Great American Beer Festival, Part Three

Now that I've had time to digest and think about this experience in Denver, here are some final thoughts:

The experience was deeply moving: This year marked the event's 25th anniversary and all concerned wanted to celebrate that fact. Because of my research for the beer book, I know a great deal about its early history. But as I told a press conference on the opening day, this isn't just the 25th anniversary of the GABF. This also marks a quarter century of a handful of people gathering in Boulder to create a new wing of the brewing industry. In 1981 and 1982, Charlie Papazian and a handful of other beer fans organized homebrewing conferences. But they made room a handful of goofballs from around the country who wanted to shift from homebrewing to commercial brewing.

In those early day, no one at the Boulder organization -- then the American Homebrewers Assocation; now the Brewers Association -- earned a paycheck. Well, except Daniel Bradford, but even he (hired in 1982) was only part-time. He waited tables to make ends meet. Everyone else -- including Charlie Papazian -- worked for free.

Those early conferences and the first GABF proved to be momentous: they provided a place where small brewers and the new "microbrewers" could gather to talk about how to solve the unique problems that small brewers faced.

For example, back then, the small guys couldn't pick up a phone and order equipment. NO ONE fabricated equipment for use on such a small scale. None of the maltsters wanted to sell small quantities of malt. Fritz Maytag often ordered more than he would need and brewers in northern California would drive down to San Francisco to Anchor and shovel malt into their pickup trucks.

But this 25th GABF was about more than just history. I was there to sign copies of my new book at the Brewers Association booth. But most of those books at the booth were "how to" books for homebrewers. And at every session, I watched as men and women who were there to share the joys of beer crowded around the booth to peruse the books on display.

"I've already got these three, but I've never seen this one," a guy would exclaim to his friend. "Hey," a woman would say to her husband, "here's a new book. Let's try this one." "Look," someone would say to his or her friend, "here are some books for beginners. Let's give it a try."

Over and over again, I watched people express their pleasure in beer and the adventure of homebrewing. Out there, I realized, are thousands upon thousands of people who love beer, who care about quality, who want to learn how to make beer at home, and who share that joy with their friends and family. As long as they're out there; as long as they show up at the GABF -- and endure throbbing eardrums and aching throats, beer culture in this country will thrive. I'm so grateful that I've had a chance to experience this part of American culture.

Beer? It's for all of us!