I’ve been to a lot of beer festivals. I mean, A LOT of beer festivals. Honestly, most of them are bullshit. Local breweries with no special releases, poor access to water, limited tastings, and shitty food trucks. Some do it right and are worth the money. The vast majority, however, you’d be better served just going to a bar. Last week, I finally made it to the granddaddy of them all. The Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado. Over 800 breweries present, showcasing over 3500 different beers. If you’re a craft beer enthusiast, you’ve heard of it, you want to go, and you’re jealous as hell right now. I can feel it.
Craft beer enthusiasts must have a certain look, which is news to me honestly. I didn’t even mention the reason for my trip to the information desk. I was just asking how to reach the light rail, but they felt the need to let me know the taproom in Terminal A was having a tap takeover that started in 30 minutes. After telling off the old man, I went in the direction he pointed out and bitched to the bartender. How dare he assume I was a craft beer lover, right?! After a few tasty beers, I decided it was time to actually leave the airport and head to Downtown Denver and the first session of GABF.
Let me tell you, it was a blast! The event was extremely well organized and most of my main beefs with beer festivals absent. There were a few things they could have improved on, but I’d just be picking nits. I love picking nits, but I’ll let it slide this time. The event was founded in 1982, the same year I was born and I choose to believe that is no coincidence. After 34 years, they’ve got it pretty nailed down.
I was fortunate enough to be able to go to all 4 sessions, so by the end of Saturday, I was a seasoned pro. Should you find yourself in possession of tickets for 2017, here are some tips that might help you out
Download the App
The MyGABF app was truly a lifesaver. It contained a list of every brewery and beer location, let you check off the ones you’ve tried, and even type in tasting notes on ones you enjoyed enough to write home about. I didn’t do much rating or typing. My main use of the app was to make a list of the breweries that I just haaaaaaad to try. With 800 breweries present, their definitely needed to be a system. On the app you could look up which section each was in and check out a small map. They grouped some breweries by geographical regions, so if you even wanted to visit the Pacific Northwest for a big beer crawl, with just a little bit of imagination you could pretend you just had the trip of a lifetime.
It’s a good idea to eat when you’re drinking. Don’t have a huge meal, though. Eat just enough to satisfy you so that you’ll have something on your stomach to soak up some booze. If you have a huge meal, you’ll enjoy that extremely full bloated feeling before you even have your first sip of beer. There is food and snack available at the event if you forget, but they’re expensive and not very good. LOADS of people had pretzel necklaces. So if you’re creative, string together a few bites of hard dough and some string cheese and you’ll be good to go.
Get There Early
I hate waiting in line as much as the next guy, but this is one of the few times it’s worth it. The line can get crazy long in a hurry. Being first through the gates is hugely beneficial when you want to sample some of the more popular brews. Lines at booths can be dozens deep in a heartbeat and take a while to get through. Get there first and make a bee line to the breweries you added to your list on the MyGABF app. Once you’ve hit up your must tries, then you can wander around and sample the lesser known, but still amazing, beers.
Drink water dummy. They only give you an ounce at a time, so it takes a lot of effort to get hammered. Challenge accepted, right? Still, it’s a good idea to take a few sips of water every now and then. There are tons of hydration stations very clearly marked, so you’re never far away from hangover preventing H20. Okay, it won’t prevent a hangover, but it’ll make it suck less. Plus, it’s a good opportunity to rinse out the 10 beers worth of residue from your tasting glass.
Choose a section
And stick to it. Once you’ve hit up the breweries that were on your wish list, they’re all pretty similar after that. Pick a spot, and work your way down the booths. Drinking for 5 hours and not getting much of a buzz kind of sucks. The only real way to get the warm and fuzzies is to find a section that is a bit less crowded and get several shots in a row from the same brewery. You’ve probably never heard of them, but hey, if you had one IPA, you pretty much wanna try them all. Picking a less busy section will also give you more opportunity to chat up the brewers. Which bring me to my next point.
Get your pour and move on
70,000 people bought tickets to the GABF this year, and it seems like 60,000 wanted to bend the ear of every single brewer once they got to the front of the line. Hey jackass, I’m losing my buzz here. Get your passion fruit infused mocha IPA and move on. I’m sure if you ever visit the brewers tap room that he’d be more than happy to answer any and all questions you may have. For now, though, you’re really holding up the line.
The Great American Beer Festival is Nirvana for craft beer lovers. There couldn’t be a better city to host it in than Denver. With over 100 breweries and tap rooms, even if you didn’t score tickets to GABF, you still have a shit ton of options. I only hit up a few while I was there. You should warm up your liver after all. Crooked Stave and Black Shirt Brewing were stand outs in my mind.
A few other points to make your trip a bit easier if you ever find yourself in Denver. The Airport is massive. It has several tap rooms inside, so you have options if you need to stop and catch your breath. There is a light rail that runs from the Denver Airport all the way to Union Station downtown. It’s only $9, so save your Uber money and take the train. Union Station is also a popular selfie spot, so be sure to snap off a few before you check into your hotel. Avoid 16th St downtown. It’s a tourist trap lined with trendy shopping and chain restaurants. You should go to the outskirts to find the interesting places.
The Great American Beer Festival is truly THE event for any serious beer enthusiast and is 100% worth going to. Get a group together, book your plane tickets and hotels early, and be ready the nanosecond the tickets go on sale, because they go fast. Other beer festivals should take note, because the GABF is the kind and they do it right.