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GABF - OTR

May, 1998

By Bobby Bush

After sixteen years of a joyous Denver, Colorado beer celebration, the fine folks at the Association of Brewers decided to give the other side of the country a chance to experience a beer festival on a massive scale. Though the early October beer festival will remain in Denver, each spring the Great American Beer Festival will go On the Road in an effort to enlighten and educate.

The first mobile production was held Friday, May 15 and Saturday the 16th in the Baltimore Convention Center. It was, as promised, a somewhat smaller version of the Colorado production. Brewing Matters, the festival production arm of the Association of Brewers, found out how tough life on the road really is. Their much anticipated Denver show is always a well run machine, mostly due to continuity. Each year it takes sponsors, host brewers, facility managers and, most importantly, hundreds of volunteers to staff the tasting booths, doorways and concession areas. Those necessities have become almost rote for the GABF.

But staging the same show over 2,000 miles from home is a completely different game. Although the Maryland volunteer enrollment was less than hoped for, it was not apparent at the Friday night session that I attended. In fact, only a handful of brewers’ booths weren’t up and pouring when we passed through security, IDs in hand, flashed our $25 all-you-can-drink tickets and picked up our colorful tasting glasses.

As best as they could, the 50,000 square foot hall was laid out alphabetically, starting with Alaskan Brewing Company and winding through six wide aisles to York (PA) Brewing. In between were 124 breweries from 31 states, pouring over 400 different beers. Pennsylvania and host Maryland sent the most breweries, with 19 and 18 respectively. With the exception of six breweries from California, five from Colorado, three from Oregon and one from Alaska, these beers came from the eastern half of the country.

Part of the plan in taking GABF cross-country was to allow brewers with medal winning beers at last year’s Denver fest a chance to boast in their own back yard. There were 48 gold, silver and bronze medals available to taste in Baltimore. Sometimes, with the rush of the crowd and timing of the announcement, it’s hard to taste that many in Denver.

The only disappointment in Baltimore was the attendance. It actually was enjoyable to walk the aisles without weaving through a thick, but always polite, mob of people waiting for their shot to speak to a brewer or sample a medal winner. I heard, second hand, that the organizers had hoped for a sizable crowd at all three sessions, but were satisfied with the turnout. Several local brewers grumbled that more advertising would have helped. Nonetheless, Brewing Matters is a group with a Can-Do attitude. Based on their always-trying performance in Denver, they’ll make adjustments and make it better next year.

My speculation, with no inside information whatsoever, is that GABF-OTR will eventually find a permanent home in the East, whether it’s Baltimore or elsewhere. Enlisting a volunteer army is too arduous a task to perform each Spring. Find a comfortable home, and stay there.

Pete Sells Out

With $50,000 borrowed from friends in 1987, Pete Slosberg created Wicked Ale and established a contract brewing company to make it. Pete’s Brewing now ranks second in the craft beer field only to Samuel Adams. But the glory days have waned. Last year saw a 20% decline in sales and a bottom line of $6 million in losses for the brewery that went public (WIKD) only a few years ago.

The first quarter of 1998 fared no better, posting $1.8 million in the red, leaving Pete little option. On May 22, Pete’s Brewing agreed to be sold, for about $68 million, to Gambrinus, Inc. The San Antonio, Texas-based company imports and distributes Corona and Moosehead beers in the US. Gambrinus also owns Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas and Bridgeport Brewing of Portland, Oregon.

According to Pete’s Brewing, Slosberg will remain involved in the brewing industry. Ironically, he just released the autobiographical Beer for Pete’s Sake and was signing copies at the Baltimore festival just days before the announcement.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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