I remember the urge to run. The long line that snaked along the side of the Colorado Convention Center in Denver dragged me in the building, up a wide flight of stairs and released me into the cavernous Great American Beer Festival® — my first. I’m not sure what I was running to. I almost expected a lifeguard to yell, “No running!”
So I did the same straight-legged, hand flat down my sides speed walk that over-stimulated children do around a pool. I hustled to the first brewery I saw. Little did I know that the first beer sampled at the country’s largest and most renowned beer festival was my symbolic cannonball into a fascination, a career and a whole new life that I have loved ever since.
That was over a decade ago.
Today, my GABF starts well before the line begins. I’m on the other side of the stanchions — the other side of the booth. I still get just as excited. And proud. I see the same elation on other first-timers’ faces that I’m sure was stuck to mine. I think about how much the festival has grown, how much the small and independent brewery scene has grown and maybe I’ve grown, too. (Nope, still 5’10”.) I remember when dropping one’s tasting cup was license to go bat-sh*t crazy; it still is. Not necessarily from hearing that roar 20 times each session, but from seeing the joy that it brings.
As we look to this next GABF, I figured I’d share some ideas for newcomers that I think will help make your GABF as life-changing as my first time. Everyone experiences GABF differently, but if I had a chance to do it all over again, I might consider these.
DO: Make a list
The GABF app didn’t exist for my first fest; I’m pretty sure none did, but it sure would have been helpful. In subsequent years, I’ve been able to create lists of breweries or beers that I wanted to visit. I’ve shared that list with others and they’ve appreciated the tips. Use the app to create your own list or check out the filtered lists of beers and other things going on at the GABF.
DO: Make a pretzel necklace
No accessory says “I’m here to have fun” like a pretzel necklace. Get creative, make it a statement piece. What? You’re too cool for pretzel necklaces? How are you going to cleanse that oh-so-refined palate? Matzo medallion?
DO: Eat before. Drink water during
Savor the Flavor responsibly and don’t let the fest get the best of you. Having some food in your stomach is imperative and water is an important part of life in the Mile High City regardless if you’re enjoying beer or not.
Nobody will ever know everything there is to know about beer — that’s part of the reason we love it — but sharing perspectives and knowledge can go a long way in understanding it better. Whether you like the beer you’re sampling or dislike it, ask about it. What’s the style history? What was the brewer’s intention? After you learn about it, maybe your initial impression will change.
DON’T: Wait in lines
This might be just my preference, but I can’t stand waiting in line. No matter what beer is being served at the front of the line, it’s not worth it. If a glass of beer is normally about eight to 10 minutes of enjoyment, then spending 15 minutes in line for a 1 ounce sample just doesn’t compute. Instead, set your sight on finding the beers that will be commanding long lines at next year’s GABF. There are plenty of them. Find them.
DO: Dump beer
I know what you’re thinking: This dude wants me to waste beer!? That’s right. Nobody is going to shame you for dumping a beer you don’t like. There are hundreds of others to choose from. You aren’t going to hurt anyone’s feelings. Dump that sucka and find one you’d like to sip on for a bit. Downing a 12% barleywine that you don’t like will only wreck your palate, fill your tummy (and bladder) and bring you closer to naptime.
After 35 years the Great American Beer Festival has become much more than just a beer festival: it’s a family reunion for many attendees and brewers alike and a source of great pride for all who have the chance to work on it. If you’ve been before, you’ve likely figured out your own tips on enjoying your time. I hope that if you’re joining us for the first time you take some of my advice. With all that the festival and its breweries have to offer, we want you to have it wash over you like it has done for us. It is not an exaggeration to say that the GABF changed my life, and I have looked forward to it every fall since.
Bonus: Don’t run. Or at least don’t run like I did.
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