By Evan West
This year was my first time attending Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado. This festival is the premiere showcase of American beers and hosts both a public tasting event and a private competition. There are more than 3,000 beers offered by over 700 different breweries from across the nation. The price of a ticket covers entrance as well as unlimited samples of beer via one-ounce pours over a span of five hours. This being my first year, I was a little nervous to attend such a massive convention with thousands of fellow beer enthusiasts. After successfully making it through the festival though, I have compiled this list to help other newcomers adapt quickly if they decide to attend GABF next year. Follow these seven easy tips and you’ll undoubtedly leave the festival with a full belly supplied by countless samples of suds and an unreasonable amount of pretzels.
1. Expect to wait in a massive line to enter. We arrived around 4:15 PM for the evening session of the last day. Doors opened around 5:00 PM but “open doors” meant literally to the venue. Once we were allowed in the venue, they filed the thousands of attendees into yet another line to get into the actual event. While this process went smoothly and was organized extremely well, don’t come expecting to waltz right in at 5 o’clock and start drinking beers. It took about an hour and a half of line waiting before I got my lips on that first taste of amber elixir.
2. Don’t bother waiting in all the long lines for brewery booths. While you may have to wait in line to actually enter the venue, it isn’t necessary to wait in line to drink beer. Big name breweries like Russian River or Dogfish Head may have quite the queue, but I guarantee that right next to them are lesser-known booths of bubbly beer waiting to be drank with little to no lines. I chose this method for the majority of my time at GABF; I waited in just a handful of lines for some popular breweries and stopped at countless smaller booths that offered equally delicious drafts.
3. Drink lots of water. Water stations seemed to be set up in almost as many locations as there were beer tents. Every time I turned around looking to head in a different direction, I met a water station at an intersection. Grab a cup, fill it up, and repeat as often as your stomach can handle. Follow this advice and you’ll surely avoid the seemingly inevitable headache that arrives the day after drinking 100+ different types of beer in one night.
4. Bring a DD. There are a few different options for safe transportation to and from the Convention Center if you are in the Denver area. You can ride the light rail, take an Uber/Lyft, or even walk if you’re close enough. But for those of us coming in from an hour or so outside of town, the best way to go is to designate a driver. DD tickets for patrons are only $25 as opposed to the $75 one pays as a drinker at the event. There are plenty of advantages to being a DD at the festival including free gifts, an exclusive place to lounge, and even free neck massages.
5. Don’t forget your pretzel necklace. This is a pretty simple one – if you want to look like you really know what you’re doing at GABF, string a bunch of pretzels together and wear it around your neck. Not only will you have an accessible snack for the entirety of the event, but you’ll also look like a bona fide beer nerd. I saw people that managed to string bagels, beef jerky, and even a croissant into their necklaces as well. Wear your food around your neck and you are bound to hold off those drunchies until you return home and can order a nice cheesy ‘za before bed.
6. BE NICE. This is a tip that I tend to think people should live by at all times, but it is especially true when at GABF. At the festival you are around a massive amount of enthusiastic drunk folks. This may be frustrating at times, but keep in mind that everyone is there for the same reason – to gather in a community of like-minded individuals and celebrate good beer. Remember this particularly when you are waiting in lines or asking for beer from volunteer pourers. No one wants to help an entitled, demanding dope.
7. Drink responsibly. You couldn’t have a beer festival how-to list without ending it on this standard slogan. It may seem overused and unnecessary, but it is something that can’t be repeated enough. It is easy to get overzealous in a world of endless beer, but I promise you will have a better time if you pace yourself and enjoy the experience. Blacking out two hours in won’t get you anywhere besides a drunk tank or the curb. Drink responsibly to ensure you and your fellow patrons all have a jolly good time at America’s largest and greatest beer festival.