We love beer, so we sent one of our editors to the 2014 Great American Beer Festival (GABF) last weekend for some on-the-ground reporting and drinking. More than 49,000 people gathered in Denver’s Colorado Convention Center to sample over 3,500 types of beer at the three-day hops orgy. To the uninitiated, a beer fest of this magnitude can be a bit overwhelming—here’s what you need to know to navigate this pinnacle of beer events, even if you never make it to the conference center.
Have a Plan
There were more than 710 booths set up in the festival hall and attendees could easily end up wandering aimlessly and “sampling” far too much, only to miss out on the brews they really wanted to try.
Download the App
The Brewer’s Association developed this incredible tool to let you navigate the seemingly endless supply of beer. You can search by beer or brewery, read tasting notes, and map out your plan of attack. The best part: the app has preset “tours” based around different types of beer to guide you through the madness.
Survive the Long Lines
Be prepared to wait, especially for anything that wins a medal, is rare, or comes from a popular brewery. Pro tip: try something from a lesser-known brewery first, so you can drink and pass the time in line while waiting for the popular stuff. Most breweries bring enough beer for the full festival and don’t start running out until Saturday night.
Who's Pouring Your Beer?
When you finally make it to the front, be sure to chat up the folks pouring your sample—they’re likely the brewers. Everyone makes time for GABF, even big-names like Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione and Samuel Adams’ Jim Koch.
Enjoy a Little Homebrew Heaven
To split up sampling and avoid a potentially brutal hangover the next morning, check out the Homebrew Marketplace. Here you’ll find complete DIY kits, from the latest gadgets like the Picobrew Zymatic to info about local American Homebrewers Association clubs. The organization now has more than 43,000 members nationwide.
Dance it Off
Once enough beer has been consumed (usually about two hours into the day), head to the back of the hall for Silent Disco. Sponsored by Colorado-based Oskar Blues, the event is comprised of a dance-floor full of people wearing wireless headphones—dancing like there’s no tomorrow.
Don’t Forget the Food
Score a ticket to the Farm to Table Pavillion, and you’ll have access to beer-and-food pairings from some of the top brewers and chefs in the country. Our favorite: the smoked mussel salad and Doppel Bock pairing from Row 34 and Fort Collins Brewery. If you didn’t get a ticket (or are still hungry), the American Cheese Society booth is the place to be.
Dress to Impress
Once you’ve sobered up on incredible cheese (we liked the Truffle Tremor from Cypress Grove), take a moment to enjoy yet another spectacle GABF is known for: the costumes. From Superman to German milk maids to “Hop Man,” there’s no shortage of creative apparel.
Don't Drop the Glass
After a while, you’ll start to notice occasional loud roars from one section of the hall. They happen quite frequently. Turns out, every time some poor soul drops his tasting glass, the crowd around him erupts into a loud “OHH!” that carries throughout the convention center. Note: You don’t want to be that guy.