My third and final day covering the 2018 Great American Beer Festival was dominated by one event other than the festival itself: the competition awards ceremony. As is sometimes the case, the ceremony ran a bit long, meaning I had to hustle to get everything for the post up online and then rush over to the festival to see what I could see.

However, unlike the previous two sessions—as well as the later session on Saturday night—the Saturday afternoon session was available exclusively for members of either the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) and the Brewers Association (BA.) As such, it has historically been the least crowded session of the festival, despite the fact that a number of breweries hold special beers until this specific time slot, so that the members of the aforementioned organizations have a greater chance of trying them.

Let’s get to the questions!

What was the most interesting new thing you noticed about the Great American Beer Festival this year during the Saturday afternoon session?

This one was easy: the 12,600-square-foot Jameson Caskmates Barrel-Aged Beer Garden, which did a very good job at featuring 17 craft breweries, each pouring their version of a different limited edition Jameson barrel-aged beer. The section was quite large, with two different stages and room for at least 400 people to sit—or stand in line—comfortably.

While the beers were the star of the show, there were other attractions, including the Jameson Cooperage Experience, which was essentially a presentation on how a master cooper puts together a barrel. The presentation was hosted by Ger Buckley, a fifth generation master cooper, who oversees the management of barrels at Jameson. It was a very cool experience to watch and really impressed a number of people in the crowd with how much effort it took to do correctly.

However, the star of the section was definitely the different beers, and while I did not try all of them, I managed to hit up 12 of the 17 before I had to leave to cover other things. Of the 12 I tried, the best to my palate was easily Parish Brewing Co.’s Irish Coffee Stout—a 10 percent ABV imperial stout aged in Jameson whiskey barrels and conditioned on coffee and vanilla—with The Black Abbey Brewing Co.’s Lorica, an 8 percent  Belgian-style dubbel finished in Jameson whiskey barrels coming in a close second.

What was the best beer you tried?

I actually tried a good number of beers at this session that I really liked, but the one that stood out for me the most was Modern Times Beer’s collaboration with Miami-based J. Wakefield Brewing named Suggestion of Mass, an 11 percent ABV imperial stout brewed with coconut, coffee and vanilla. Thick, well-balanced and not too sweet, the combination of flavors in the profile reminded me strongly of a Mounds bar, something I will never get tired of tasting in a beer.

What was the most interesting or unusual beer you tried during Saturday’s GABF session?

Even after sampling more than 20 beers on Saturday, this question was easy to answer: Old Town Brewing’s Mushroom Ale, a 6 percent ABV altbier-syle ale brewed with “Candy Cap” mushrooms, which are apparently well-known for their strong maple syrup flavor. The profile was surprisingly sweet—dare I say syrupy?—and yes, I could taste maple on the finish, which combined surprisingly well with the earthiness of the mushrooms. This has been released in 22-ounce bottles, and it is good enough that I will be looking to pick up some in the future.

What did you do other than wait in line for small samples of beer for hours on end at GBAF?

That would be the aforementioned competition awards. This was the first time I had attended, and I was extremely surprised at the number of people who were there, even knowing how many breweries were in attendance at the festival. While it did run long—it actually ended at about 40 minutes after the noon session of the GABF started—they kept things moving at a crisp pace, since there were awards (and trophies/medals) given out for more than 100 beer styles.

What surprised you about the event compared to last year?

How many different elements of music or dancing there were all over the event. While Oskar Blues has historically had a DJ at certain times over the three day festival as well as its “Silent Disco”, Melvin Brewing Co. also had a DJ spinning tunes in front of a school bus—the brewery states that co-founder Jeremy Tofte lived in it for a year—and The Jameson Caskmates Barrel-Aged Beer Garden had a DJ as well, not to mention the karaoke singing one could do near the Collaboration section.

What was the longest line you stood in, and what did you try? 

Honestly, there were not that many long lines during this session—one of the main reasons I attended it—and there were none that were long enough to really comment on, with most averaging less than five minutes.

What was the weirdest thing you saw during Friday’s session?

How about some tipsy attendees dressed up as basketball players and trying to spin a basketball on their finger?

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