The 20th Annual Great International Beer Fest – Your Quest for Beerducation

GIBFWhat international festival takes place every autumn, has lots of beer, good food, strong men and beautiful women? If you answered Oktoberfest, you’d be a couple thousand miles off … and in another country. No my friends, the festival I refer to is the Great International Beer Festival (GIBF) and competition. The GIBF comes to our fair city of Providence twice a year to rain suds down upon the parched palates of a couple thousand people in a single session and in autumn, tests the mettle of professional brewers the world over. This autumn heralds the 20th Great International Beer Fest and the 17th Great International Beer Competition.

The Quest

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to sample 250 beers from around the nation and the world. No big deal, right? You were the drinking master of your village back in the good ol’ days and you had that much for breakfast, right? If you’re really thinking that, you may be missing the point of the beer festival. One of the best things that a beer fest can provide you with is beerducation. What is beerducation? Is it a word I kinda’ made up? Well yes, but as someone who drinks his fair share and somehow found his way into a job where he gets to write articles about it, I say it is important to know what kind of beers you like, which ones you don’t like and why. A beer fest, such as the GIBF, is a fantastic opportunity to try tons of beer you’ve never had before without having to buy an entire bottle or 6-pack. You can also ask questions of the brewers and employees who work the tables. Don’t know what that odd taste is on the tip of your tongue? Ask. It’s probably some great interesting spice or ingredient you’ve never seen in a beer. Or someone slipped something in there – watch your glass.

The Map

I should probably tell you where your quest starts, shouldn’t I? The Great International Beer Festival takes place on November 9 at the Rhode Island Convention Center (1 Sabin St., Providence). There will be two sessions for you to complete your quest. The afternoon session takes place from 1 to 4:30 pm and the evening session takes place from 6:30 to 10:00 pm. You will need to pay to enlist in this quest, but the rewards will far exceed the paltry cost of $44 (plus $1 for shipping) for a ticket. Tickets can be purchased at

The Warriors

The following is an incomplete list of the breweries that will be attending. The complete list will be on

  • Local (RI):

◦                            Ravenous

◦                            Foolproof Brewing

◦                            Union Station

◦                            Trinity

◦                            Newport Storm

◦                            Grey Sail Brewing of Rhode Island

◦                            Narragansett

◦                            Blackstone Valley Brewing Supplies

  • Elsewhere

◦                            Offshore Ale Company

◦                            Samuel Adams

◦                            Guinness

◦                            Woodchuck Cider

◦                            Harpoon

◦                            Magic Hat

◦                            Paper City

◦                            Berkshire Brewing Company

◦                            Mayflower

◦                            Presidente

◦                            The Olde Burnside Brewing Company

◦                            Kennebec River Brewery

◦                            Sackets Harbor Brewing Company

◦                            Singha

◦                            Innis and Gunn

◦                            Blue Hills Brewing

◦                            Palm

◦                            Strangford Lough

◦                            Wormtown

◦                            Ipswich

◦                            Craft Beer Guild of New Hampshire

◦                            Stony Creek

Minstrels and Victuals

There will be various minstrels on site, each doling out their own brand of music for your enjoyment. The afternoon session will also include the awards ceremony, where the results of the previous day’s competition will be announced. There will be food vendors, such as Cabot Cheese of Vermont, as well as local restaurants if you need a bite to eat.

A Clash of Mash Paddles …

As with all great endeavors, there is always an element of competition driving practitioners to triumph over their peers. The Great International Beer Competition (GIBC) is no different. Unlike some school sports these days, not everyone gets a medal for entering the competition. Despite the fierce competition for only 44 categories of beer, the famous atmosphere of camaraderie permeates the competition. After all, the brewers come from far and wide to celebrate love for their craft.

