GABF 2011: 7 Tips to Get the Most Out of the Great American Beer Festival

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!




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Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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30 Comments on “GABF 2011: 7 Tips to Get the Most Out of the Great American Beer Festival”

  1. September 26, 2011 at 10:18 am #

    I think I need to do this thing one of these days. Of course, if we have anymore kids, it might be a while.

    • September 26, 2011 at 10:45 am #

      Yeah, they ruin everything. Stoopid kids! 😉

  2. September 26, 2011 at 10:21 am #

    If possible, avoid the Friday and Saturday night sessions. Yes, there are a lot of craft beer fans, but there are also a LOT of folks there only to get hammered. And some of these same people will attempt to knock your tasting glass out of your hand in order to incite a room-wide “ohhhhh” from the crowd. The Thursday night/Saturday afternoon sessions are much more geared toward the craft beer fans.

    And drink as much Odell IPA on draft as you can. That beer is AWESOME.

    • September 26, 2011 at 10:45 am #

      Good advice Beau, lots of meatheads at the evening sessions for sure.

  3. September 26, 2011 at 10:26 am #

    Leave my beard alone.

    • September 26, 2011 at 10:44 am #

      But it’s soooo cute, Dave!

      • September 26, 2011 at 10:54 am #

        Aww shucks Jim. I’m sure I’ll see you at the Rare Beer Tasting Again.

  4. September 26, 2011 at 12:07 pm #

    The water thing is key if you’re coming here from a lower altitude. Not only does the mile-high thing get you, but also our semi-aridness as compared to more humid regions; keep hydrated!

    You’re spot-on with Falling Rock; working two doors down from it, it’s my preferred after work watering hole, but during GABF I avoid it entirely. Some enterprising souls have setup a beer garden at a club across the street from FR this year, probably hoping to get the overflow. Supposedly they’ll have 100 brews on tap.

    Thanks for the link Jim: the places I listed are all fairly new and may suffer from some crowd overload because of that, but none of them will be as crowded as FR. Another place I didn’t list is Ale House at Amato’s, a Breckenridge venture, tons on tap and great food.

    • September 26, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

      As you walk past Falling Rock every day, it might be easy for you to tell folks to avoid it, but my guess is that a beer geek from, say Kentucky (maybe one who’s obsessed with bears), would HAVE to go there so they can say they’ve been. It’s like going to Disney World and not going to Space Mountain.

      We skipped it because our time and convenience trumped bragging rights, but I can see the allure.

      • Don
        September 26, 2011 at 12:35 pm #

        I love bears too!

      • September 26, 2011 at 1:01 pm #

        I agree. If you’ve never been to Falling Rock, it’s an experience and nowhere else has the sheer quantity of taps or geekier bartenders. Try to hit it off-peak if possible and, no matter how hungry you might be, do not order any food there. I think they take perverse pride in the nastiness of their bar fare.

        • September 26, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

          Good tip, but is there really an “off-peak” time during GABF?

        • September 26, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

          I think it swings from “insanely busy” to “Tokyo subway at rush hour” during GABF week, so yes, “off peak” is a relative term.

        • September 26, 2011 at 1:19 pm #

          I agree on the food, it’s actually gotten worse over the years.

          I also agree about the experience as you and Jim mentioned, if you can’t find something you like off their tap list, you need to find a different hobby. 🙂 It’s just that you shouldn’t be disappointed if you just drop by and can’t get a beer. It’s crowded even on slow days when there isn’t a sporting event, GABF just exacerbates it.

          There are off-peak hours, even during GABF. If you show up during the week between 11am and about 2pm, you shouldn’t have a problem. After that, be prepared to wait awhile for your beers, if you can get in the door, much less onto the patio.

      • John King
        September 26, 2011 at 1:22 pm #

        Hey man!!! I plan on going there AFTER GABF is over on Monday or Tuesday.

