Two weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in Denver, Colorado for my third year in a row. The GABF is a collection of American breweries and their best beer at the Colorado Convention Center for the enjoyment of 49,000 imbibers over a three day period. I have enjoyed beer and more specifically craft beer since I’ve been of legal age (perhaps a bit before to be completely honest), I’ve been a home brewer for 4 years and generally appreciate all things beer. This year’s GABF was particularly exciting for me as it marks the first time that a real time social media network (namely twitter) has been widely used by the public. I have been on twitter before it was mentioned on every morning show and NPR broadcast but I can’t say I had used it to it’s full potential, kind of how a pool party isn’t as much fun without someone to splash around with. This year’s GABF had me excited to see how social media would enrich the experience.
Breweries all around the country have embraced twitter as a very effective medium to interact with their users for quite a while now. I follow many of my favorite breweries to find out what is coming out on tap, what they have in their tasting room or just generally how much fun they’re having. Some examples to pay particular attention to are Odell, Sierra Nevada, New Glarus, Cascade Brewing, and Free State. I love hearing what these breweries have to say and I know that they’re going to tell me all about the very best they have to offer but at an event where there are 457 breweries I have to edit somewhat and I want to know what the users of the event suggest. In this case I want user generated suggestions for what to drink.
I happened to show up in Denver a few days early to spend some time with family. The GABF runs one session nightly on Thursday and Friday and two sessions on Saturday. I had tickets for the Friday night and the Saturday afternoon session so I was spending time with my niece and nephew while the first thirsty crowd attacked the Colorado Convention Center Thursday night. About 10:30, when the GABF was shutting down, I fired up my Tweetdeck to make a search for #GABF and see what the users were saying. I was not disappointed, I was fed a steady stream of people that were overjoyed with their experience and more than willing to share their favorite breweries and hidden gems. I didn’t necessarily write down every suggestion I saw but if I saw a suggestion more than once I made a special note of it. I created a to-do list on my phone with an attack plan of must drink breweries so I could check them off as I stumbled through the fest.
Now I should mention here that I like to think that I know beer and I don’t typically need help finding good things to drink, but this years GABF, with the help of Twitter, was amazing. Armed with the suggestions of fellow twitterer’s I felt I had the secret map to the 2009 GABF. I felt truly ninja-like when I was able to suggest to my group of friends a small brewery in the middle of an area we would typically never venture to and have it turn out to be a dynamite suggestion. Typically, I would walk by many of these “hidden gems” in order to visit a larger brewery that may not distribute in my region that already has plenty of buzz around them. In previous trips to the GABF I would rely on either my previous knowledge of a brewery’s work or I would listen to what a few friends that had been there in the nights before. Now with twitter, I had literally, hundreds of friends’ opinions on the best things to drink.
I’d like to tell you at this point that I spent a good portion of my evenings at the GABF reciprocating the sage advice and secret handshakes to the next evening’s patrons. I have to admit that I did not. My twitter contributions to the people following the #gabf feed over my time spent there consisted of slurred ravings and blurred photo’s snapped from my phone and twitpic’d. I’m not proud to say that I went there and used the great advice but did not reciprocate. I ended up spending the bulk of those nights with my friends that were there with me talking through social media 1.0. In a way, I guess this is how web social media is designed, you don’t have to give and take equally for it to be a valuable platform.