Don’t Be A Pirate: A Guide to Navigating GABF

drinking_pirate The Great American Beer Festival was a beer lover’s paradise when it began back in 1982. While we still all love the GABF –tickets sold out in just minutes this year for the October 10-12 festival – beer geeks and responsible drinkers have been taken over by pirates. Yes, pirates.

You know them: The guys and gals who chug as much beer as they can in the first hour without taking a look at what they’re drinking, where it came from, or really even know what makes a beer, a beer, and end up wobbling around the Convention Center like a baby just learning how to walk.

Don’t get us wrong, we love the show they put on, but sometimes it can be hard to appreciate a refreshing Sage Saison from Epic or a Key Lime Pie beer from Short’s whilst having a pirate using you as a support pole.

Pirates, like their sea faring ancestors, drink a lot. We all do, especially at the GABF; however, it’s the purpose behind it that distinguishes beer geeks from pirates. A beer geek, sips, savors, and ponders their new pour. A pirate heads to a table, spots a color profile reminiscent of a macro-brew and slams it down without a second thought. On to the next, right? How about slowing down and trying a stout? What’s a stout? Try it. You may like it.

(Photo: Brewer's Association, GABF 2012)

(Photo: Brewer’s Association, GABF 2012)

The GABF, which was founded by Charlie Papazian and the Brewer’s Association in 1982, was first held in Boulder and included a meager 20 breweries, 40 beers, and 800 festival attendees. Since that first festival, the GABF has grown exponentially and has become the biggest beer event of the year in the United States.

After moving the expanding festival to Denver in 1984 and to the Convention Center in 2000, beer drinkers caught on to the fact that no other festival existed quite like this one. