If you’ve lived in Denver for a while and you like craft beer, chances are you’ve been to the Great American Beer Festival at least once — and maybe you're even a seasoned veteran. Chances are better that you now like to regale people with tales about how crowded the GABF is, how much better is was in the old days, how it’s not worth going to since there are so many awesome events around town, how it’s full of drunken douchebags. And you’re right — sort of. GABF is all of that. But it is also an amazing feat of organization, planning and dedication, a once-in-a-lifetime bucket-list event for many out-of-towners and the biggest, most sophisticated beer festival in the world.
And while there are dozens of breathless lists out there for how to tackle your first GABF — I’ve written plenty of them myself — there aren’t any for how to tackle your third or fifth or tenth or twentieth. That's why this list is indispensable! And also a little tongue-in-cheek (since lists were so much cooler back in the old days).
Whatever. Go to the fest, check your cynicism at the door of the Colorado Convention Center and join me on this tour showing how even the jaded can regain some of their enthusiasm and enjoy GABF again.
Just kidding — you already knew that. That’s the first item on most first-timers' lists, but really, you only have to have been hung over once in your life to realize that it’s important to drink water when you're pounding beers. So here’s the real tip: Use the pitchers of water at the booths to rinse your glass and then pound that mixture of backwash and agua. It will gross a few people out and keep you feeling edgy and hydrated.
For Christ’s sake, you’re not a spring chicken anymore. The Brewers Association, the event's organizer, thankfully added a plethora of tables and chairs when they expanded their square footage a couple of years ago, and it was one of the best improvements they've made to the fest. But don’t sit for too long. You are shark. Sharks keep moving or they die.
Accept the fact that everyone is going to be drunk, including you. Sorry, that is just what happens. Yes, you are going to get blindsided by two drunken assholes in inflatable beer hats. Yes, a cute girl is going to cut in line. Yes, there will be people yelling and dropping their cups and generally acting like idiots. Have you been to a Rockies game recently? Same deal. So understand it, accept it and move on.
Go to the Seminars
Some are kind of boring and most hard to hear because of the constant dull roar of the crowd. Also, it’s not easy to sit in class while people are raging around you and drinking up all the rare beers. But you should still sit there and get educated. It will be cool, and after about fifteen minutes, you will regain your desire to walk around the fest.
Embrace the Pretzel Necklace
Are you too cool for pretzel necklaces? Me, too. Um, except for last year. When a friend made me put one on, I huffed and I puffed and rolled my eyes. And then I ate some pretzels. They really are delicious with beer. So, just in case you want to pretend you're hitting your first GABF, here are two ways to up your pretzel game: Quickly order the bandolier in the picture above, because it's the baddest-ass pretzel accessory I've ever seen, or head to Strange Craft Beer Company before the GABF session on Thursday, October 5, when the brewery will tap a salty pretzel beer and host a pretzel-necklace-making seminar.
Buck the Trends
If you can’t stand waiting in lines, then don’t! Go to some other brewery’s table — some place you’ve never heard of. Maybe the beer will suck. Maybe it will be great. Who knows?
Cheer When People Drop Their Glasses
Is this the thing that drives you the most nuts about GABF? Why? It’s a very old tradition, so it should make you happy if you like to complain about how much better the old days were. Yes, it gets dumb after a while, but sometimes you have to succumb to the dark side. When I was a kid, my dad told me he liked to root for the bad guys in horror movies because it made it less scary. He also cheered for Darth Vader because no one else did, and then he didn’t have to worry about Luke all the time. That’s kind of an extreme position. GABF glasses aren’t Darth Vader; they're just glasses. Go ahead and cheer.
Head to the Outskirts
Just in case you don’t know this yet: Some of the best parts of the festival are in the corners, away from the crowded aisles. They include the cheese booth (go early or don’t bother), the Heavy Medal section (where previous medal winners are being poured) and the state guild booths (where Sean Lawson himself repeatedly poured me samples of Sip of Sunshine last year at the Vermont table).
Go With a Friend Who's Never Been
If there's one way to regain a sense of enthusiasm, it’s to attend GABF with someone seeing it for the first time. Look deeply into their eyes and see the reflection of your old self. That person is going to be jumping around like a puppy chasing a chipmunk. Channel that puppy.
If you just can't stand it, then let someone else have your ticket. If you love beer, there are hundreds and hundreds of other tappings and events around town this week. See them all in our GABF Week calendar.
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