The Greenhorn’s Survival Guide to GABF

So, this is your first Great American Beer Festival (GABF)?  Feeling excited?  Giddy, even?  Good, but are you truly prepared for 2, 200 beers and 500 breweries?  Can you handle the sheer enormity of it all?  Can you get through the granddaddy of all beer events and live to tell about it?  Yes, yes you can if you follow the advice of a GABF veteran.

Eat Before Arriving

That’s just common sense—something you should have learned as an undergrad: one does not simply go out for a night of drinking with an empty stomach.  There’s food available at the convention center, but who wants to pay extra and waste time standing in line?  Stuff your craw with a hearty meal before leaving the house. Not near a house? Fortunately there are numerous places around the convention hall to grab a bite to eat. 


Do not “pre-game” 

This is not a football game, this is not a frat house kegger, and, as such, it makes no sense to walk through the doors already buzzing. Tickets are expensive and, once inside, the beer is free, so whittle away at your sobriety only while at GABF. Don’t waste your money and your alcohol tolerance on afternoon beers. The pours may be only one solitary ounce, but the sheer number of booths pouring guarantees there’ll always be something in your cup, and craft beer is comparatively high in alcohol and even the burliest, seasoned drinker feels no pain at GABF.

Do pace yourself

I’m not going to spend a lot of time wagging my finger at you, just don’t overindulge.  You know your limit, don’t go past it. The Big Blue Bear is not your urinal, sir. Albeit, this can be a little rough since there are 600 some-odd breweries in attendance, and each is bringing 4-5 different beers. That’s a lot of beer. Do your research ahead of time

Do not buy from scalpers

Scalpers are scumbags and they’re part of the reason you couldn’t get a ticket in the first place. If somebody’s selling their ticket at face-value, take it.  Otherwise, report that sucka to the authorities. Every year there is an added insanity to just acquiring tickets to GABF, and buying from scalpers or on StubHub only exacerbates that insanity. But don’t be so glum, there’s plenty of beer-related happenings going on throughout the city.  Check out our handy list of events happening all around Denver/ Colorado during Denver Beer Week  Honestly, if you plan accordingly, you can have as much fun and drink as much beer attending Denver Beer Fest as you would at GABF.  You can probably do it for cheaper, too.


Do assume there will be a wait to get in

Checking tickets and IDs takes time.  Don’t worry if the line is all the way around the convention center, the beer will still be plentiful by the time you get there. To avoid the lines, either get there stupid early, or a little late. This being your first time, I’d suggest stupid early.

Do explore beers beyond your place of residence

This is the Great American Beer Festival and it showcases excellent beer from coast-to-coast, so try something different—something you can’t drink on a regular basis.  I, for example, always avoid the Mountain region because, while I love local beer, those breweries are all too familiar to me.  I want to explore.  I want beers that are hard to find in Colorado.  For that reason, I’m concentrating on the Southeast and New England this year.  Find a far-flung region of America and discover its beer.


Do drink outside the box.

Drink your favorite beer style at GABF, but take the opportunity to let your palate wander.  Try something new or try something you think you hate and see if you can acquire a taste.  Last year, for example, my friend took every chance to drink barleywines because she knew she disliked the style and wanted to learn to love them.  As far as I know, she still shudders at the taste of barleywine but, hey, at least she gave it a shot.  It’s important to remember that even if you’re poured the worst beer you’ve ever tasted, you only have 1 oz. of it.  Anybody can drink 1 oz. of crap, so take a chance on new beers. It’s ok to pour out your taste, too.

Do hit your favorite booths early

Sun King Brewery wiped the floor with the competition last year, accruing more medals and more gold medals than anybody else.  For that reason, I really wanted to visit them and try their award-winning beer.  Unfortunately, everybody else had the same idea and, by the time I got there, almost all their kegs had been kicked.  This year, Sun King will be one of the first booths I visit (I assume that some of their greatness from last year will carry over into this year).

Do ask pourers to wash your glass with water

A lot of different beers go in that single glass and flavors can intermingle.  Give ‘er a rinse every fifth beer or so.  If you’re drinking a lot of the same style of beer, rinsing becomes less essential but it’s still a good idea. Following a stout with a saison? Rinse.


Do hold on tight to your glass

If you drop it, it won’t shatter because it’s made of plastic but, for a moment, you will be the object of public ridicule as everybody within earshot looks in your direction, points, and, like middle-schoolers taunting a classmate being sent to the principal’s office, let out a loud and drawn-out ohhhhhhhhh!  Save face, keep a firm grip.  Also, try not to have douchebag friends that’ll slap the cup out of your hands when you’re not looking; half the time, that’s the reason for these incidents.

Do have a plan for re-convening with friends

If you’re going to GABF with a large group, all the luck to you; it’s a pain keeping everybody together.  Designate an easy-to-find meeting spot, let everybody disperse to a nearby booth of their choice, and return to the meeting spot and enjoy your beer.  Then, walk down the aisle a ways and repeat the process.  Last year, my group found square, metal panels on the convention floor spaced at even intervals; we called them “home bases.”  We spent about five minutes at each one before moving on to the next base.  Even though we were six drunken people dispersing into a crowd every few minutes, thanks to our system, we always found each other with ease.  If, like us, you choose to do the Mexican Hat Dance around home base then that’s your prerogative. Cell service is abysmal in the festival hall, so don’t rely on texts, tweets, or other forms of communication.

Do NOT anticipate cell-coverage

The convention hall is huge and cavernous and can be pretty unfriendly to cell phone reach. Of course, the convention center is ideally looking to make a buck by selling you a day’s worth of wi-fi for some exorbitant amount. Take your photos, but you’ll have to instagram them later. Good luck on checking in with Untappd anywhere. And don’t rely on texts to find your friends in the hall (see above). Think of this as a blessing – now you can unplug and really dedicate yourself to drinking a lot of beer!

Do drink a lot of water

There are water coolers stationed all around the room, take advantage of them, especially if you’re visiting from sea-level.  Your head will thank you in the morning.

Do hug a GABF volunteer

They’re putting aside time to make your night great, so show your appreciation.

Do not drive your drunk-ass home

There are a lot of cabs in the city and they’re all going to be near the convention center during GABF.  Also, the RTD Light Rail stops right in front of the entrance.  You can even walk home if you live near downtown. And Uber is now in Denver.  Plan ahead so there’s no excuse for you being behind the wheel.

Follow this advice and you will most likely survive.

Questions? Other advice to offer? Leave ’em in the comments below.


About Chris Bruns

Chris Bruns is a self-professed beer geek living in Denver. Chris spends much of his time brewing beer at home with friends and family, attempting to visit every brewery in Colorado, attending special beer events and festivals, purchasing and assessing the latest releases from local breweries, and blogging about his adventures in the world of craft beer. He is also the Denver Craft Beer Examiner on Contact Chris by e-mail at or through his blog at

  • Dave Butler

    Be sure to ask the volunteers who pour your beers to tell you which in their area are their favorite beers, especially after the 1st hour or so. Volunteers tend to know what beers are moving fast and can point out some outstanding beers around their particular tables.

    If you see a very long line at one booth then you can bet its for a very popular brewery or a rare beer is being poured. If you don’t want to waste 15 minutes to get a 1oz sample then move along as there are plenty of other tables with much shorter lines.

  • Jake Shivers

    Down with the scalpers! They are a joke!

  • Ed Haas

    This is my first GABF, and I’ll definitely be following these suggestions. (Not that I wouldn’t have anyways, I’m 35, so I’ve learned my lessons over the years) It’s all good advice though nonetheless.

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