Every fall thousands of beer fans descend on Denver to sample close to 3000 beers brought from about 450 breweries from across the United States. It’s known as the Great American Beer Festival…or simply the GABF to us brewers and it’s quite a spectacle! The festival takes place over the course of three days and four 4 ½ hour sessions. Thursday, Friday and Saturday night sessions are all open to the general public, but the most coveted ticket is the Saturday afternoon ticket reserved exclusively for members of the American Homebrewer’s Association, Brewer’s Association members and the press. This is considered the best session not only because there are far fewer people in attendance, which makes it easier to get to the beers you want to sample, but also because the GABF is not only a festival but a competition. The guys at Sweetwater describe it as the Superbowl of beer competitions…that’s close…maybe more like the Olympics! The winners of the competition are announced during the Saturday afternoon session which means those in attendance get to sample the winners first!
At 1:00 on Saturday all the brewers and many patrons gathered by the stage at the end of the Convention Center to hear and cheer for the winners in 84 separate categories. It’s a bit nerve racking to sit and wait till the categories you have entered get called. By the time the announcements reached the number 80 category, Imperial Stout, I had pretty much resigned myself to returning to Atlanta with no extra weight hanging around my neck. I didn’t feel bad…after all there are no losers at GABF…just those that win.
I was fidgeting in my seat when the announcer said “Bronze medal in Imperial Stout….I-M-O-S”(he spelled it)
I looked up at the big screen displaying the winners as they were called…wait a second, somebody else named their beer IMOS? I thought…
“Max Lager’s Wood-Fired Grill & Brewery, Atlanta Georgia” the room echoed with applause.
NO WAY! That’s MY beer!
I jumped up and motioned for Jessica (our Event Coordinator) and Russ (a homebrewer buddy of mine that came to help) to join me on the stage. It was surreal walking across that stage, having Charlie Papazian put the heavy bronze medal around my neck and shaking hands with Charlie for a picture. I barely remember getting off the stage and back to our seats. Almost immediately Bob Townsend had a camera in my face and was congratulating me. News travels fast…my cell phone starting buzzing within minutes and still hasn’t stopped.
After the ceremony, I worked my way back to the booth and continued pouring beer and talking up Max Lager’s. Brewer after brewer made their way to the booth to congratulate my win “in a tough category” and of course sample the winning beer.
Now, I don’t brew beer to win contests. I brew beer that I like, but I’ve gotta admit-winning is pretty darn cool.