15 Tips for Attending the Great American Beer Festival

Whether it is your first time or your 10th time to GABF, there are a few things that you should consider before you go. Here are 15 tips and suggestions to help make your visit successful and pleasurable.

1. Drink Water

This is probably the more important thing to do, besides enjoying the beer and one great thing about GABF is the plentiful amounts of water. There are pitchers at the booths, which are constantly filled. There are water coolers almost everywhere you look. There is no excuse not to drink plenty of water during the event. Generally, I just down the water I use to rinse my tasting glass. Thinking back on last year, I likely drank at least 2 servings of water for every serving of beer.

2. Eat

Eat before, after, and maybe even during the festival. Food will help counteract the impact of the alcohol in your system.

Don’t go to the festival on an empty stomach. You won’t be able to drink much before getting sick or you’ll waste your time waiting for over-priced food instead of exploring the massive convention hall.

In 2010, I was running late so I just grabbed a couple of slices of pizza and ate them while I walked over to the convention center. Whatever it takes, eat before. By the end of the festival, each night I’m usually hungry again so I just head over to Euclid Hall, Freshcraft, or The Cheeky Monk.

When you’re eating, try to eat iron rich food, such as beef and spinach. The iron content of these foods helps you acclimate to the high altitude.

3. Arrive early and bring ID

The line to get in can take you up to 45 minutes to get through. If you arrive 45 minutes to an hour early you’ll spend you time waiting for the opening instead of wading through the line. The less time you’re in line after the doors open, the more time you spend inside.

You will not be allowed to enter without identification so don’t forget it.

4. Not allowed: backpacks, outside food, bottles, cans

Leave your backpack at home, it won’t be allowed in. You can, however, bring in a small over-the-should camera bag or purse.

Outside food and drink is not allowed. You will have to dump it before you enter. The exception to the food rule is pretzel jewelry.

5. Make a pretzel necklace

The exception to the food rule are pretzel necklaces because they are considered jewelry or a part of your costume. Some folks might think these are tacky and annoying but I think it is a great way to have a sack at your disposal throughout the festival. After all, eating will help minimize the affects of the alcohol.

6. Don’t drop your cup/glass

You only get one and if you break it, you won’t be able to get a replacement. It can also cause a huge ruckus because everybody around you tends to yell out when a glass is dropped and this noise carries in the huge festival hall.

If you need help not dropping your glass, buy a tasting glass holder. These are usually a ring with a lanyard attached. I bought mine from Brew Caddy and these are usually for sale at the festival. I would, however, recommend getting them before the festival in case they sell out.

7. Don’t yell out when somebody else drops their cup

It’s annoying. Set a good example and just don’t do it. Although, if you witness a glass getting broken during the Saturday members only afternoon session, it is hard to resist saying, “awww.” Because , well, it’s sad.

8. Wear a costume

One great aspect of the GABF is the number of people wearing creative costumes. Some are as simple as creative matching t-shirts and others are as elaborate as a full beer-pint body suit. Check out my article on the Costumes of the 2010 Great American Beer Festival.

9. Take notes on paper

Last year I insisted on using my smartphone to take notes but by the end of the night I was out of power. I was fully expecting this and brought along a charger but who wants to be hanging out in the corner waiting for their phone to charge? This year, paper notes.

You might also consider a beer notebook. There are all sorts of beer taking notebooks available and some of them like 33 Beers are usually available for purchase at the festival itself. 33 Beers was developed with the Great American Beer Festival in mind so I’ll be picking up a few notebooks this year.

Update (Sept. 10, 2016): Alternatively, bring a backup battery charger for your phone. If/when reception is spotty in the convention hall, as you may know, it will drain your battery faster than normal. I really like my RavPower 6700 ($15 on Amazon), it holds about 2+ full charges. On a busy day, I’ll drain down the charger but arrive home late with 75% or more charge on my phone.

10. Have a plan

There is much more beer than you can drink in 3 days. There are over 450 breweries serving over 2000 different beers. In order to maximize your time at the festival, you should have a game plan. Here are some game plan ideas:

  • Try only one style of beer from as many breweries as possible.
  • Focus on a particular region.
  • Visit the popular breweries not available in your area.
  • Go to every brewery without a line. As the night goes on, this become more rare but it does happen.

If your plan is to try beer from popular breweries that do not distribute to your home town, then get their early and visit those places first. Breweries like Stone, Lost Abbey, and Dogfish Head can have very long lines.

11. Check out the Brewers Guilds stations

Each brewers guild that shows up has its own station in the festival and they server the beers of their member brewers. It is a little known fact that the beers served at these stations are different than the beers served at the brewer’s stations. Avoid the lines and check it out.

12. Bring a camera or a Phone Charger

There is a lot of interesting things to see: people in crazy costumes, elaborate booths, your friends, and maybe even your favorite beer personality. It would be a shame not to have a camera to capture the moment.

Cameras are also useful for remembering details about what you are drinking. If you’re not writing down your notes, you can use your camera to snap the name of your new favorite brewery or the beer list at a particular booth that you might want to remember later.

Update (Sept. 10, 2016):

This article was originally written in 2011, when mobile phones were common but not ubiquitous. However, a camera can still be a good idea because the battery on your camera should last a lot longer than your phone battery.

Alternatively, buy a really good, compact sized, external battery charger like the RAVPower 6700 ($15 on Amazon). I really like the size, shape, capacity, and cost of this particular external battery pack. Also, if you buy with that link, it helps support this blog, cheers!

13. Check out the other events in the area

There are lot’s of events going on in the Denver area. Most of them center around Falling Rock Tap House, Freshcraft, and Euclid Hall but there are breweries in town and news ones opening up all of the time. Check the internet, Facebook, Twitter, or the craftbeer.com events calendar for ideas.

14. Know beer vocabulary

If you’re not quite a beer geek yet or even fairly new to craft beer, now might be a good to catch up on your beer vocabulary. Check out this article I wrote for Menuism, For Beer Lovers Only: A Craft Beer Glossary.

15. Drink responsibly

You’re at high altitude in Denver so know your limits and adjust accordingly. Drinking lot’s of water and eating regularly will help slow down the effects of alcohol but if you drink way too much nothing will help. Don’t forget to drink water when it’s not around every corner like it is at the festival.

Drink responsibly, moderately, and don’t drive.

More information

For more information, visit the Great American Beer Festival website and FAQ.

Finally, if you have any other tips, suggestions, or strategies to add to this list, please leave a comment below.



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About David Jensen

David is a craft beer and photography enthusiast.
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8 Responses to 15 Tips for Attending the Great American Beer Festival

  1. Jim says:

    I promised myself I would make it to the GABF this year… you know how the best laid plans generally turn out.

  2. Pingback: Photo Friday: Beer Week at Hit by a Pitch

  3. I would emphasize #15… I went to Denver once for a conference and was surprised how tipsy a pint of beer made me feel… it wasn’t even a high ABV beer…

    Nice tips!

  4. Jh1 says:

    Hi, I’m coming down to the GABF with 30 guys this year. We’ve never been before and we thought it might be cool to hire some type of beer connisseur tour guide to take us around the event. Any suggestions or ideas about where to find one? I’ve already tried contacting te ABA, but no luck.

  5. djensen47 says:

    @Jh1 Hit me up on twitter @beer47 and we’ll find somebody for you.

  6. Jh1 says:

    @djensen47 tried sending you a pm, you need to follow me first. Just started following you.

  7. Pingback: Photo Friday: Beer Week | aniccata

  8. Pingback: Great American Beer Fest 2013 | Brew Brahs

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