Much like the annual migration of the Monarch butterflies, beer enthusiasts across the United States set out in late September on their journey to the Great American Beer Festival, held at the Colorado Convention Center in the mile high city of Denver, Colorado. Without fail, an internal biological clock seems to remind these beer lovers to purchase tickets by mid-summer. For this 28th edition of the Great American Beer Festival, being held September 24-26, 2009, the organizers have added an additional 92,000 square feet, and tickets for all 4 sessions have been sold-out for weeks.
Before it began in 1982, there were little more than 40 breweries in the United States. Charlie Papazian, inspired by the Great British Beer Festival in London, England, casually asked the late Beer Hunter Michael Jackson, “Do you think we could do something like this in the United States?” He replied, “We could and we should, but what would we do for beer?”
From those early days, the shape of the beer world has dramatically changed in America. Current statistics analyzed in July 2009 show 1,525 craft breweries operating in the United States, the highest total in 100 years. Nearly 8.6 million barrels were produced in the United States in 2008, generating an annual dollar volume of $6.3 billion.
This is serious business and the Brewers Association has seized the opportunity to bring sophistication to beer drinkers attending the fest. The Great American Beer School will provide seven educational areas nuzzled amidst the brewers and beer-pours on the festival floor this year. Included is a new glassed-in area at the back of the hall, suitable for seminar workshops and presentations. Beer Fox Carolyn Smagalski (Beer & Brewing editor at BellaOnline and beer journalist at Beer Connoisseur Magazine) will be hosting the Beer & Food Pavilion in conjunction with the Culinary School of Johnson & Wales University. The Beer & Food Pavilion is centrally located on the festival floor, and stands out as a smoked-glass room, where such prominent names as Chef Teddy Folkman of the Food Network, Beer Roguester Sebbie Buhler, and Allagash Owner and Brewmaster Rob Tod will be presenting demonstrations on beer, food, sensory perception and pairings that create magic.
Other areas of education this year are Farm to Table, The Brewers Association Bookstore, an expanded You Be the Judge booth, the Brewers Studio, a Support Your Local Brewery Guild Pavilion, and the GABF Pro Am Competition in which 73 amateur homebrewers, each paired with a professional brewer, craft their competition entries in a commercial setting from their own award-winning recipes.
Festival Hounds will fine 2,100 beers, poured by brewers and volunteers alike, from 495 breweries available during each session of the festival. Of those breweries, 51 are attending for the first time.
The Simpsons (of 20th Century Fox Film Corporation) are celebrating their 20th anniversary, and are this years’ official sponsor of the 2009 Great American Beer Festival. With so much going on, be sure to hydrate with copious amounts of water, take ample breaks, and make a plan to maximize your festival experience. Talk with the passionate homebrewers at the AHA booth, dance at the Silent Disco, and watch beard-trimming demos at the Facial Hair and Beard Booth, sponsored by Wahl Trimmers. As part of its cross-country Let it Grow Tour, Wahl will be seeking participants for the Man of the Year Contest that benefits the Prostate Cancer Foundation and LiveStrong.
For professional beer judges, the week begins a bit earlier with the Commercial Beer Competition in which over 3,362 beers will undergo blind tastings by more than 120 national and international judges. Medals will be awarded in over 75 categories at a special afternoon session on Saturday, September 26th, streaming live on the Brewing Network beginning at 1:00 p.m. Mountain Time.
In addition to all the action within the Convention Center, Denver’s beer lovers and foodies are seizing the opportunity to conduct tastings, seminars, and special events before and after the festival. For those who are in town for the week, hundreds of activities are available, including the Boulder County Brews Cruise and the Denver Microbrew Tour, Denver Rare Beer Tasting to benefit Pints for Prostates, the Alpha King Challenge at the Falling Rock Tap House, the Sustainable Brewer Unconference Workshop, the semi-annual meeting of the Pink Boots Society, Philly Beer Week Reception, a Media Luncheon conducted by the Brewers Association, and parties, tastings, and meet-the-brewer events at numerous venues in the area, including the Flying Dog Brewery Brats & Gonzo Party and the Back to Your Roots Party by Redstone Meadery.