The competition began in 1997 in the early days of the latest beer renaissance, and has been steadily growing in participation ever since. In 2005, there were only 195 entries in just 17 categories of lager, ale and cider. That number has since exploded to a gut busting 470 entries over 44 categories for the 2012 competition. While the opportunity to enter the competition does not close till October 28, the number of entries is projected to easily surpass the 2012 levels. Don’t get too excited yet since this is a pro-brewer only competition. However, the good news is that homebrewers are welcome to serve beer, but more on that later.

The judging of this event could be best thought of as a peer review. The judges are chosen from all three tiers of the beer distribution system – brewers, distributors and retailers. All three positions know their beer and are ideal to judge the entries. Experienced judges are mixed with novice ones to avoid bias, and no brewer can judge a category in which they have an entry. As someone who’s judged a competition before, I can tell you that being a beer judge is no walk in the park. It’s long hours of sipping, analyzing and debating, which can get very tiring after a day. The GIBC is no different. Flights of beer in a category are delivered to each judge who then tastes them and makes decisions based on the expected style, color, aroma, presentation and most importantly, taste. The judge then ranks the top three beers in that flight and repeats.

Homebrewers … Welcome!

Yup, it’s true! If you haven’t looked at the giant one-page ad lately, you might have missed the rather large text saying that homebrewers are welcome. I saw this tidbit earlier this year and decided to investigate what it meant. In short, you can apply to serve your homebrew at the festival and even get a few bucks doing it. There is a stipend of $100 to help with general costs. Homebrewers still cannot enter the competition, but for the opportunity to serve your beer at one of New England’s largest beer events, who’s complaining? To apply, you’ll need to download the exhibitor’s form from the GIBF website.

The Troll Under the Bridge

I have a confession – I wear craft beer as a proud badge on my sleeve and usually end up extolling its virtues in some capacity. But while I do hold true with the principles of craft beer and drinking local, there are times when I really enjoy an American lager produced by a macro brewery. There. I said it. Stop looking at me like that. The GIBF is similar in that respect. We both love beer, regardless of where it was made and who made it. Nowhere in the Great International Beer Festival title or doctrine does it make the distinction of craft beer. To put it in simple terms, all beers are welcome, all beers are loved.  There are two maxims that should be remembered: 1. Good beer has always been appreciated by beer lovers. 2. Good beer is in the palate of the be(er)holder. If you really want to be a cantankerous beer snob, you can go to any number of craft beer festivals throughout the year and talk shop with other patrons. GIBF is hardly the time or the place for that.

It’s Dangerous to Go Alone! Take This …

If you’ve never been to a large beer festival before, here are a few tips that will help you on your quest.

  • Don’t go on an empty stomach. There will be food there, but it’s a good idea to build up a good base.
  • Get in line early. Yeah, it sucks to wait in line, but you’ll get to the beer sooner than everyone else.
  • Plan your attack. Find that beer you’ve heard about and go to the brewer’s booth first.
  • Pretzel necklaces are a quick way to get a bite to eat. Make one beforehand.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk to brewers and anyone at a booth. Tell them what you like or dislike about their beer. They love feedback.
  • Pace yourself. The beer isn’t going anywhere and this isn’t a race.
  • Don’t drive. The main RIPTA terminal is just a stone’s throw away, and there are plenty of taxis in the city.
  • Be cool. Police will be on site making sure you don’t get yourself into trouble.
  • Be excellent. This is probably the most important piece of advice. We’re all there to enjoy beer.  

Mix A Six

  • Grab your Trachten wear! The Newport International Oktoberfest happens October 12 and 13. For tickets and info, go to:
  • The next RI Food Swap will happen November 10. Bring some homemade food or beer to swap with others. Enjoy some samples and good company while trading food. Bring a non-perishable item for the RI food bank. More information can be found at
  • Don’t forget that Beervana comes to Rhodes on the Pawtuxet, October 19. Tickets and info can be found at, and check out our story on page XX.
  • The Bucket Brewery buildout is on schedule and if all goes well will open early November.
  • All work and no play makes Chris a dull boy …
  • If you’ve got an event or note you’d like to see here, drop me a line at

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