Is this your first rodeo? If so, then you won't be alone. The Boulder-based Brewers Association sold 55,000 tickets to this year's Great American Beer Festival -- and you'll feel like every one of those people is in line with you. Maybe it's not your first time, in which case you're probably going on Thursday or Friday rather than Saturday when the beer starts to dry up but the attendees are the most soggy. Either way, here are some tips to make it a better experience. Find the brewers Look for the badges that identify people at the booths as brewery employees. Although the Brewers Association, which puts on the festival, would love it if the breweries had a staffer on hand at all times, that doesn't happen. At some booths, however, you'll find the top dogs behind the table. Good spots for this are Dogfish Head, Samuel Adams, Brooklyn Brewing and several of your own Colorado brewers.
Ohhhhhh no! If you drop your tasting glass once and it makes a loud noise and everyone cheers, that's fine. If you do it more than once, then you're an idiot -- even if you are good looking.
Bling, Bling Oskar Blues bling -- empty beer cans strung with Mardi Gras beads and used as necklaces -- has become almost as ubiquitous as pretzel necklaces. They're fun, but if you really want to impress me, figure out a way to hang empty kegs around your neck.
Provisional Provisions Eat beforehand, or hit up one of Denver's nearby (read: walking distance) beer-themed bars afterward (examples include Euclid Hall, Freshcraft, Cheeky Monk and Colt & Gray), because you won't want to rely on the horrid vendors at the fest itself. Backup plan: There will be food trucks stationed outside the festival for the first time ever.
Have a Plan Don't just walk into the hall and start tasting. Okay, it's true: I've found some great beers via serendipity, but at least have an idea of some stuff you want to try. Otherwise, you will be immediately overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of beer and brewers on hand. Find a map and guide at the festival website.
Write it down Have a pen and paper, or better yet, buy Dave Seldon's pocket-sized beer journals (which will be for sale at the fest) to jot down your notes.
Pick your lines Don't wait in the Dogfish Head or Stone lines in you live in Denver. Beer lovers, you can buy those beers here any time you want. If you want to stand in line, head over to Short's or New Glarus or Three Floyds or Two Brothers or Bell's or Cigar City -- breweries that you can't try unless you visit another state. The exception: Alaskan Brewing beer are available in Colorado, but their booth will be featuring vertical tastings of its incredible Smoked Porter -- from 2000, 2008 and 2010.
Get Twitter Even if you just sign up for a few days, get Twitter! Then follow the breweries and beer bloggers you like. It's a good way to figure out what's going on inside the fest and when or if, anything is going on tap, from the people who are in the know. Example? Oskar Blues will be pouring this year's version of Ten FIDY, but only at certain times. Follow them on Twitter to find out when.
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Be polite Once you get to the front of a long line, get your sample and go. If you pound it and try to get another sample, you're a dick. The only exception is if the people around you are all doing it and being bigger dicks. Then, it's game on bro!
State Guild Booths Check out the state guild booths. They often have a lot of different beers from a particular state and aren't usually crowded.