Paralysis by Choice: Selecting a Style at GABF and Sticking With It


There are over 3,000 individual beers at Great American Beer Festival (GABF) and that many choices can easy overwhelm an aimless beer geek.  Do I drink this saison from San Diego or this Porter from Portland?  Do I opt for this big, gnarly, barleywine or this simple, palatable, Pilsner?  Don’t blow a fuse, when you’re feeling indecisive among the world’s largest beer selection, limit yourself, set parameters.  Restrict yourself to certain styles of beer.  Make your big decisions before setting foot on the convention room floor and you’ll spend more time drinking beer and less time thinking beer.

But what type of beer shall you drink?  Consider the following beer styles, decide which best suits your taste, and familiarize yourself with the benefits and consequences of each.  Do your homework now and optimize your GABF experience.

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IPA: It comes in many varieties (English, American, imperial, session, white, black, fresh-hopped…etc.) but America’s most popular craft beer style is always hop-forward and often very bitter.

How it will affect your time at GABF:  You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to find an IPA at GABF; almost every brewery in attendance will have one in their repertoire.  Essentially, the only breweries that won’t have an IPA will be those which brew the classics of Belgium and Germany (countries that don’t traditionally dabble in IPAs) and hipster breweries that are too cool to serve what everybody else is brewing.  Since almost every brewery’s got an IPA, you won’t be standing in any long lines to get a sip.

How you’ll feel at the end of the night:  IPAs are known to be “palate wreckers.” They’ll cause you to lose most (if not all) sensation in your taste buds.

Where you’ll likely end up after GABF: With your mouth deadened, you’ll want to visit a restaurant with the richest, most decadent food you can imagine; it’s the only type of food you’ll be able to taste after an all-IPA night.

Sour Beer: Like IPAs, sour beers come in various forms (Flanders ales, Berliner Weisse, American wild ale…etc.) but they’re all tart and/or funky.

How it will affect your time at GABF: Thanks to sour beer programs at AC Golden Brewing Company, Avery Brewing, and Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, the popularity of sour beers is rising at exponential rates.  Nonetheless, there are still plenty of people that haven’t yet heard the siren call so it’ll be a style that’s a tad difficult to come by at GABF.  It’s tough to say if you’ll have to wait for a sour because, on one hand, there are a lot of people that shy away from the style due to its unconventional flavor but, on the other hand, those who enjoy sours seek them out with ruthless ambition.  If you’re looking for a famous sour—like TRiNiTY BREWiNG COMPANY’s TPS Report—you might be twiddling your thumbs in a line for a significant chunk of time.  However, in GABFs past, I’ve been able to find great sours in the most unlikely (and un-crowded) of places such as Longmont’s Pumphouse Brewery.  It’s a toss-up; some sours will put a pause on your progress and some will be without crowds, allowing you to grab a taste and keep on walking.

How you’ll feel at the end of the night:  Stock up on the Prilosec OTC, most sour beers feature a certain acidity that’ll give you heartburn something fierce.

Where you’ll likely end up after GABF: I don’t know where you’ll end up immediately after GABF but, by next morning, you’re going to want to stop by your dentist’s office to see about all that enamel the lactobacillus has chewed off your teeth.


Next up: Session beers vs. big beers

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

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  • Jess Hunter

    You know what makes all this super easy to do? The NEW free 2013 GABF app. Under “GABF Beer” — the bottle on the lower banner — you can click on the icons to get beer tours around the GABF hall. But should you commit to it with absolute rigor, heed Chris’s warnings of consequences. Great article!

  • Frank

    Your article contradicts itself. It says to stick with a set of styles, then at the end, you tell readers to branch out and try all kinds of other styles.

    • Chris Bruns

      Nope, that’s not contradiction, that’s just how your teach people.

      First, I set up the article for people who truly have a difficult time making decisions. Then, by the end of the article, when those people are feeling better equipped to handle the enormity of GABF, I lay some real-world advice on them: these categories are guidelines, not hard rules.

      You can’t start the article that way, though; as a teacher of mine once said, you can break the rules but first you have to know what the rules are. The rules are “drink to a certain style” and, once comfortable with that, you peel away some of the scaffolding and give your student more autonomy. In the world of educators, that’s called a gradual release of responsibility.

      You, sir, were just taken to school.