11 Things I learned at the Great American Beer Festival


It’s been over a week since the Great American Beer Festival, and I’m happy to report I’ve almost fully recovered from my hangover (the good kind). I’m still riding high on a wave of blondes, pilsners, sours, porters, IPAs, reds, and saisons. My first year at GABF was a success, a memorable evening I’ll cherish until the next festival comes around.

Amid my frenzied beer sampling, I did pick up a few new tips to build on my pre-gaming knowledge, some of which verified or refuted what I had heard. For those who plan to attend GABF in 2018, here are some helpful things to keep in mind as you prepare.

Download the GABF App to Help with Research

With the number of breweries and beers at GABF, it’s pretty much impossible to try everything. This is why doing research ahead of time is essential. We used Untappd  to find some of the top breweries in the country, and their best beers, and then compared those results to the breweries listed in the GABF app. If we found a brewery we wanted to try, we added it to our list in the app. Once at the event, we could check off the breweries we had visited right from our phones, and rank the beers we tried, too.

Some of my beer selections at GABF

If you don’t know breweries very well, you can search on the beer styles you like. The GABF app allows you to narrow down your options by categorizing all the beers into groups like “Dark Side of the Brew,” “Sour Puss,” “Wheat Your Whistle” and “Hip Hops Hooray.” The app makes it easy to find the breweries that make the style of beer you like.

Some of the beer styles in the GABF App

Use the Bathroom at the Entrance

In my previous post, I mentioned that bathroom lines can get very long. Knowing this ahead of time, I decided to hit the bathrooms early. Right after your ticket is scanned, before you go up the escalators, head to the restrooms on the first floor. There was no line.

I will admit that the bathroom situation was not as bad as it was made out to be. The one time I used the bathroom on the showroom floor, the line went super fast and my friends and I were in and out in less than 10 minutes.

Don’t Wait Too Long for One Brewery

There are some breweries that are more popular than others, and, as a result, the lines to try those beers tend to be much longer. The lines move relatively fast, but I would recommend heading to less crowded tables to see what they’re serving up. You might find something you really love that you wouldn’t have tried otherwise. If you’re adamant about trying a particular brewery, you can always go back later to see if the line has subsided.

Visit the #BeerTravel Section

New to GABF this year, #BeerTravel was a special section on the floor where convention and visitors bureaus promoted their beer culture and tourism. You can discover some great #beercation destinations, get some fun swag, and enter to win trips to these hot beer cities. If you’re looking for some travel inspiration, this is a must-stop spot.

Beer Travel at GABF
The Beer Travel section

Don’t Worry About Getting to Every Booth

I added close to 30 breweries to my list in the GABF app, but I probably made it to half of those. At first, I was disappointed I didn’t get to try everything I wanted. Rather than obsess over it, I decided to add those missed breweries to a growing list of places I need to visit in person. I’m planning a few beercations for the coming year, and it’s only fitting to make a stop at these breweries in their home towns.

Admire the Booth Designs

Brewery personalities are on display in the booth designs. Some have more space than others, and can really show off their creativity. Even those with one table still highlighted their beers in distinct ways. Some of my favorites were Fate Brewing Company, Shorts Brewing Company and Uinta Brewing.

Uinta Brewing at GABF
Uinta Brewing booth display
Fate at GABF
Fate Brewing Company
Shorts's at GABF
Shorts Brewing Company
Short's at GABF
Short’s Brewing Company

Leave Before Last Call

Since this was my first GABF, I felt I had to make the most of it and stay until the very end. I soon realized that’s not the best idea. About half an hour before last call, many  breweries were rationing their beer supplies to make sure they had enough for the next day. As a result, most weren’t pouring fresh pitchers, or they weren’t serving certain beers at all.

Another bonus of leaving a little early: fewer crowds and less traffic. Leaving when we did meant battling for a Lyft ride with thousands of other people. If you decide to make it until last call, head further away from the convention center to grab a ride.

Go Crazy with the Pretzel Necklaces

Bringing a snack along was definitely a helpful tip. I was very happy to have my pretzel necklace to satisfy my hunger pangs. What I didn’t realize was how elaborate people can go with these things. I saw everything from sausage links and cheese cubes to bags of goldfish and candy. Clearly, this is the opportunity to take that pretzel necklace to a whole new level. I guess my idea about cheez-its and saltines wasn’t so weird after all.

Definitely Dump Your Beer

After a couple hours at GABF, it became very clear that most people were drinking every drop of their beer samples. Even though you only get a one-ounce pour, imagine having 20 pours in less than an hour? That can hit you quickly, especially if you’re drinking the high-alcohol beers. If there’s a beer you don’t really like, it’s perfectly acceptable to dump it out. There are dump buckets at nearly every table. If you like every beer you try, then pace yourself. As I mentioned before, this is a marathon not a sprint.

Don’t Drop Your Cup

There’s the obvious sanitary concerns with dropping your cup on a dirty floor that thousands have walked on. But that’s not even the main reason to hold tight to that cup. If you should drop it, the plastic container will bounce ever so loudly off the cement floor, causing everyone in the vicinity to scream “Ohhhhhh” as you bend down to quickly snatch it up. Nothing makes you turn beet red more than strangers calling you out for being clumsy. It’s a common practice at GABF that now I am painfully aware of, and was happy to partake in.

Hold on to your cup

Dress Up

Clearly I missed the memo about GABF being a platform for people to test out their Halloween costumes. We saw priests and cowboys, princesses and boy scouts, and beer girls galore. It was wildly entertaining to see what people came up with, and how others reacted to their costumed counterparts. Apparently I need to prepare my costume for next year.

Costumes at GABF
We didn’t have outfits, so we grabbed these from one of the breweries.

I had a blast at my first GABF! I couldn’t have asked for a better group to go with, and all the advice I received definitely improved my experience. Now that I’ve lived through one festival, I’m fully prepared for the next one. If you’re interested in attending, GABF 2018 is set for September 20-22. Tickets go on sale mid-summer (dates to be announced). If you want to have access to the GABF pre-sale, join the American Homebrewers Association.

Did you attend GABF this year? What tips did you learn?

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Things I learned at GABF

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