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Record temperatures accompanied the record, if restricted, number of beers at the 1997 Great American Beer Festival. The Thursday night Members Only tasting for members of the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) was a good value at $15 for five hours of tasting. Some things never change however, doors opened late at 4:41 PM but security enforced last call precisely on time at 9:45. When questioned about this poor performance, security head Stephen voiced his lack of concern for the paying customers' time and money, "So you lost some drinking time, it's tough to get these 1000 volunteers ready on time."

Some things have improved noticeably. The two-level layout was spacious and accommodating, with drinking water, crackers, wash stations, and rinse buckets all commonplace. Upstairs booths offered a good selection of merchandise and informational literature. The AHA booth was well-staffed with friendly and informative people. The well-behaved crowd even lacked the "beer groupie" minions who normally hover around celebes Michael Jackson, Bert Grant and Fred Eckhard like the dust cloud surrounding the Snoopy Pigpen character. Although there were fewer reports of jack-booted beer police, their influence could be seen in some paranoid pourers who would pour barely a splash of beer, with the resulting foam scarcely touching the ridiculous one ounce pour line. Let's hope the new GABF director will actually listen to the concerns of the paying customers, both tasters and brewers alike.

The megas used the opportunity to expose a few more of their dabblings in all malt beverages. Anheuser Busch had its interesting Porter and Pacific Ridge Pale Ale on hand. The Seagram-owned Devil Mountain Brewery had their Black Honey Ale with its smooth blend of dark malts and dry hoppy finish.

Announcing the medal winners on Thursday allowed for their easy sampling throughout the floor. With Saturday nights completely and Friday nights mostly dominated by the adolescent "quantity" beer drinkers, the Thursday night session and to some extent, the Saturday afternoon session are a welcome opportunity to seek out samples and enjoy them in a relaxed setting.

Reviewed by Tom Ciccateri - October, 1997

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