Kim and I went to the Great American Beer Festival this year, for the first time.
I’d tried to go in the past with various friends, but the massive crowds and general drunkenness turned me away, despite the desire to try so many great beers in one place.
Since I’ve been homebrewing this year quite a bit, I decided that I’d look into it again, and see if there was a way we could figure out to enjoy it. Turns out, we’re not the only ones that would like something a bit smaller and quieter, and I found the Farm to Table Pavilion
Essentially, it’s about 10 booths, each serving 1-2 appetizers or desserts, paired with 2 beers. It didn’t seem like a lot when we started, but 20 food items (even small ones), and 20 beers (even in the 1-oz tasting glass they give you) is still quite a few. Especially when you go back and try your favorites more than once.
All the food is made as local as possible, right off of local farms. Kim has been big into ‘Eat Local’ for a while now, so this was right up her alley.
Knowing we’d be trying a lot of beers, and wanting us both to be able to do so, I secured accomodations at downtown botique hotel “Hotel Monaco” for the evening. So we met up in our room there around 5PM, freshened up, and then walked over to the convention center.
We are American Homebrewers Association members, so we were able to go into the “Members Entrance”…so we didn’t have to wait around outside the convention center, but we still had an amazingly long line to wait in before going into the hall.
GABF Entry Line
To be fair, they have a pretty solid process, and a goodly amount of volunteers to check tickets, IDs, band people, get them tasting glasses, and get them into the hall. But it’s a crazy amount of people, all of whom want to get right in at 5:30 and start drinking!
While one of the longest queues I’ve been in outside of my trip to Russia in 1990, it was also one of the fastest moving, so kudos to the GABF staff and volunteers.
We had to go through the main area to get to the Pavilion, which was basically a large chunk of hallway on the back side of the main convention area. This experience proved to me why we hadn’t gone in previous years – it was insanely loud, and very very crowded. Especially at the beginning, around 6PM when we finally got into the hall from the giant line outside, before the crowd was…pliable.
But we made it to the back, where it was blessedly quiet. Apparently, going to the pavilion makes you a VIP, so they handed us goody bags with nice GABF leather coasters, and some advertising. Which we then had to carry about for the rest of our time there. Next time, we’ll get the goody bags on the way out.
And then we proceeded to eat and drink our way through the pavilion! They had 4-5 cocktail tables that you could stop and eat at, and several low cube stool/couch things you could sit on.
Homebrewing pioneer Charlie Papazian’s daughter and granddaughter were hanging out on one of the couchlets for the whole time we were there.
We wished there had been more cocktail tables, even 2-3 more would have made it more comfortable to stand and eat. But once we got into the rhythm of it, we could find an empty or sharable table quite easily. We had some lovely conversations with beer podcasters from Texas, a homebrewer from Highlands Ranch, and a nice older couple from Kiowa.
About halfway through, we were getting pretty tired of standing about, so we went out onto the deck that overlooks Speer. It was a beautiful night, and they had tables and chairs you could sit and chillax at. We watched traffic and the sunset for a bit, and chatted with a couple from Kansas who’s son was the Brewer’s Association graphic designer.
Back in we went to finish out the second half. By the time we’d finished the last table, we were surprisingly full! We went back into the main hall, there were a couple of recommendations we’d gotten from folks to try, and we hit those up on the way out.
We took a pedicab back to the hotel, and had a blessedly quiet night after the cacophany of the main hall!
The beer standouts:
The Food Standouts:
Triple M Bar Ranch Lamb Polpette, Mint Pesto, Goat Cheese, Curry Pinenuts, Micro Basil, Balsamic Reduction (ironically made by Panzano, the restaurant in the hotel we were staying in)
Dessert: North Fork Valley Apple & Pine Nut Tartlets with Beer Caramel (Also Panzano)
Overall, we thought the pairings to be…odd. Great beers, great food, but the portion sizes and ability to eat one bite at a time while standing up made some of the pairings hard to grasp. Even when we could, the pairings sometimes seemed weird.
Some of the food was so mild, and the beer so Imperial and heavy, that the pairings didn’t quite line up.
We had a great time though, and we both would love to go again next year!
Here’s the details on the rest:
bacon good, spent grain cracker good
Sausage is very very good, slaw is tasty
Pate is meh
Pickled onions good
Helios beer is funky (almost as funky as golden monkey!)
qionua salad bland lame
Juniper pale ale
corn cake good, tomatillo sauce great!!
Smoked trout on corn cake meh
Doughy, goat cheese not quite present enough
Esther nose is good
polenta + mushrooms buerre blancy, woody
Tongue of fire stew very good. 3rd so far!
K drunk now!
Spice cake- meh
Rosemary Bison Burger – omg!!!! A little dry, but very good
Saison – wow hoppy!
New Holland Brewing
K ++ (for name)
T ++ (choked on it!)
T +++ smoky goodness!!!
rosemary bison burger good, dry
Out in the Hall:
Cherry kreik sour cherry!
Bacon and eggs coffee stout.