I am headed to Denver for the Great American Beer Festival on Friday. I was all geared up to write a list of survival tips when fellow Hoppress writer PJ Hoberman beat me to it. But the wheels in my head were already turning and as I sit at my computer this morning I have not other ideas that are as ready to write as that one. So, at the risk of beating a dead horse, I offer a supplemental to the GABF survival guide.
I can sum up the GABF experience in two words, “Too Much”: too many people (I’m a bit of a recluse), too much noise, and yes…too much beer. I know, “how can that be?” you are thinking. I thought that too. I thought that until I attended my first GABF. 2000+ beers available for sample is too much beer.
I stopped early at every session of the GABF that I have attended; not because I was too drunk to go on, but because I simply couldn’t put any more beer into my gut. I was full. I actually reached a point where I did not want any more beer. And that was okay.
If you don’t have tickets for all four sessions, don’t despair. One or two sessions are really plenty. I know people who have bought admission to three or four sessions only to sell their remaining tickets after attending two sessions. Honestly, one can only take so much.
Now I don’t mean to make it sound as if I don’t enjoy the festival. I do enjoy it, very much. It is just a lot to take in. It requires careful management. So here are my supplemental tips for surviving the GABF.
- I’ll repeat PJ’s first suggestion. DON’T DRIVE. You will be drunk by the time you leave. The place is crawling with cops just waiting to haul you in for DUI. And besides, drinking and driving is a bone-headed move. Don’t be an asshole.
- Have a plan. Pick a style or make a list of breweries you want to visit. It’s easy end up just wandering, filling your glass with the first thing you see. Have an idea of what you want to try and where you can get it.
- As with most festivals, brewers tend to bring their biggest, baddest, highest alcohol creations. It won’t take too many of these to put an end to your night, even with one-ounce pours. Try a pilsner or a mild every now and again to offset all those barleywines and double IPAs.
- Don’t fear the empty glass. On my first trip to the GABF I suffered what I called “empty glass syndrome.” I would look at my glass, find it empty, and then fill it up at whatever booth had the shortest line. Empty glass syndrome pulls you away from your plan and may cause you to miss out on some beers that you really want to try. It is also the enemy of pacing yourself. It’s okay to have an empty glass sometimes.
- Look for breweries you have never heard of. Everyone wants to try the beers from the Dogfish Heads and Russian Rivers of the fest. But there are literally hundreds of lesser known breweries in the hall that are making awesome beers. Don’t just go for the celebrities. Seek out the unknown. Support the little guys. This is my whole strategy for this year. I intend to mainly try beers from breweries I have never heard of.
- Know that the people pouring the beers are mostly volunteers. They may or may not know what they are pouring. Once at the Victory Brewing booth I was offered V 12. I asked the guy pouring what it was. He replied, “I don’t know, but it’s twelve percent!”
- Get out of Denver. Some of my best GABF experiences have been driving around the surrounding communities visiting breweries. There are a huge number within a couple hours drive. From Tommyknocker up in the mountains, to something like seven breweries in tiny Fort Collins, you could spend your whole weekend drinking great beer without attending a single session of the festival.
- Pay attention to what happens at the porta-potties. Believe it or not, this is one of the most amazing things I have witnessed at the GABF. Fifty or so johnny-on-the-spots (maybe more) with hundreds of people lined up to use them. No actual lines form. It’s just a huge mass of people in need with a front edge that remains twenty feet or so from the goal. No one fights. No one yells. It is a miraculous, self-regulating system in which everyone just seems to know who is next. A door opens, someone comes out, the next person goes in. Mesmerizing. (Okay, maybe I was a little drunk.)
For those of you headed to Denver next weekend, have fun! Maybe I’ll see you there.