There was a definite buzz in the air 30 minutes before the doors opened for Session 1 of the 2012 Great American Beer Festival (GABF). In the lobby on the Colorado Convention Center eager beer enthusiasts were lined up awaiting the dropping of the ropes for entry into the main exposition hall. While inside the hall, breweries, volunteers, and press were busily preparing for the onslaught. In a word, it was magical.
This year GABF played host to 578 breweries from all around the United States, including breweries from both Alaska and Hawaii. Those breweries brought with them over 2,700 beers for festival attendees to taste that amounted to over 36,500 gallons of beer served in one ounce portions. The event’s home, the Colorado Convention Center, has 584,000 square feet exhibit space most of which was utilized for the festival. The event hosted 49,000 attendees including staff, brewers, attendees, and press.
Inside the event hall guests found food vendors, a beard trimming exhibit from Wahl, a silent disco sponsored by Oskar Blues, an Airstream picture booth from Black Star Beer, a Brew Pub Pavilion with food and beer pairings, a Farm-to-Table Pavilion, a bookstore, a t-shirt shop, and lots of beer!
As 5:15 approached the folks in the lines outside the exhibition all began to become more and more excited. Cries of, “We want beer!” began to echo through the cavernous lobby. An army of ticket-takers, security, and assorted other volunteers manned their stations in preparation for the heard of humanity waiting to get in. An announcer proclaimed across the PA system, “Two minutes until the 2012 Great American Beer Festival is open.” Breweries hurriedly prepared.
And then, the doors opened. Wave after wave of thirsty beer lovers poured into the exhibition hall and were instructed to keep their tickets out in order to collect a plastic tasting cup and program. For a while there was a backup at the entrance, but after a few minutes a sort of rhythm was achieved and happy festival attendees began making their way into the hall.
Attendees to beer events tend to be eclectic and those coming to GABF are no different. Among the attendees were numerous men in lederhosen and women in dirndls. But, there was also a posse of Waldos (as in Where’s Waldo), a clan of men in Scottish kilts, a gang of colorfully zoot suited guys. There were girls dressed in skimpy, sexy plaid shorts and even sexier skimpy dresses and stratospheric heels. There were attendees dressed as beer kegs, beer steins, and disco dancers. There was even an appearance by Abraham Lincoln and a space-suited gorilla. Perhaps the most entertaining and amusing group were the Shriners complete with miniature cars worn around their waists, fez’s, and musical bicycle horns. It truly was a spectacle.
As the night went on, the crowd moved from table to table sampling beers from the likes of Sweetwater Brewing Company, Schlafly Brewing, Devil’s Backbone Brewing Company, Upland Brewing, and 10 Barrel Brewing Company. Long lines formed at some of the heavyweight brewer’s tables like Cigar City, Firestone Walker, New Belgium, and Oskar Blues. But, never did anyone complain. Instead people began to bond with one another. A sort of camaraderie developed between those in line together and, when those same people bumped into each other later in the night, high-fives and fist bumps were shared all around.