        • September 26, 2011 at 1:24 pm #

          I hear it’s still a bear to get a beer at that point. 🙂

        • John King
          September 26, 2011 at 1:37 pm #

          if you get me a bear costume, maybe I can do a session of “beer and whiskey bro’s bear at GABF”

        • September 26, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

          You don’t already have one?!

        • September 27, 2011 at 8:17 am #

          You know, I’ve been to GABF twice now (from Thurs – Sun each time) and I’ve gone to Falling Rock about six times total and while it is crowded, especially during the day prior to GABF getting rolling, it’s not that terribly bad if you go during the hours of the night sessions on Friday and Saturday. Regardless, it is worth fighting you way into just to get some fresh PtE on draft.

          Another good spot to hit that is within walking distance of there is the Great Divide tap room. They typically have both Hercules and Yeti on draft (as well as many others) and fresh Hercules can hold its own against many a hoppy competitor.

        • September 27, 2011 at 10:31 am #

          Thanks for the timing advice for Palling Rock, Beau.

          Don and I hit up Great Divide with our cousin and his lovely wife last year, and it was a very good time. We sat outside and they had a food truck serving up some amazing bar food. Definitely worth a visit!

        • September 27, 2011 at 1:02 pm #

          Yea, my crew sat outside Great Divide for about four hours the last time we were in Denver. That was our first stop, actually. Damn, all this talk makes me realize I need to make it back to Colorado.

        • September 27, 2011 at 1:53 pm #

          We spent about four hours there as well – it was totally chill and a nice respite from all the hubub…

    • September 26, 2011 at 1:54 pm #

      I almost forgot to mention this great opportunity to go to some of central Denver’s best breweries: The local beer tour firm Brews Cruise will be offering free shuttle service to Strange Brewing, Breckenridge Brewing (the main brewery), Wit’s End, Renegade Brewing, and Pint’s Pub Brewery from noon til 4, Monday-Friday. They start from Pint’s on 13th Avenue between Bannock and Cherokee Streets. If you’ve got the time, I highly recommend it.

      • Don
        September 26, 2011 at 2:37 pm #

        Sorry Will, that was my bad ear…did you say FREE Shuttle Service?

        • September 26, 2011 at 3:40 pm #

          You heard right, FREE. Wish I didn’t have to work this week (I will be taking Friday off, but that’s P for P)!

  5. Mike
    September 26, 2011 at 12:33 pm #

    I don’t think it’s jus frat boys with the pretzel necklaces. They help anyone with keeping from having only beer in your stomach. In fact I would recommend anyone to take one.

    • September 26, 2011 at 12:35 pm #

      I know it’s not only frat boys, but there was a certain element that I saw again and again last year – drunk douche bags with flip flops and a pretzel necklaces pushing their way through the crowds. I guess it left an impression.

      But you’re right – it’s wise to fill your belly with more than beer, and pretzels work. Maybe the folks from Brubar will be there and you can get a sample of their delicious energy bars. Those beat pretzels any day.

  6. Jeff W
    September 26, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

    Places to avoid during this year’s GABF

    1. The Oxford Hotel. Nothing to see there, just walk on by.
    2. The Falling Rock, will be crowed beyond belief. Avoid at all cost and tell everyone you see to stay away
    3. The Wynkoop, I hear they have the plague, save yourself!
    4. The Delectable Egg (around 9 AM to 10:30ish the whole week) probably radioactive.
    5. The Bull & Bush, rumor has it that they are out of whisky and the beer has all been confiscated by revenuers.
    6. Churchill’s in the Brown Palace, Fogo de Chao and Sonoda’s sushi have all burned to the ground so there’s no point even trying.

    So just stay away from these places and I’ll…I mean YOU will have a great GABF.

    Thank you

    • September 26, 2011 at 1:03 pm #


      Forgot to mention the Delectable Egg – we had an amazing…I mean..uhh…awful…breakfast there!

  7. September 27, 2011 at 12:55 pm #

    You need to try sun king from indianapolis. They’ll be at booth H11

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