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The management turmoil at the AHA/IBS seemed less evident at this year's GABF. The layout was generally logical and accommodating to participants. The new geographic/alphabetical lineup went over very well. Tasters could easily find the beers of interest and still be exposed to others from around the continent. The merchandise area offered a great selection of T-shirts from around the country while the second-floor booths gave the opportunity to experience supporting vendors' products as well as brewing media organizations. The delay in announcing competition winners until Saturday afternoon annoyed most visitors and showed a lack of regard for desires of paying customers. This year's brewers seemed to be bolder in their offerings and pushed the envelope in AHA-defined styles, at the risk of being excluded from the category judging.

Some notables among the 1700 included the following. From Watch City the Clockwork Orange Cream Ale offered a nice crisp flavor with a slight orange zest aroma. Despite the fruity contribution to this traditional cream ale, the result was actually refreshing. From Flossmoor Station Brewing Company their Imperial Stout gave away its heritage of Jim Beam barrel aging with its great creamy mouthfeel in this complex but evenly balanced "big" beer. The Anheuser-Busch booth had experienced and friendly staffers but a disappointing offering. The new Tequiza aguave-flavored "beer" was no where to be found, even though it should be emerging from the Ft. Collins factory this December. Ditto for the rumored citrusy Corona-killer in the works. What was shown was an interesting Chocolate Lager. The smooth Hershey's cocoa flavor was both bizarre and mildly appealing but chances for commercial success must be slim. The Fairfield group supplied some of their Pale Ale and Pacific Rim Pale Ale while the St. Louis plant sent the German Hefeweizen and Chocolate Lager. This year's Winter Brew made at the Merrimac location was light in body, with a less-than-bold flavor, and very dry finish. Hearing the details of NA beer production using the time-consuming reverse osmosis technique was impressive even if drinking the product is pointless. The Triple from Three Needs in Burlington matched a nice complex malty/yeasty flavor profile with a medium body and an alcoholic finish. The Barnyard Pale Ale showed how it's done with this medium-bodied brew offering a nice smooth hoppy flavor along with plenty of supporting malt. The new Castle Springs on Lake Winapasaukee brought a great lineup of ales and lagers. Once again the fruit beers from New Glarus were outstanding. The Cherry had a great smooth mouthfeel and a flavor balance that started slightly sweet then finished on the tart side. Their Raspberry started with an intense aroma but showed a refined, even balance in flavor and a smooth mouthfeel. Thomas Kemper was bold enough to bring a non-beer. Their Rootbeer was very smooth and offered a flavor that struck a balance between sweet and dry.

The Thursday evening and the Saturday afternoon tasting sessions were once again very relaxed and enjoyable. Rumors persist of poor beer handling prior to event opening. Perhaps an independent appraisal of beer treatment practices is in order before everyone gets blamed with producing diacetyl beers. The tasting glass design allowed for good appraisal of beer clarity and aroma and still satisfied the "bean counters" who monitored the theoretical maximum beer consumption of paying customers over the period of tasting. Next year let's hope for more rinse stations and value placed on opening on time rather than on closing on time!

Reviewed by Tom Ciccateri - October, 1998

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