GABS Weekend was genuinely awesome — and pretty-much exhausting. I just never caught up on the fact that my trip started with 26-odd-hours awake running on a mere two hours sleep. But these are trifling #firstworldproblems; I was having a marvellous time, giddy with beer-geek joy, doing a bit of volunteer monkey-work, meeting lovely people and sampling a surprisingly-modest few beers. I couldn’t keep up the standard I set on Day One, so will take the time now to post a few more photos and some very-preliminary afterthoughts I’ve thunk since.
— The People: Visitors
There were lots of people — ten-thousand-plus, distributed unevenly over the five sessions: a quiet and probably-valuable “soft” opening on Friday afternoon, a busier Friday night, the biggest crowd on Saturday afternoon, followed by a middling evening and a suitably-sedate Sunday — and they ranged massively from hard-core nerdy anoraks to “normal people”. The mix varied predictably (Friday night: more normal, Saturday day: more nerdy) but was never too lop-sided in either direction. They were good crowds, too; I have it on good authority that not one person was thrown out all weekend.
All those people and tasting paddles did stress the serving setup, and — ultimately — break it a few times. Queues got long, but people adapted by carrying multiple paddles and — barring minor flare-ups on Facebook and such — didn’t seem to let it ruin their mood. It’s a difficult event to design a system for, especially untested, and the organisers are wise to the issue and already talking about sensible-sounding revisions for next year.
— The People: Volunteers and Brewers
I was basically a backup-member of a few-hundred-strong volunteer army — I had a few duties at each session, but normal recruits did one or two full shifts. The economics of beer festivals is such that they’re basically always dependent on people working in exchange for a few tickets and tokens, and the fun of it, rather than regular wages. There was a lot of prep-and-re-prep to be done between sessions, on top of all those thousands of serves of beer, and swarms of coloured shirts got it done admirably.
Brewer presence is a tricky thing to figure out at beer festivals, too — it’s certainly a factor that Beervana needs to work on, and is working on — GABS-attending brewers had distinctive caps (though black hats all look alike at a distance, inevitably), but they also had a really-sweet VIP area (for which tickets were available to the public, at a premium price) with snacks and its own bar. Brewers were rare-ish on the main floor, but crowds were big and I still managed to meet a fair few — and, again, the organisers have already come up with a minor re-shuffle that should make them even easier to find, next year.
— The Food
Outside the building, through the big Southern doors, was a row of food vendors opening out of trailers and tents and whatnot. They were brilliantly varied, from pizza to curry, and reasonably-priced; basically perfect Festival Food. I didn’t have a dud snack or meal, and I had some absolute gems — particularly the gob-smackingly fantastic po’ boys from the guys in the Gumbo Kitchen truck, which was (rather brilliantly) playing things like the Treme soundtrack.
— First After-afterthoughts
It was a great weekend, and I’m very glad I made the trip. I’ve inherited my Dad’s engineer’s-eye for criticism and potential improvements, but basically all of them that came to mind were straight-away mentioned, unprompted, by Steve (the Festival Overboss) when I caught up with him late in Sunday’s session. He, and the rest of the organisers, are all over it. So I’m stowing most of them in my brain, satisfied that the wrinkles will be smoothed and next year will be even more awesome. I’m in.