Last week I attended my first GABF and thought it might be good for those who have not attended to offer my take on the event. I went to the first session on Thursday night and since I knew we would be entering with 6,000 of our closest friends we probably should arrive a few minutes after the event started. We left the hotel about four blocks away at 5:30pm which was the time the door opened. When we arrived there was a very long line down the sidewalk, but Brewers Association volunteers told us to file into the line so we did. We basically never stopped walking and after an ID check, ticket check, wristband station, and tasting glass station we were in the thick of it by 6pm. I don’t believe they could have run it any smoother and to leave the hotel room at 5:30pm and be in the festival a half hour later was perfect.
Inside the event was laid out by regions and the breweries in alphabetical order. If a brewery was represented in a different area there was a sign to show it was on an end cap or another area of the festival. In addition to the main aisles and end caps, there was a small brewpub section, and a meet the brewer section which was carpeted and quite large. There also was a Pro-Am serving area and a previous winner serving area. If you left without having all the beer you could possibly stand you must have been asleep. Most of the beers I sampled were very good, although we did find a few stinkers which required a dump and rinse. It was crowded in areas, but mostly at large well-known breweries. I refused to wait in a line more than two people deep so I skipped those breweries. Also a few breweries ran out of beer in the first hour and I find that unacceptable. I realize a line may form and the beer you brought may be very popular, but plan for having beer available for at least half the session. A few areas were needlessly tight, mostly near the edges. There was more room available in the convention space so I’d suggest spacing it out a bit more to give 10-20 feet more in those areas.
The last critique was food. It was around the perimeter in convention center spaces. Near the brewpub area on the ends, and in the food court area. It was difficult to get to and cause part of the congestion. IMO it would be better to put food in four locations around the perimeter, or even better just at the two ends along the entire edge and duplicate the food on each side. Then attendees could go to an edge and snag a snack and then get back into the thick of it.
The even reminded me of the AHA Convention pro brewers night with several thousand more people. The AHA can line up just as long as the GABF, but generally at the end of the line is the brewer so a quick conversation can be had to the side if desired. I enjoyed the session and thought it was well executed and with a few minor tweaks could go from great to awesome. Cheers to those who volunteered and put on the event!