Welcome to Denver… (a graphic designer’s perspective on the GABF)
Thanks to the best volunteers ever!
It was a freakishly early flight to Denver. When we arrived it was as if the rules of Seattle and Denver weather had switched. I left 70 degree sunny Washington and arrived at 50 degrees and raining. The forecast called for warming by the weekend and I could put that twinge aside—that I’d just left the end of summer behind. This was to be my first visit to the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) held in Denver, CO and I will tell you now that I’m not a beer expert or even close. I do enjoy beer (duh) and was very excited to see what the festival was like. I really didn’t know what to expect. I’ve been to a handful of beer festivals, but nothing on this scale. With 49,000 attendees and 3,308 beers entered into competition and 457 breweries in the festival hall, this was year’s GABF was bigger than ever.
So what do you do? I guess I should introduce myself. I’m Tammy and I do the graphic design and marketing for Boundary Bay Brewery. We do all of the design for Boundary Bay in-house. All of the beer and event posters, clothing designs, the website, blog, podcast, ads, etc are put together by our team of three downstairs in the bowels of the brewery. People who don’t understand graphic design marvel that we all have enough work and people in the field wonder how we get it all done. Yep, it’s a pretty sweet job. I went to the GABF to meet my people, the fans of craft beer! I wanted some feedback on what people like. I wanted to see what other breweries were doing to promote their beer. And I wanted to drink some GREAT beer!
When the mountains turn blue… We went to a brewer’s dinner at the Wynkoop Brewery on Wednesday night. The place was packed. I was advised to get a glass of Black Folie, the brain child of Red Stone Meadery and New Belgium Brewery, because it would be the first to run out. Wow! Delicious. My boss, Janet whisked me around, introducing me to friends. The Wynkoop is housed in a historic building right in downtown Denver. I enjoyed the vintage poster art hanging throughout the brewery. I tried some more sour beers and decided that they are a new favorite style for me now. After a while, we decided we’d mingled enough and we cut out to see the last of the Colorado Rockies game at Coors field. It was the top of the 5th and they let us in for free on one condition, we had to cheer for the Rockies. We wasted no time and got to hoopin and hollerin. We poked our heads into the Sandlot for a beer. The Sandlot brewery is actually owned by Coors and is part of The Blue Moon Brewing Company, but they brew their own beers on premises and these are the beers that have won more medals at the GABF since their opening than any other brewery. Despite our feverish cheering, the Rockies didn’t pull out a win that night. They did make it to the playoffs, but sigh, the Phillies pulled out a win. There’s always next year, and hey, the Broncos are 5-0. Thanks to everyone at the stadium and at Wynkoop for your hospitality and warm welcome.
Watch out for Falling Rock. On Friday I was having some serious baggage issues. I had stayed with my brother in Littleton and took the light rail into downtown. The light rail is awesome, so convenient and easy. Not so easy, the fact that I had all my bags for the trip with me because I was planning on staying with my dad for the rest of the my stay. I thought I’d check them at the Amtrak station. No can do without a Amtrak ticket. The attendant, while extremely polite and sympathetic told me her boss wasn’t one for exceptions, while her co-workers simultaneously nodded in agreement. So me and my bags went to The Sandlot, Falling Rock Tap House and then on the free mall bus to the Convention Center. Our stop at the Falling Rock put me in awe. So many taps, so many beers! In the basement, people were eagerly awaiting the results of the Alpha King Challenge founded in 1999 as a tribute to Alpha King Pale Ale, crafted by Three Floyds Brewing in Munster, Indiana. Here the hoppiest beers are judged in this fun event hosted by Chris Black, the owner of Falling Rock. Boundary Bay won this award in 2006 for our Imperial IPA and took 2nd place in 2008. A total of 70 beers from around the United States competed in the tenth annual Alpha King Challenge. Congrats to Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery and this year’s winner, “Hop Viviant”.
The Festival. I have to start by giving a shout out to our volunteers at the festival. They worked really hard and stayed upbeat and enthusiastic. They made working the festival less like work and more like, well, partying with a chicken hat on your head. I set up a little area with a portfolio of our beer & event posters. I did get a lot of positive feedback on the designs and was even asked to sign a couple of posters I brought to give away. Thanks for making me feel like a rock star! Most often, people told me they were happy that someone from the brewery was there. Often the booths are only staffed with volunteers that don’t know much about the beer or the brewery. They wanted to voice their appreciation of the beer to someone who’d hear it. My dad met me midway through the session and we spent some time seeking out sour beers. Some of our favorites were from New Glarus, Lost Abbey, Russian River and New Belgium. Cheers to all that came to our booth to try Boundary Bay beer and thanks for the feedback!
Saturday—Judgement day. I have to come straight out and say it. I was disappointed when Boundary Bay didn’t win any awards at the festival. The competition gets tougher every year as more and more breweries enter beers into the festival. The categories we typically enter our beer into are categories with a large number of entries. Some of the beers that tend to do better in award competitions are more unique and rare. If we should judge ourselves on anything, it should be the fact that we sell out of our beer, every time, everything we brew and we brew at capacity. There were a lot of other great WA beers at the festival that were shut out as well, but none of us are about to stop drinking their beer. A big congratulations to Chuckanut Brewery on winning Small Brew Pub of the year. This award is given to a brewery that wins the most medals compared to how many beers entered. Congratulations to all the other Washington State winners too. You can download a list of the GABF winners here.
Time to go fishing. After the festival, my dad and I headed out to the Blue River, near Silverthorne to do some fly fishing and camping. The weather was perfect. The fly fishing, it was pretty flat. But the saying is true, I’d rather have a bad day fly fishing than, well, just about anything.