This year’s the Great American Beer Festival is the biggest yet! Since 1982, the Great American Beer Festival is presented by the Brewers Association, a not-for-profit educational and trade organization that is devoted to making quality brewing and beer information available to anyone and promotion & protection of craft beer and brewers.
Combined, our staff has been to 10+ GABFs, so we thought we’d share some tips:
There is ALWAYS a line to get in. It usually wraps around the convention center, so be prepared to wait. The Colorado Convention Center is notorious for having awful cellphone reception inside. Make alternate plans, rather than texting/calling from a large, LOUD convention hall with no signal, in order to coordinate with friends. Make sure you’re running on a fully charged battery, and bring that battery pack that you bought and don’t use too often. Meeting up with friends and hailing a ride share is extra hard with a low battery! Consider downloading the free GABF App for iPhone or Android, and decide on a specific meeting place beforehand.
Transportation: There is a Regional Transportation District (RTD) bus stop just a few blocks from the Convention Center, and the buses run until 1:00 am. Denver’s Light Rail is also a convenient option, with a stop directly in front of the Convention Center. Finally, Designated Driver tickets are available for a discounted rate.
This is a marathon not a sprint. You have 4.5 full hours to drink your way around the festival!
Yeah, people bring necklaces of everything from donuts, pretzels, cheese sticks, jerky, cereal, crackers, you name it….but that is more fashion than actual help soaking up all that beer. You need to be sure to eat before the festival, and plan on stopping to eat at the fest, or at least afterwards.
No really. Buy two bottles and drink one right before and the other right after the fest….and when you stop for food. Rinse your tasting cup and refill with water and chug that before you move on. Do this at least every few beers. Empty, clear, reusable, plastic water bottles are also permitted e.g., Nalgene bottles (32 oz. or less) – bring one and use it!
Have a Beer Plan
One year my husband could not attend with me, so I tried all of the music related beers possible and took pictures for him. I still remember System of A Stout from Beechwood BBQ. It was quite good! Another year I did all German beers. I specifically sought out any Gose (this was before they were really popular!), Altbier, Schwarzbier, Rauchbier, Berliner Weisse, Kolsch, Pilsner, and Helles I could find.
Hophead? Maybe consider all IPAs; though there are so many between WestCoast, NoCoast, NEIPAs (there are 706 entries in the new Hazy or Juicy category this year!), Pale Ales, Black IPAs (are those still a thing?), Wheat IPAs….the list goes on. You could easily have only hoppy beers for probably even multiple sessions.
Pro-Tip: Make sure to include the Pro-Am booth! There are always some great entries of all varieties and it’s worth the few minutes it takes to sample through them.
Don’t push, don’t take pictures of people without their permission, know your limits, and take care of yourself and your friends to help ensure everyone has an excellent time. #BeerLove
Get Your Beer and Get Out of the Way
Everyone is there to try beers. At GABF, all the beer is poured by volunteers, for the most part. There is no point in asking them about a beer they likely have no clue about. Get your beer and step to the side, so others can get some, too!
Tips for After the Fest
Denver can be downright cold at night. Some GABFs have seen attendees deal with temps in the 40s when the sessions end. Layers are your friend. Note: There is no coat check, lockers, and or backpacks allowed inside the fest.
Denver, with a population of less than 750,000, has to deal with 60,000 tipsy fest-goers. If you’re going out for food after, have a plan. Most places won’t take reservations, and Denver isn’t known for its all-night establishments, especially not after the Thursday night session. If you can, order takeout pre-fest and stash it in your room’s mini fridge. Thank me later.
Getting a rideshare/taxi after the fest can be a nightmare. Traffic is usually at a standstill out front when the sessions let out. Consider splurging for a pedicab to get you (close) to your hotel, or at least out of the madness and to a corner where you can more quickly get a rideshare/taxi. Note that pedicabs are typically cash only, but good for a short trip, and don’t forget to have enough to tip!
No really, don’t forget to stop and take in the whole thing. You’re in a sea of other craft beer lovers, at the freakin’ Great American Beer Festival! This is “one of the 1,000 things to do before you die”.
Stop and think about what you’re drinking….really enjoy the beers available from the over 800 breweries from across the nation (the first GABF had only 24 breweries!) Maybe even take notes, if you’re Beer Geeks like us!
Must Visit Local Breweries
- Hogshead. Go get something on cask. Go now. Have one for me.
- Great Divide is only a mile from the convention center.
- It is worth the cab fare out to The Source to visit the Crooked Stave taproom and the other amazing businesses located there.
- Wynkoop – The first craft brewery in Denver!
- If you want a Heavy Metal Beer, head to TRVE
- Prost Brought their entire brewing system over from Germany, and continue to use 100% German imported ingredients in their beers.
- Bierstadt Lagerhaus is yet another traditional German lager focused brewery. Denver lager lovers are a lucky bunch!
- It is a trek out to Aravada, CO but located in a historic house from 1864- a brewery (350bbls/yr) and Indian, Nepalese, & Tibetan Food all in one: Yak & Yeti Brewpub/Spice Trade Beer
- For all the bibliophile beer geeks, Fiction Brewing
Must Visit Local Businesses
- Falling Rock Taphouse is a must. Be prepared for it to get to capacity multiple times during the week.
- I love to go to Lucky Pie Pizza everytime I’m in town.
- Freshcraft is another must try. Be prepared for it get to max capacity multiple times during the week.
- Euclid Hall is another must try. Also check out their sister restaurants Rioja (Mediterranean & wine) and Bistro Vendome (French)
- The line around Sam’s No 3 every morning is there for a reason.
- Illegal Pete’s is a Chipotle-style fast Mexican spot that is a lifesaver.
- Check out the numerous restaurants up and down the 16th Street Mall.
Virginia is the Products, Programming, and Educational Director for Craft Beer Cellar. In addition to being a Certified Cicerone, she is an Introductory Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers. Her home base is Chicago, but she’s often found in the Boston area, or wherever her passion for good food & drink takes her.
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