Great American Beer Fest Part I: On Being First Timer and On Beer

Walking into Great American Beer Fest (GABF) for the first time, the first thing I truly noticed was the din. The sound differential between the room where I had my wristband checked one last time and the room containing all the beer was substantial, and I found that reasonably surprising because there were so many people on both sides, and the doors were open between them. Just goes to show how well even small barriers work as sound dampening.

I arrived later than expected; the start time on my Friday ticket was 5:30 pm, but I was delayed until about 7:00pm. There was still a line to get in at that point, but the lines I experienced later were far more intense.

For example, the Saturday morning line involved several people holding signs like this one, announcing where the end of the line was.

Or folks with bullhorns, telling us where to go.

Like any big event, there was evidence of camping out. What I didn’t expect, maybe because I’d never do this, was abandoning fairly large items. I get that you can’t take them in, but maybe arrange for someone who isn’t the the convention center staff to clean up your mess?

GABF was the first beer fest I recall attending where the food for sale was mostly meals. Burgers, hot dogs, and the like. Sure, you could get chips and such, but mostly it was bigger things. The only pretzel necklaces I saw people had made and carried in themselves. That’s pretty much the exact opposite of my previous beer fest experiences.

Let me tell you about a few beers that I can’t get in Chicago that I really was pleased to get to try. While I used GABF’s official app, this information is from memory or photos I was compelled to take. If it wasn’t good enough to remember with my brain1, it isn’t good enough to tell you about here

If you run into folks at beer fests, inevitably there comes the question, “What have you liked so far?” The first beer I answered that question with was Mother Road Brewing’s Open Road. They called it an “English Summer Ale” and it was brewed with peppercorns. Probably among other things, but that’s what I remember most. It was absolutely delightful, and if I could acquire sixers here in Chicago, it’d be in my house all summer long.

Actually “summer beers” or “refreshing beers” might really have been the theme for what impressed me at GABF. Probably my favorite beer was Black Star Coop’s Waterloo. This was a wheat sour-mash beer, with a delightful tartness and wonderful low ABV of only 3.2%. Complex, but easy to drink all day? Yes, please!

Not far behind “Waterloo” was another tart, low ABV beer called “To 11” by Four Fathers Brewing. And I was not alone in my love for this beer. An amazingly sour Gose, with some wonderful citrus notes and just the perfect (to me) amount of salinty? How can that not be perfect? Another all day summer drinker. I think Karl over at Guys Drinking Beer was a fan too. You might see this brewery listed, eventually, in their Craft Beers to Cross the Border For section.

Depending on how far across the border GDB goes, Tin Man Brewing is likely to show up there. They had two really tasty beers, though my favorite was (shockingly) the Apricot Sour Ale. It wasn’t overly sweet, which despite the “sour” name, I often worry about with stone fruit beers. It was refreshing and smelled delightful. The “Abuelita en Fuego” was a fabulous spiced “hot” chocolate in a beer. I’d drink it in the depths of winter and be so, so happy. I did wish the “en Fuego” part had come out more; this beer had no fiery heat to it. GDB-Karl told me that there was significant heat on the beer two days prior to my trying it, so I’d give it another shot.

Finally, the last beer that I truly enjoyed was an ESB from Three Weavers out of California. It was just… wonderful. Solid malt levels, delicious flavor… All it did was make me want to go have more and more and visit them next time I’m anywhere near them.

If you live near any of these breweries, know that I’m envious of you. If you’ve already been to one, or if you also got to try these (and remember them) at GABF, let me know your thoughts in the comments! I’m especially interested in if you tried and liked or disliked anything else from these folks.

Note: I got my tickets through sheer luck/timing. I have recently begun part-time work at Cicerone, a company vending at GABF, and they had a set of comp tickets that was not going to be used. My boss very kindly gave the tickets to me. In exchange, I came and checked in at their vendor booth semi-regularly to refill water bottles (if they hadn’t had a chance) or generally help out if they needed it. To be very clear, I was responsible for all the non-GABF ticket costs (food, flights, a place to stay, etc.) associated with the trip.

1 I keep being nagged to get an Untappd account, and I keep not doing it. Usually, I’m told I should use it so I remember beers. Me? I feel like a beer worth remembering, one way or the other, will stick in my head.

2 thoughts on “Great American Beer Fest Part I: On Being First Timer and On Beer

  1. So glad you liked Open Road, it’s a fun one! I hope one day you’ll be able to buy a six pack in Chicago; for now if you ever make it to this end of Route 66 in Flagstaff we’d love to show you around the brewery.

    Co-Founder Mother Road Brewing Company

    • Alissa, I would love to take a gander at Mother Road’s space! Thanks so much. Also? I’m really impressed you saw this post so quickly after it went up!

      What’s the year-round offering you’d suggest my readers be sure not to miss, if they wander over there? (And by “my readers” I might mean me.)

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