Don and I have been looking forward to returning to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver for the past 11 months. Last year we were GABF noobs and learned several lessons we were eager to apply to this year’s trip. Unfortunately, our plans were dashed, but that doesn’t mean others can’t benefit from our wisdom (a nice way of saying “mistakes we made last year”).
Here are seven tips to getting the most out of your time in Denver, this year or in years to come:
1. Attend the Pints for Prostates Rare Beer Tasting. I know we’ve gone on about this, but this event is like all the best things about GABF boiled down into one delicious afternoon, sorta like bacon is the best part of the pig. You have rare beers you’ll probably struggle to get a taste of anywhere else, the chance to chat up your favorite brewers, a deficit of pretzel wearing frat boys (you’ll see plenty of them at the convention center), and bragging rights about all the awesome stuff you got to sample. It’s almost worth the trip to Denver all by itself.
2. Arrive Early and Travel in Colorado. Don and I didn’t do this last year and we wish we would have. There are buses that run from Denver out to some of the awesome breweries that Colorado has to offer, like Avery and Oskar Blues. We heard tales of folks having some great experiences outside of Denver last year and we were sorry to have missed out on them. Next time for sure.
3. Pace Yourself. This is easier said than done. I recall after our first day in Denver, I was ready to retire from beer drinking for life. I was overwhelmed. Not that I was hammered, but the day started with the Rare Beer Tasting and then went on (and on, and on) from there. We were tasting new stuff, but I almost hit the point of burning out early. Try to pace yourself, understanding it’s a marathon, not a sprint. That’s right, you’re a beer athlete!
4. Water, Water, Water. One of the reasons I made it through that first day of beer sampling is because I was drinking water just about one-for-one with beer during the Rare Beer Tasting. I’d hate to think how I would’ve felt if I hadn’t! My trick was (and this sounds grosser than it is in practice) to drink the “rinse” water available at the pouring stations. This water is clean and plentiful and saved me from liver failure, and it can save you, too. Drink your water, people!
5. Avoid Falling Rock. I know this one’s gonna peeve a lot of GABF veterans, and it might be bad advice, but going to the Falling Rock Taphouse during the festival is like going to the mall at Christmas. As I guy who likes to avoid mobs and does 99% of his shopping online, I say f-that. Don and I passed by Falling Rock a couple of times, and there were people 7-deep on the patio, much less in the bar. Because we had already experienced the wonders of the Rare Beer Tasting, we figured it wasn’t worth all the time and rubbing against bearded men to get a beer. Sure we can’t say we got a beer at Falling Rock, but who cares – there are lots of bars in Denver, go someplace else!
6. Keep Your Eye on Sam Adams. Last year Don and I were cruising around the sampling floor at the convention center when we spotted some beer geeks milling around the back corner of the Sam Adams booth. We investigated to find out that they were pouring 2009 Utopias out of a pitcher! No fanfare, no announcement, just a random treat. Don and I each got two or three generous tastes of this chill-inducing nectar and if you have a keen eye, perhaps you’ll get some this year. Maybe you could even inquire about some at the booth – it doesn’t hurt to ask!
7. Have a Plan of Attack for the Convention Center Floor. I like to say that everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face, and when you set foot on the convention center floor for the first time, the scale of the festival will smack you upside the head like a ton of bricks. There will be breweries you’ve never heard of calling you in with their siren song, but you can only sample so many beers before your palate is shot, so you must choose wisely. The best advice I have is to check out a map of the event, plan your route, and stick to it. You can sample a couple of extras along the way, but save the questionable breweries for a second spin through the booths, hitting your must-taste breweries first.
So there you have it, seven ways to make your GABF experience the best it can be. If you go, we hope you have a great time this year, and don’t you worry – we’ll be there in 2012!