Finding My Hoppy Place at GABF

I almost didn’t write this post. What good will a wrapup do with a year before the next GABF? I wondered. However, my amazing weekend there was enough of a blur I want to gush about it now, while the memories are only a bit hazy!

For those who don’t know, GABF is the Great American Beer Festival, held every fall in Denver, Colorado. Tickets are spendy and hard to come by, but I was fortunate enough to win tickets to all four sessions from Bellingham’s tourism board! If you’re unable to find tickets, there’s tons of beer events and bottle releases happening all week and tickets to be found last minute. I would recommend maybe only doing one or two sessions though–all four was pretty difficult and draining (I’m currently taking a major hiatus from beer). Personally, I’d recommend Friday as my favorite session–tons of great beer left and rare tappings happening, and some seriously awesome costumes. If you like and appreciate fine beer at all I super recommend going once in your lifetime to GABF–and here’s my Do’s and Don’ts for when you do.


The brewers from Ocelot Brewing in VA. They make great IPAs!

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” became my mantra along with my friend Heather. Yes, the pours are only one ounce, but especially at altitude that can add up fast when unlimited (and, as the night goes on or as you compliment the brewer, the pours can get more generous). We were pleasantly surprised we did not see any person who we’d call sloppy or wasted, and we saw no one puking or being escorted out–so don’t be the only one to be sloppy. Beers should have their ABV posted at the table along with the description, so pay attention and try to stretch out those 18% barrel-aged beers. An awesome chance to take a breather comes in the forms of the Sit & Sips, when you listen to a scheduled talk from brewers around the US (that does include a few pours from the brewery). There’s a chance for question and answer and time to chat with the brewers after. Some of the topics varied, so check the schedule ahead and try to check one out.


While the official GABF app did not update what beer would be available until the day before the festival, I found had an incomplete list of beer available before then that helped me map out my ‘must try’ beers. The GABF app does show you the general location of the breweries, so I was able to figure out how to race to the popular ones ASAP. I had quite the wishlist going and got to try many of the ones I wanted.


The special Avery barrels being tapped.

However, sometimes I saw breweries with no lines and a beer that sounded amazing. All breweries had big signs with names of their beer, and if intrigued enough, I’d detour over. I tried tons of beers not on my wishlist that way and discovered some real gems. Also, sometimes without planning I happened to be in the right place at the right time. While getting a beer in one line, I heard a loud commotion at the Avery booth behind me–turns out I arrived just in time to watch them tap the barrel for their barrel-aged Rumpkin, and was able to get rare taste. I also would unashamedly jump to any booth that was giving out swag. Pins and coasters were ubiquitous, stickers were rare, but I got a few sunglasses and keychains.


Seriously. Drink it. Start drinking it before you depart for your trip, especially if you’re flying in from sea level. Then, at the festival, keep your eye out for the water coolers scattered about. Some of the bathrooms had water fountains with tall faucets easy for filling up water bottles, which helped when I brought my trusty Vapur bottle with me, but I would also fill my taster cup with water and drink it. Most tables have a dump/swish bucket with a pitcher of water for ensuring you’re not mixing a chocolate stout with the remaining drops of huckleberry sour you had previously, but I’d drink my swish water.


The beer scouts!

There were tons of amazing costumes at GABF–they even award the best ones! I saw some really great ones, including girls dressed like deer with the men dressed like hunters, men in pope costumes, and tons of lederhosen, but my favorites were the winners from Friday, the Beer Scouts. If costumes aren’t your thing, represent your love of beer! I brought some of my favorite beer gear, including my gorgeous hop earrings I got from Deschutes Portland and my Girl Beer shirt from Boneyard, both of which garnered tons of compliments. It was really cool to see someone in line wearing gear from a small, local-to-me brewery–and a great conversation starter. They have tons of merchandise from breweries for sale at the festival too, so I had to get the boyfriendo a Pliny the Elder shirt.


Even though the tasting glasses for all but Saturday morning’s session are plastic, you really don’t want to drop them. If you do, everyone in a nearby vicinity will let out a “OOOOOOOooooooooOOOOOOH!” and you will immediately be at the center of attention. If you drop your glass-glass on Saturday, you’re also out a cute souvenir as well as being ridiculed. However, when you’re there for hours and furiously updating your Untappd app and checking the GABF app for your next stop (or peeing), juggling can get scary. I saw that in previous years’ pictures, attendees wore can necklaces to hold their glass–perfect! I got one from No-Li at an earlier beer festival this year that I brought, but Oskar Blues had flats of can necklaces to give away, so I’d assume they’ll keep doing that. On Saturday, we realized our necklaces wouldn’t hold the tasting glass–but sponsor YardHouse had amazing lanyard-koozie hybrids that perfectly held our glasses. I’m never doing another beer festival without them!


The pink badges separated the brewers from the volunteer pour-ers.

The brewery attendees all wore pink badges that said their brewery. I’m already not shy at all, but as the beer flowed into my veins, I got bold enough to be like ‘OMG I LOVE YOU XYZ BEER ITS SO GOOD THANK YOU FOR MAKING IT!!’ every time I recognized a brewery. I had no shame about re-entering lines either for beers I loved or breweries where I wanted to try multiple beers (Low Tide brewing in South Carolina became well acquainted with me over the last two days of the festival). However, even bold outgoing people may feel shy with the dump buckets–don’t. As I said above, you need to pace yourself, so if one sip in you think a beer is vile, dump it. If you feel really shy go to a different booth and use their dump bucket, but there’s no shame at GABF in leaving a beer behind.


My pretzel necklace.

While there are some food vendors inside the festival with standard pizza-and-hotdog type food (and free Red Robin fries!), nearly 100% of attendees choose instead to bring a pretzel necklace to nosh on (and has a hearty meal smothered in Denver green chili beforehand). Some pretzel necklaces we saw were pretty elaborate–soft pretzels, giant bags of beef jerky, candy, fruit snacks– I even saw one person who attached a plastic jug of pretzel nuggets to a string! We just went for pretzels and beef sticks ourselves, but got a little envious of some others. While waiting to get in for our first session, I heard others mentioning their neck hurting, so take into account the more stuff on a string, the heavier it’ll be on you–and if you’re traveling maybe bring a hole punch to make stringing things easier.


Some breweries went all-out with their table displays.

My largest regret of the festival is not making it to 3 Floyds Brewing’s booth before they ran out of beer, but a close second is not taking more pictures. It’s overwhelming even with four sessions to take it all in–so don’t forget to take a few breaths and snaps. Some of the booths were done very well so I’d get a quick snap, but I pretty much only took quick selfies or pictures of the beer I was holding. Especially towards the end of the night, you’ll want some memories that last after you return home (besides six t-shirts and 80 pins).

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