Last year was my first year at the Great American Beer Festival and I had no idea what to expect at the time. Sure, I’ve been to plenty of festivals before, but certainly none that came close to the size of GABF. Even more so I was totally unprepared for the effect that GABF had on the entire city of Denver. So to help get ready for the festival this year, here’s a few “do’s” and “don’t’s” to help you get through the madness.
DO: Arrive Early.
Last year I barely slept the night before our 6am flight to Denver and for the first 5 or 6 hours after landing the altitude really effected me. I had a splitting headache and felt very woozy until about 10 minutes before walking into the convention center. I managed to dodge a bullet but if I had arrived closer to the start time, most of that session would have been ruined. Arrive early (even a day or two if you can) so your body can acclimatize and you can explore Denver a bit.
DON’T: Wait in lines
Look, if you are flying into Denver from the middle of nowhere Minnesota and all you want is a pour of Pliny The Elder, then by all means, give it a try. But if you live in a community where you can get even moderately good craft beer (which nowadays is everywhere, right?), there is no excuse for waiting in 20 minute lines for a single ounce of any beer. There are literally over 3500 beers getting poured on the GABF conference floor! Forget about the overly hyped beers and find something that is just as good but you haven’t heard of before. Its a much more rewarding pursuit.
DO: Visit the local beer scene.
During GABF the best (and sometimes worst) breweries flood to Denver and basically hijack the entire town. Its one helluva fun experience, but you’ll also notice that some of the small local breweries get a little lost in the shuffle. So when you aren’t at the convention center its definitely worth checking out local spots like Hogshead Brewing, Trve Brewing or Prost. Hogshead Brewing in particular is a great local spot pouring excellent english-style ales on cask at their West Highland tasting room. Aside from a couple events Hogshead barely participates in the GABF festivities. That’s where you will find me during the daytime – perched on their patio with a proper pint of Chin Wag ESB.
DON’T: Forget to drink water between tasters
Its really hard to avoid drinking water at GABF – but I’m sure thousands of people manage to go the entire session without a single sip of H2O. Thankfully, GABF organizers go out of their way to make sure there are water stations every 100 feet or so on the floor. Most pouring stations don’t rinse your cup unless you ask them, so last year I got in the habit of stopping by a water station after every couple beers, rinsing my glass and downing a full cup of water. It kept me going much longer than normal and made me incredibly thankful the following morning.
DO: Think Beyond Beer
Yes, you have flocked to Denver for a week of great beer, but don’t forget there’s more to Denver (and life) than fermented grain water. First of all, there’s two fantastic cideries in Denver – Colorado Cider Company and Stem Ciders – each specializing in a different variety of hard ciders. Colorado Cider Co ferments clean and dry classic ciders, while Stem focuses much more on wild, funky and barrel-aged libations. Secondly (and more importantly), Denver is an incredible city with a ton of stuff to do. Get out of downtown and go for a walk around the lakes (ponds?) at Washington Park, or extend your trip a few days and go into the mountains for some hiking and fresh air in Breckenridge. After the sensory explosion at GABF, taking the time to decompress in the middle of nowhere is well worth it. Denver also has a bikeshare program where for only a few bucks you can rent a cruiser bike and explore Denver at your own pace. The rental stations are everywhere in downtown and absolutely worth the cost.
DON’T: Yell every time someone drops a cup
Just don’t do it. Its annoying. Seriously.
Over the last couple years I’ve heard more and more people complain that GABF is getting too big, too crowded and too overwhelming to enjoy and I think that’s absolute bullshit. Like anything else, its all about what you make of it, and if you spend all your time in the 3 block radius of the convention center and Falling Rock*, it might get a little bit tiresome. But if you get out, explore Denver for all it has to offer you’ll be sure to come back year after year.
* Falling Rock is amazing but its very easy to get trapped there with all the special tappings during GABF. Don’t worry, its okay to leave and check out some other spots in town.