I went to the GIBF this year for both sessions. While there seemed to be fewer booths at this one compared to the one last year (note: I did not go to the one in the spring), the quality of the breweries seemed to be a bit better. We had more smaller breweries present than in past years, though we also had some that weren’t present, most notably Smuttynose. I can’t help but wonder if their presence at Beervana had anything to do with them not coming to the GIBF. It’s probably a combination of that and the economy, considering the GIBF not only makes the breweries pay for a table but also donate the beer and their time. This is something that should not be done if you ever want to start a beer festival. Beervana, on the other hand, bought all the beer and simply requested that a brewer or brewery rep staff the tables. The breweries prefer this approach because they only have to donate their time. It also allows the festival organizers to hand pick the beers they are pouring at the festival.
Last year, I had only attended the afternoon session, which tends to be the quieter of the two sessions with more people who are really into the beer as opposed to people looking to pay $36 for an all you can drink party. I had heard some horror stories of the second session in the past. This time it seemed to be a bit more mellow. While there were a lot more people than the first session, and it was definitely crazier than the first session, there wasn’t a whole lot of screaming and chanting that I had expected. From an attendee’s standpoint, it seemed to go pretty smoothly, though they had a harder time forcing people out than we did at Beervana.
Some of my favorite brewery stops were Mayflower, Offshore, Gardner’s Ale House, Watch City Brewing, Blackstone Valley Brewing Supplies, and Ithaca. They all had a great selection of beer. Even the other breweries brought some unexpected beers. Victory, for example, had Wild Devil, Golden Monkey, Baltic Thunder, and Hop Wallop (in addition to Prima Pils). I was surprised they brought so many of their bigger beers. I would have expected Prima Pils and Hop Devil. I was surprised to see that Mayflower signed up for this as well. They hadn’t been there in the past. They even brought some of their Thanksgiving Ale with them, which was quite excellent. Even Providence’s own Trinity Brewhouse had four different whiskey barrel aged beers. So even though Heineken, Corona, and Presidente were all present, the quality of beer from the other breweries was much better than last year. Dogfish Head, whom I had heard would not be coming, ended up having a table (though without their RI rep). It was expected that they would only have 60 Minute IPA and a seasonal. They actually had 90 Minute IPA, Chicory Stout, Raison d’Etre, and Indian Brown Ale. While these aren’t their top offerings, they aren’t the usual suspects either.
All in all, it was a good fest. The layout was better, spacing the rows out a bit more, allowing for easier movement around the floor. They put the stage in the far corner this time rather than at the end of one of the rows of booths. This kept it a bit quieter, though they probably should have lowered the volume of the band and raised the volume for the award ceremony. Aside from that, it was great. I still don’t think it’s worth my money for admission, but if you want a decent introduction to some craft beer available in southern New England, it’s a pretty good place to familiarize yourself with it.