The Great American Beer Festival doesn't change much from year to year. It is always a massive draw, a tourism magnet and the place to be seen for breweries and beer lovers alike. But the Boulder-based Brewers Association, which hosts the festival, October 11-13, does like to keep it relevant, so it makes some tweaks and adjustments each year. The biggest change this year is the number participating breweries (see below), but that's not the only thing attendees will want to look out for. Here's our list.
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5) Brewery Judging Limit
The Brewers Association (BA) has limited the number of beers that each brewery can submit for judging to ten in an effort to keep that portion of the festival manageable. "To my knowledge hasn't been an official cap in the past," says GABF spokeswoman Barbara Fusco. The reason reflects the association's decision to allow more brewers into the competition.
"At the end of the day, our judges can only judge so many beers, successfully and logistically," she explains, adding that 185 judges from around the world will rate an estimated 4,300 beers in 2012. This will not affect how many beers the breweries can serve in the hall, however. Whew.
4) Brewpub Pavilion
More than 1,500 of the 2,000 U.S. breweries are considered to be brewpubs, according to the BA, a category it describes as "restaurant-breweries that sell 25 percent or more of their beer on site." The association will recognize brewpubs with this special area near the center of the hall. The Pavilion will include 24 brewpubs representing eighteen states; Colorado's entry is Trinity Brewing in Colorado Springs.
The area will be set up to recreate the brewpub atmosphere and decorated with photos from brewpubs around the country; there will also be complimentary snacks and for-sale items, Fusco says. "I imagine it will be pretty popular. Hopefully people will flow through it like they did the 1982 Pavilion last year." See the rest of the list on the GABF website.
3) Brewery table staffing
A) The BA has always encouraged -- even sternly advised -- breweries to have at least one staff member at their table during the festival's peak hours. But that is rarely the case. The brewery folks are out -- and it's hard to blame them -- partying in Denver and trying each others' beers. But that can sometimes make things a little rough on attendees who can't always get questions answered by well meaning volunteers.
This year, Fusco says the BA issued the following memo to breweries: "It is highly recommended that brewery representatives staff their booths at all times. Breweries are expected to have a brewery representative at their booth during the following hours: Thursday, Friday and Saturday night sessions from 5 to 7:30 p.m., and Saturday afternoon from 1:30 p,m, (or immediately after the awards ceremony) to 4 p.m."
B) To make room for new breweries on the floor of the Colorado Convention Center, the BA has moved the awards ceremony to a new time -- 10:30 a.m. on October 13 -- and a new place -- the Wells Fargo Theatre downstairs. Although the ceremony is closed to the public, the BA believes "this change has allowed for a number of improvements that will make the festival better for all."
First and foremost is the number breweries that will now be able to have booths at the festival (see below). But the switch also means that anyone attending the Saturday afternoon session will know the winners before they enter the hall and can target their beer-drinking strategy thusly. It also means that the brewers themselves can return to their booths sooner to interact with festival-goers. 2) Fresh Hop Ale category
For the first time, the BA will include "Fresh Hop Ale" as one of the judging categories, separating it out from the experimental category, where it has been nested in the past. This new category -- which could have only been added since GABF takes place in the fall -- "showcases ales which are hopped exclusively with fresh undried, "wet" hops," a technique that "adds nuances of green, almost chlorophyll-like character," the BA says.
"The timing [of the festival] gave us an idea that we'd see more entries, and the confidence to break fresh hop ales out as a standalone category," adds GABF Competition Manager Chris Swersey. "In the future this category might vary as a standalone or a subcategory of Experimental Beer, based on event timing and other trends." There are at least 33 entries.
1) More Beer!
There will be a whopping 580 breweries pouring sweet hop juice on the floor of the convention center in 2012, an astonishing 23 percent increase over 2011, when there were 466 breweries on hand. The number of beers will also be much higher -- about 2,700, up from 2,375 in 2011.
"With the increasing number of breweries in the country and the growing number of breweries that want to participate in the fest, we thought it would be a win-win to accommodate more of them," Fusco says. "At the end of the day, our goal is to create an event that is widely representative of the craft-brewing industry as a whole."
We'll drink a toast to that.
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