great-american-beer-festival-line
(Photo by Bryan Roth)

Last year, in the Great American Beer Festival’s most-entered category, BNS Brewing & Distilling Co. earned a gold medal for its Revolver IPA, beating out 335 other entries from across the country.

At this year’s event, you wouldn’t have known it.

Over the course of three days, festival goers appeared to largely ignore the Santee, California, brewery’s table in section N, instead passing it by and opting to wait in line at nearby booths held by Ballast Point and The Bruery. On opening night, while BNS had its space manned by two GABF volunteers, there was no visible mention of 2015’s IPA prize, only the scribbled names of each of the beers for sampling written in black marker on the table in front of them.

“It did?” asked a surprised volunteer when told about last year’s win. Beer lovers stayed just as oblivious, missing their chance to sample the top-judged beer of the country’s defining style.

That was the case throughout the festival for BNS and others who were caught in a self-fulfilling prophecy created by drinkers more attuned to big names and hype surrounding certain beers. Lines looped around giant concrete columns and jutted out into walking areas between sections as people waited for their chance to taste something new or rare. Lines were continuously packed for hours on end at Goose Island Beer Co., Ballast Point and Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co. About 50 people continually waited patiently to catch a glimpse of Zac Hanson personally pour Mmmhops, a pale ale created by the pop trio Hanson Brothers.

On the final day of the festival, Patrick Perrin and Derrek Armer lightly jogged from the entrance straight to the booth for Lost Abbey, where about a dozen people had already lined up. They wanted to try Cable Car, a highly-regarded wild ale made more attractive by its lack of distribution.

“We mostly do this for the rarest beer when we know the line is going to be out the door,” Perrin said. “We’ll hit that up first and find the next rare beer.”

At the booth next door to Lost Abbey, Phantom Ales volunteers stood quietly at the ready to pour the first beer of the day.

“There are so many new breweries popping up, it’s hard to keep track,” Perrin said.

“Yeah, I’ve lost touch,” Armer responded.

Within minutes after the start of each session, about 100 people lined up to get one-ounce pours of Pliny the Elder double IPA and Temptation wild ale from Russian River Brewing Co.

“How’d you like to be the guys next to them?” someone asked from the back of the line at Russian River.

“It’s definitely a deluge of people,” said Quinn Gardner, co-founder and CEO of Sactown Union Brewery, as he motioned toward the long line, waiting for his first thirsty visitor of the day. He was the guy next to Russian River. “But it’s good exposure for us, too.”

At BNS Brewing’s table, a new addition appeared on the brewery’s sign on the final day of the festival. In thin black marker, “Gold Medal” was written next to Revolver IPA. “Silver Medal” was added next to Gatling Gun Imperial Stout, hardware earned hours earlier at the award ceremony.

The small change in presentation didn’t amount to one in execution, however, as the line at BNS unfortunately, somehow, stayed empty.

RELATED: FOMO Infiltrates Beer Culture

Bryan Roth is a North Carolina-based writer. Find him tweeting about beer @bryandroth.

+ posts