Every year, a hoppy event takes place in my home town. And the time for that event has finally arrived. The Great American Beer Festival (GABF) is here. From October 5-7, thousands of beer lovers will descend on the Colorado Convention Center to taste the latest and greatest brews from some of the country’s most innovative brewers. And this year, I will be there.
That’s right. It’s true. I have never attended GABF before, and 2017 marks my first year. I won’t get into the details of why I’ve never been (usually comes down to the fact that tickets sell out insanely fast or I wasn’t in Denver at the time), but fate was finally on my side this time.
As much as I’ve heard about GABF, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect or how to prepare. So, I reached out to friends and colleagues who had gone before to get some insight. Some of the advice may be pretty obvious, and some might not be, but here are just a few tips I learned from them. (Note: I will be doing a follow up piece after GABF to let you know how accurate/helpful these tips were.)
Research Your Beer
In 2016, over 3,800 beers were served, poured from 780 U.S. breweries (And even more will be there this year). That’s A LOT of beer. It’s suffice to say I won’t get to taste all of them in one session. Luckily, GABF lists all the beers that will be on tap at the event ahead of time, allowing attendees to select their top, must-try beers and weeding out any they think they can miss (but let’s face it, there aren’t many I want to skip). The list is long, but as a dedicated craft beer drinker, I will go through all of them to find my must-haves. Narrowing down the selections will make my experience much more manageable and enjoyable.
Study the Map
The Festival Hall is broken out into eight U.S. regions: Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Rocky Mountain, New England, Pacific, Pacific Northwest, Southeast and Southwest. Amid the beer booths are different pavilions for presentations or meet-and-greets with the brewers. According to sources, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But if I do my research (refer to tip #1) and know where my top beers are located, I should be able to navigate the floor with ease – pending any traffic issues.
One tip nearly everyone told me was: “Don’t stop at the very first booth!” When you get through the doors, it’s tempting to grab the first beer you see, but that’s a recipe for a bottleneck disaster (pun intended). Nearly everyone advised approaching the booths from the back to the front. Head for the furthest booths from the entrance and go from there. Now, you could argue that numerous people will do the same thing, creating crowds everywhere. But another piece of advice I received was not to wait in a long line. There are plenty of beers to try, no need to waste time waiting in line when a perfectly good brew is within reach at the next booth.
Don’t Carry a lot of Stuff
I think this is sage advice for any festival. It’s frustrating to juggle bags and jackets while simultaneously sipping various beers. There isn’t a coat check at GABF, so if I wear a jacket, I’ll be carrying it (or wearing it) the whole time. Not ideal. Also, GABF doesn’t allow large beach bags or backpacks, so smaller items are really the only option. My plan of action is to bring a small clutch with my essentials (I.D., credit card, cash). The weather is looking mild this weekend, so fingers crossed no heavy jackets are needed.
Eat Before You Go
Concessions are available at GABF, but the food lines can get very long, so I’m told. If you don’t want to wait, grab a bite before going into the convention center. There are numerous quick service spots nearby selling filling food items. Considering the doors open at 5:30, I might have to make my pre-meal a super late lunch.
Bring a Snack (or Three)
This is pretty obvious, but it’s worth repeating. Food is essential at a beer festival. Even if you eat ahead of time (refer to previous tip) or grab some concessions onsite, it’s still good to have a few snacks handy to satisfy and hunger and somewhat cleanse your palate between brews. I know pretzel necklaces will be everywhere, and I’m planning to make one myself. But really any cracker or salty snack will help sop up that beer. I’m a fan of cheez-its, but those will likely mess with my palate. Best to have something subtle, like saltines, pretzels or nuts.
Toss Your Beer
I know, it sounds absurd to throw out beer at a beer festival. However, GABF is a whole different animal. With so many beers to try, it’s nearly impossible to finish every drop. Even if you narrow down your selection, it can be a lot to drink. It’s perfectly acceptable to take a few sips and then toss the rest. I plan on implementing this tip often – unless I find a beer I just cannot bring myself to throw out.
Disposable Urinals Are Your Best Friend
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. But my friend had some sound logic behind this one. The lines for the bathrooms can get insanely long, especially the women’s. Men have the benefit of being able to go pretty much anywhere, as long as they have a corner and something to go in. Women don’t have the same luxury. Her thought process was that if you have a portable, disposable urinal (the same ones you see advertised for camping), then women wouldn’t have to wait for the bathroom and easily continue with their drinking. I’ll admit, I’m not sure I’ll take her up on this, but it’s intriguing. I’m curious to see if anyone else does it.
This is the advice I now have in my wheelhouse, and I’m sure after my experience at GABF, I’ll have much more. But for now, I’ll go forth with the knowledge I have, and tackle my first GABF as best I can.
And if you’ll be there…cheers to a successful Great American Beer Festival!
Have you ever been to GABF? What advice do you have?
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