In the weeks leading up to the Great American Beer Festival, I made a note of the breweries I wanted to visit. The list was populated with heavy-hitters—Dogfish Head, Russian River, Deschutes, The Bruery—and a few sentimental picks from upstate New York (where I grew up) and New Hampshire (where I went to school). The were 10 or 15 names in all. Then came the festival. I was so jazzed to get over to the Convention Center, I forgot the list on my desk.
As a member of the media, I was allowed into the festival half an hour early. And although that might sound like a wonderful perk, a few minutes after I entered the hall a voice boomed out of the Convention Center loudspeaker: No beer until 5:30 p.m. To kill time, I tried to remember the breweries on my list and figure out where in the hall they were located. I found Russian River. Although they wouldn't be pouring for another 20 minutes, there was already a line of at least two dozen people. Then I found Dogfish Head. The line was at least three-dozen deep. These breweries make damn good beer, but to me it seems silly to wait in such a long line. There are hundreds of other breweries pouring beer. And besides, even though it's pricey, I can pick up a bottle of Dogfish Head or Russian River at Argonaut just about any time of the year. What I should be doing, I thought, is searching for a hidden gem.
I kept wandering, and a few minutes before 5:30, I noticed that the 23rd Street Brewery from Lawrence, Kansas had started pouring. I walked right up, surveyed the choices, and asked for the Saison brewed with rye. Although I wouldn't place it in the same category as, say, a Russian River brew, this beer was tasty: crisp, with a medium body and a pleasant hint of rye. I savored the taster. That voice boomed over the loudspeaker: two minutes before opening. I walked past the Dogfish Head booth again. The line was even longer. I skipped it and went treasure hunting. Next year, when I'm making a list of breweries I'd like to visit, I think I'll just leave the giants off the list.
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