The Great American Beer Festival can be daunting. After all, there are 2,200 beers on tap from 462 breweries all over the country, and the three-day event takes place in a massive convention hall filled with 49,000 of sweating, drunk, pretzel-wearing hopheads.
Do: Make a beeline for New Glarus. This one must be everyone's guilty pleasure, because their raspberry tart and cherry beers seem to run out early every year.
Do: Look for breweries competing in the four new categories that were included in the judging this year (there are a total of 79, along with a couple dozen sub-categories). To see them all, along with full descriptions, log on to the GABF website here. The new ones are: American-style India black ale, Wood and Barrel Aged Strong Stout: Field Beer (using vegetables) and, of course, Pumpkin Beer. How was this not a category yet?
Do: Look for brewery bigwigs -- on Thursday, especially, but on other days as well. While most of the people pouring beer are local volunteers unaffiliated with the breweries they are pouring for, Dogfish Head's Sam Caglione loves to mingle. So do a few others. Keep an eye out for these craft-beer rock stars at the pouring table and around the hall.
Do: Check out the Collaborative Evil trail, an annual experiment carried out during the fest by a coalition of eight breweries; each year, the breweries all enter their version of a particular style -- this year, it's an imperial or Baltic porter -- in order to showcase the diversity of brewing styles, techniques and ingredients. Maps will be available so that people can find the beers in the hall and find out about the unique ingredient or technique that was used. Participating breweries include: the FiftyFifty and Triple Rock breweries in California; Nebraska's Lucky Bucket; and Oregon's Oakshire Brewing.
Don't: Wear this year's GABF T-shirt. You can wear T-shirts from previous festivals, but don't sport this year's tee until next year, dork.
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Don't: Pound a couple samples from the first brewery you see. One ounce of beer doesn't seem like a lot, but you'll be amazed by how fast those one-ounce tastes add up. Pick and choose. You'll be drunk soon enough, I promise.
Don't: Forget to make a list before you go of the breweries you want to hit. I guarantee you'll get distracted along the way, but at least you'll have a general outline of who you want to taste and where to find them in the hall.
Don't: Drive. There should be taxis lined up outside the Colorado Convention Center, but just in case, the Hyatt, Hilton, Sheraton and Crowne Plaza hotels are all located within a block or three of the convention center. If there are not cabs already at these hotels, the staff will gladly call one for your stumble-drunken ass, even if you're not staying there. Believe me. I know.