Twenty-five years ago, I don’t think I dreamed that one day I’d be taking my now adult daughter to the Great American Beer Festival (GABF). Yet there we were at the 40th annual GABF in 2022, sidling up to brewery pouring stations and choosing which one-ounce pour was next, then sharing our glasses.
It was a lot more pleasant than carrying her around on my back–and fortunately, she didn’t have to carry me.
My daughter, Sierra Hieronymus attended two GABFs as an infant/toddler in 1997 and 1998. She was in utero in 1996, when my job at the festival was to stand behind a table and hand out free copies of All About Beer Magazine. I remember then-publisher Daniel Bradford coming up to me and saying, “You don’t look that bad!” Since I was about two months away from giving birth, he expected more enormity.
She was one of the very few, if not the only, child at GABF during those years, and probably one of the very few who ever attended. The rule then was, as Brewers Association economist Bart Watson put it, “No feet on the ground.” So if your child was old enough to walk, then they were too old for the fest.
From a safety standpoint, it made perfect sense, and today, there’s a straight 21 and over policy.
GABF Then and Now
Stan Hieronymus and I attended our first GABF pre-Sierra, in 1993, when there were 208 breweries. While he has attended nearly all of them since then, my last was in 2010, when 408 breweries attended. It has been 10 years since then (jumping the pandemic-so-no-festival crevasse), and the festival looked quite similar to 2010’s, with about 500 breweries.
Silent disco and the special food event were around in 2010, but the awards were still being announced in the hall. And back then, the women standing in line for the restroom would laugh, because it was that rare event where the men’s restroom line outpaced the women’s.
But gender parity is starting to show, and the women’s line is now easily as long as the men’s. And one thing that has never changed is the din, or the shouts and howls when a glass breaks–though several times this year we saw a glass fall but not break, resulting in hearty cheers.
Looking through the list of 1993 GABF winners, it’s nice that some of them (or their offshoots) medaled this year, such as Sierra Nevada, Coopersmith’s, Boston Beer, Sudwerk, and Deschutes.
Seeing the Festival with Fresh Eyes
Sierra approached the festival like the young adult she is. She used the GABF app to keep track of what she was drinking, and during the awards she texted a friend back in Seattle when any of the locals won.
“The awards ceremony was maybe the most exciting thing for me,” she says. “It was fun seeing breweries I recognized and finding out about breweries in the PNW (Pacific Northwest) I haven’t gotten to yet.“
I, on the other hand, was happy to see veteran breweries like Topeka, Kansas’ Blind Tiger Brewery and Restaurant, which has been around since 1995, and Left Hand Brewing Company, which started in 1994, take Brewery of the Year honors in their size categories.
Left Hand was the 50th brewery Sierra visited, right before the 1997 GABF, and that was the last time Left Hand founder Eric Wallace had seen her before we congratulated him Saturday afternoon.
Sierra arrived at this year’s fest with a bit of celebrity. Stan has talked about her occasionally (well, more than occasionally), and she has been featured in some of our writings, so quite a few brewers had heard of her over the years but never met her.
Others had met her when she was younger and couldn’t believe how much she had grown. We stopped by the table of Ska Brewing, whose staff once mailed back her coloring book when she left it at the Durango taproom, and had the Checkered Future IPA and Oktoberfest.
Growing up, Sierra didn’t like carbonation, so no soda for her. Somewhere along the line, that changed. We figured that she wouldn’t be underage drinking during high school, but … you can guess how that went.
And today, being our daughter, she talks about which beers are widely distributed, points out when a beer isn’t true to style, is too sweet, etc.
In fact, it’s her turn to weigh in on the festival, while I finish this beer.
A Daughter’s Perspective
In the years since turning 21, and particularly in the last year of serving at a cocktail-focused restaurant, I’ve become interested in observing how people drink and what they’re drinking. IPAs, pale ales, and sours have noticeably grown in popularity even in the brief time I’ve been drinking.
The most entered categories in the competition were American Style and Juicy/Hazy IPAs. As a hazy IPA and sour fan, it’s nice to see breweries producing a lot of those styles–even if it’s cajoled by popular demand.
Though construction at the convention center this year may have limited the number of breweries pouring at the festival, I wouldn’t know the difference.
I tried at least 70 beers from more than 50 breweries across the two sessions we attended. Since trying my first smoked beers a few years back, I’ve been a fiend for finding every smoked beer possible and made that my mission at the festival.
My mom had her own inadvertent quest, trying Oktoberfests and peach beers for a time, and waiting in line for a “whale”’–Sierra Nevada’s E.H. Walker Barrel-Aged Bigfoot, which was only distributed in an online sale.
She reports it was well worth the wait.
(Note from Daria: We did not actually name Sierra after Sierra Nevada, although when I suggested the name, Stan did say, “When she’s learning to walk, we can call her Bigfoot and they’ll send us free beer.” But I think he was kidding.)
While we didn’t participate in any of the non-beer drinking activities other than the photo booth, it was fun to walk by the Silent Disco and see people crowded in like it was a club, dancing to music only they could hear. Some very … confident karaoke singers serenaded the crowd with ’80s songs, too.
Would I go back? Am I my parent’s daughter?
It’s My Round is a regular feature on All About Beer featuring personal essays relating to beer experiences and journeys. Learn more or inquire about submissions by emailing Info@allaboutbeer.com