Home Beer The pro guide to GABF, part 1: How to make a game plan

The pro guide to GABF, part 1: How to make a game plan

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CATEGORIES: Beer   Feature  

With more than 2,800 beers available at the Great American Beer Festival, you’ll never taste them all, but you can strategize to maximize your sampling. Here, brewers share how they map out their GABF game plans. (If you ask us, we think the official festival app is pretty essential, too!)

Scott Baer, head brewer at Telegraph Brewing

“With so much convention center floor space and so many great beers to try, I find that the best way to make sure I don’t miss too much is to work my way down each row and section, nice and slow. Over three days, breaking up the floor into three main sections can help make sure I don’t do too much backtracking, and that I don’t overlook any geographical areas. That said, it’s quite a challenge to stay organized in a room full of beer and beer-drinkers!”

A.J. Stoll, head brewer at Figueroa Mountain Brewing

“We usually try to attend the booths of those breweries we think are exemplary at their brewing craft, whether it be time-honored tradition, cutting-edge chemical engineering, or just crazy. I try to avoid California breweries a little bit, as they are mostly close enough for me to venture to independently. We try to work lighter to darker and softer to more intense, and we usually make multiple laps.”

Josh Brewer, brewmaster at Mother Earth Brewing

“I don’t go in any order, and I generally stay with low-ABV beers, because I feel like if you can brew a great pilsner or altbier, your other offerings are going to be great.”

Marisa Selvy, co-owner and V.P. of marketing at Crazy Mountain Brewing

“I actually plan my GABF tasting in a grid format. I split up the convention hall into four regions and go through one region per session. I’ll do West Coast the first day, East Coast the second day, and so on. I like to be able to go up and down every single aisle in each region so I am not missing any cool new startup breweries or a unique brew from an old favorite brewery.”

Bill Madden, CEO and head brewer at Mad Fox Brewing

“I target [certain beer] categories to start; I look for those one day until I have them pretty well covered, then I just go for what’s interesting and new.”

Josh Grgas, distribution manager at The Commons Brewery

“I’m usually seeking out breweries I don’t have access to in my local market, coupled with favorites: Allagash (I lived there last year while Resurgam was on), Chuckanut (conveniently located next to our booth), Marble and Founders. The variety is overwhelming and I feel planning gets in the way of the excitement. I tend to wander around with personal preference in mind. My love of Belgian-inspired beer tends to cause me to stop at breweries focusing on that tradition of brewing. I also don’t like crowds and there are a lot of breweries making wonderful, world-class beer that fly under the radar at the fest. Last year, I stayed in the Southwest region because my introverted friend and I noticed there was less traffic. It led to my discovery of Marble Brewing, which was pouring the two best beers I had all week. Take a risk on a brewery with a small line and maybe you’ll discover the next big thing.”

Katie Taylor, quality control manager at Grand Teton Brewing

“I like to check out the little guys, the ones without the huge booth displays or huge lines. It makes it possible to talk to the brewers, ask them about their operation, or favorite beer, and maybe try more than one. Often, too, there are some gems that not a lot of people know about, like Island Brewing! I tend to stick to one flavor or type for the day. At the end of the four sessions I couldn’t even palate another IPA, even though it’s one of my favorite styles. This past year, there were so many funky beers, like sours and unique blends that I don’t normally have the opportunity to experience; those were the ones that I tried to seek out.”

Victor Novak, brewmaster at TAPS Fish House & Brewery

“I’m all over the map when it comes to sampling. I’m a lager fanatic, so if a brewery is doing some great lagers, I gravitate towards those first. Then I’ll mix in some balanced hoppy beers, barrel-aged beers, sours, and coffee beers, in no particular order.”

Tomme Arthur, founder of The Lost Abbey

“No rhyme or reason to any of it. I spend more time working at our booth than I do traveling around and sampling. I walk down and hang out at Russian River, as they are usually very close to us. Hollister Brewing in Goleta, Calif., makes a killer gose called Tiny Bubbles [that I try to get to], and without a doubt, I always head over to Brooklyn to share beers with Garrett since he spends so much time pouring for the public; I like to support him.”

Brian Ford, founder and brewmaster at Auburn Alehouse

“I find myself drawn to New Glarus, Great Divide, Bear Republic (they have a great crew and we love to hang out with them), and then I search for breweries that have won medals with beers that I make in the same categories. I always find a new brewer or two that I enjoy. I’m a big fan of the hop, so I typically drink the pales, IPAs and double IPAs, but I drink anything I deem interesting outside of those, too! I like to start in the eastern regions of the states, sampling, say, pale ales and IPAs, and then work my way to the West. It’s interesting to note the different flavor profiles, techniques and hop/malt choices from one end of our country to the other.”

Dave Logsdon, founder of Logsdon Farmhouse Ales

“I usually look for some of my old friends booths to see what they are up to: Allagash, Russian River, Jolly Pumpkin, along with new breweries making interesting styles.”

Will Meyers, brewmaster at Cambridge Brewing

“I typically spend almost the entire GABF—every session—pouring at my own booth. So unfortunately for me, I get limited opportunities to wander and sample. Therefore, there is no real order or plan for me: I just check out what looks interesting, what’s nearby, or will seek out those breweries I’ve heard through the grapevine (hop vine?) are doing exciting stuff. I seem to always manage to stop by Elysian, Stone, Cascade, New Belgium and Avery’s booths. These should be obvious for all GABF attendees, in my opinion.”

This week, we’re bringing you tips from the experts on all things GABF. Tomorrow: how to talk to brewers at their booths and beyond.



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