year to date 2008 estimated growth indicating all beer is up a slim 0.4 percent, imports are down 2.9 percent, but craft beer is up 6.5 percent. Even when compared to wine, up just 0.5 percent, and spirits, up 1.8 percent, craft beer rules when it comes to growth.

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Brewer Creativity at All Time High

The brewing community continues to be extremely creative and focused on quality. My favorite beers from the festival floor and from four days and nights around Denver are a pretty eclectic mix: Ram Total Disorder Porter, Breckenridge Agave Wheat, Great Lakes Rackhouse Ale, Bluegrass Knob Smoker, McCoy's Oliver's Potato Pale Ale, Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock, Flying Dog Dog Schwarz, Stone Brewing 12th Anniversary Chocolate Stout, Port Brewing Hop 15, Double Mountain Hop Lava, Freestate Maibock, 21st Amendment Bitter American, Cascade Kriek Ale, Alaskan Smoked Porter, New Glarus Wisconsin Red, Foothills Sexual Chocolate, Pizza Port Night Rider Imperial Stout and Great Dane Old Scratch Barley Wine.

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Beer Getting More Attention

The number of consumer magazines focused on beer and attending the GABF grows each year. All About Beer holds the position as being the oldest and it has been joined over the years by respected publications such as the Celebrator, the Brewing News chain of regional beer papers, Ale Street News and other regional publications such as Beer Northwest. Home brew and trade publications like Zymurgy, American Brewer and Brew fill a niche for homebrew enthusiasts and professionals. Add to the mix relative new comers that have a strong presence, including DRAFT, Beer and Imbibe, and it appears the public has a growing thirst for beer coverage.

But traditional media is just one area of growth. This blog and scores of others cover beer news big and small. Podcasts and streaming video beer newscasts are popping up across the web. There is no lack of beer news for thirsty consumers.

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Journalism Awards

It was nice to hear that fellow beer journalist Lew Bryson was honored with the 2008 Michael Jackson Beer Journalism Award for trade and specialty beer media. He was joined in receiving the award, sponsored by Brooklyn Brewery, Rogue Ales and Samuel Adams, by Mark Marion in the consumer electronic media category and Adem Tepedelen in the consumer print category.

Lew is a good guy -- I'm sure Mark and Adem are, too, I just don't know them -- and it is always nice to see someone like Mr. Bryson pick up an award for their good work.

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Bumping into Folks

You never know who you may run into at the GABF. I was able to say hello to a bunch of folks this year, including brewers Eric Beck of Anheuser-Busch, Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewing, Teri Fahrendorf, creator of the Pink Boots Society, Jim Koch of the Boston Beer Co., T.L. Adkisson of Ham's Restaurant & Brewhouse, Don Barkley of Napa Smith Brewery, Jamie Bartholomaus of Foothills Brewing and many others.

A personal highlight was getting the chance to chat with Zane Lamprey of Three Sheets television fame. Lamprey, who like me was born and grew up in Syracuse, was in the DRAFT magazine booth on Saturday night meeting fans. When he heard we shared the same hometown, Lamprey broke into song -- the 1970s-era radio jingle for Camillus Mall -- and happily agreed to slap on a Pints for Prostates sticker for the evening. Often when you meet a celebrity they don't live up to their image. In Zane's case, I'd happily spend an evening with him chasing down local drinking hot spots.

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Most people I spoke with agreed that the crowds at this year's event felt a little too large for comfort. The Brewers Association increased the attendance by 5,000 people in 2007 to 46,000 and soldout two weeks in advance at that number of tickets again this year. Keep in mind that back in 2005, the attendance at the event was 29,500.

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I'll Have Your IPA

India Pale Ale is a beer style you'll find at most microbreweries and brewpubs across this country. American-style IPA was once again the most commonly entered beer in the GABF competition, with 104 brewers chasing medal glory. Union Jack IPA from California's Firestone Walker Brewing took the gold. The Gluten-Free Beer category, with just 10 entries, had the fewest. Redbridge from Anheuser-Busch won the gold.

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Seeing Double Through the Smoke

Alaskan Smoked Porter already held the honor as being the most awarded beer in the competition since the professional judging panel started handing out medals in 1987. The beer had 15 going into the Saturday awards ceremony and actually came away with an amazing two medals this year -- a gold in the Aged Beer category for the 2006 vintage and a silver in the Smoke-Flavored Beer category for the 2007 version of the beer.

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A Special Thanks

I owe a big thank you to the people at DRAFT magazine, particularly Austin Wilson and Erika Rietz, for allowing Pints for Prostates to take over a corner of the magazine's busy booth. Working with Pam Barrett of Us TOO and with some well-timed support from Barron Boyd, we were able to talk to hundreds of festival attendees across the four sessions. In addition to spreading the word about the importance of early detection in fighting prostate cancer, we raised nearly $1,000 to help fund the mission of Us TOO International.

It was great to meet a number of fellow prostate cancer survivors and hear from so many people who had already seen our ads and articles in beer publications. Hopefully, they will all stick to their pledge and make an appointment for a check up and a PSA test.


The Beer Babe said...

Sounds like a great time. I'll make it out there - some day! That's interesting that you hail from Syracuse, I do too, actually!

Rick Lyke said...

Brew Babe:

It just goes to show you that it's hard not to have a drink now and again if you are from Syracuse! Go Orange!


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Good Burp said...

GABF sounds like Disneyland with Beer. And to party with Zane? That is priceless!