Note: The post was first published in October 2017, after my first Great American Beer Festival (or GABF for short). It was originally titled: “Lessons Learned at My First Great American Beer Festival”. While staying the same, this content has been updated for this year’s beer festival.
Whoa. The Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado BLEW MY MIND.
I mean I had an idea what to expect, but nothing prepares you for the sounds, energy, and beer that fills the halls of the Colorado Convention Center every year.
I read through dozens of blog posts from my fellow beer bloggers and was even blessed with an incredible spreadsheet from my good (and highly-organized) friend, Robert of Brewing Matters, but the experience is something that is unique to every attendee, myself included.
Check out this short video we made from the Great American Beer Festival, to get an idea of all the craziness that goes down every year in Denver.
With that being said, there are still some things I think every first-timer should know and consider. And take it from me and the lessons I learned my first year at the Great American Beer Festival:
Tips for The Great American Beer Festival
1. One way or another, make a plan
The Great American Beer Festival (GABF) had 3,900 beers from 800 breweries and several booths and pavilions this year. So you can easily understand how doing it all would be damn near impossible, if not completely exhausting.
And that’s why you need a plan. But there’s so many good ideas and methods to have a great GABF experience.
Here are some of my favorite to get you started:
- Regional – There’s breweries from all across the United States at the Great American Beer Festival (hence that name!) and it’s a great time to taste beers from places you’ve never been/will never go. This is the game plan I adopted for the first session at GABF and I visited a ton breweries in the Midwest and Great Lakes areas.
- By Style – This could be really fun with a bit of imagination. With planning your sessions by style, you’ll have to do quite a bit of research. So if that’s your thing, you’ll have a blast experiencing the GABF this way.
- Recommendations – Be social and ask for recommendations from the people pouring your beer! It can lead you to some really great gems and some awesome new, ‘under-the-radar’ breweries!
2. Bring snacks
I thought I was creative with my beer necklace at this year’s Texas Craft Brewer’s Festival, but there were plenty of folks at GABF who gave me a run for my money.
Since most of you going to the beer fest will be traveling into Denver, I suggest waiting until you get to town to stock up on the snacks. Unless you’re bringing something fun and creative, you can load up on most of the essentials for your necklace at a local drugstore.
However, it’s a great idea to bring pre-cut ribbons or strings, since those are harder to find.
Also, plan accordingly: the Great American Beer Festival is three days and four sessions long.
3. Saving time for seeing friends
The Great American Beer Festival is a magical beer festival that has been going on annually in Denver, Colorado for 36 years!
With the rise of craft beer, this festival only continues to grow in both size and attendance. In 2017, the festival hosted a recording-breaking 60,000 attendees.
So naturally, a lot of your friends from the beer world are going to be there. Many of your favorite brewers, beer bloggers, beer trading pals, and community friends will be there.
So to make time for seeing all your friends, plan to visit local business (and Denver breweries, duh) around town during the day. Or plan to meet up in line for a beer release.
Most importantly, don’t forget to say hi to your local brewers! (Or the new brewers in your old hometown!)
They’ve busted their butt to get here, both the big and small ones, and they’re always more than excited to meet people from back home.
4. Keeping track of all the beers you try
So many serious beer drinkers have a system to track all the beers they drink, usually it’s UnTappd. However, at beer festivals, especially the Great American Beer Festival, it’s difficult using the app to track every tasting with a review.
What’s easiest, I’ve found, is taking a picture of your taster right next to the corresponding info cards on the booths’ table. Then when you have the time later, you can go through and add them to the app!
This is how you stay off your damn phone and enjoy the experience and sounds of the biggest beer festival in the states! (This is a method I find very effective for Instagram Stories)
5. Finally, pace yourself, before you wreck yourself!
There’s thousands of beers at the Great American Beer Festival, and also unlimited 1 ounce pours of beers from across the nation.
You’re gonna want to pace yourself for a few different reasons:
- The beer festival fills out the Colorado Conference Center and is an intimidating 379,000 square feet of beer taps and pavilions. Take your time, take breaks to sit down, and drink plenty of water, and you’ll keep feeling great all night long.
- They don’t call Denver, Colorado the Mile High City for nothing! But’ let anything you hear about the mile-high altitude scare you too much. The air is just thinner and dryer. Still, watch how much you drink because alcohol does effect you stronger in higher altitudes!
- And finally, don’t forget it’s beer and there are going to be drunk people there! People who will cut in line, people who stumble into you, etc. Just have a good time and know that that comes with the territory!
What other tips would you suggest for first-timers at the Great American Beer Festival? Let me know in the comments! Also, feel free to ask for any advice on attending the best beer festival in the world :)