As with many things, the second time around isn’t always as magical.

It’s amazing how jaded one gets in the course of a year. Last year, I was a wide-eyed Great American Beer Festival Virgin. I was still a couple of months away from opening the doors of my own brewery so I was also a Small Business Virgin. The whole project so far had been a morass of contractors, inspections, delays, cost overruns and a lot of “maybes.”

I entered the vast arena filled with rock stars, media, people who Really Loved Beer and those who served them and was gobsmacked by the whole thing.

I played Serious Fan Grrrl, annoying the likes of Sam, Bill, Garret and others with my refrain of: “Omg can I please please get my picture with you?”

It was fun.

This year was different. For one thing, I was exhausted before I got there. I’m not complaining mind you. This year has been an amazing and fantastic run of fun. But the hard core reality of owning a small business — even one that deals in alcoholic beverages — is that each day is a challenge to stay afloat, stay relevant, stay solvent, stay calm and stay sane.

And fall is our busiest season. But we had beers in the contest and I had people to catch up with, so I hopped on that plane on Friday (instead of Thursday) and emerged into the really beautiful Denver International Airport ready for a party.

I found one.

After a quick lunch at Wahoos (you must go there and eat the fish tacos), I practically fell right into Sam’s lap as I got to the top of the long escalator from the brewer’s entrance. My lunch date, Fred Bueltmann, marketing owner of New Holland and my personal beer guru, neglected to mention that the little “committee meeting” he was attending included the likes of all my beer crushes. Thanks Fred.

Over the course of the next two days I met a PhD in Brewing (a lovely, very tall and blond German guy), ate bone marrow at Euclid Avenue (you must go there — avoid the marrow), jammed to a great country band at the Star Bar (note to self: when it’s 2 a.m. Denver time, do not switch from beer to bourbon) and sat through three hours of awards with a wicked bad hangover. I did not get to go up and thank the Academy but that’s OK. There’s always next year.

Indiana as a state was the Big Winner this year, mainly thanks to Sun King Brewing in Indianapolis who swept a ton of awards. Michigan received four awards: Bells, Right Brain, New Holland and Bastone.

I wore my Block M hat on Saturday, because I must, otherwise Michigan won’t win (I have that sort of power). Got plenty of “go Blues” a few “go Greens” and a smattering of “Michigan sucks” from Ohio types.

While pouring Wolverine Premium Lager at the Michigan Brewer’s Guild table on Friday (after a couple of hours of drinking at Rock Bottom) I even got to try out my “attitude” with a few of the similarly inebriated folks who’d wander up and be all: “Hey I can’t drink that s***, I’m a Spartan.”

To which I replied, smiling: “You’re right. You can’t handle it. Move along.”

I left resolved to ramp it up next year with a booth, a contingent (dare I say “entourage?”), a sponsored off-site party (no marrow) and an award. So while Year Two didn’t have the shiny, glittery appeal as Year One, it will only lead to Year Three: Wherein Wench and the Wolverine take Denver by storm.

The 2012 Great American Beer Festival will be held October 11-13. Maybe it will snow. The past two years it’s been 85 or more degrees. For more info on winners and how to get tickets for next year go to www.greatamericanbeerfestival.com. For the top 10 things “not to do” at the festival, hit www.a2beerwench.com.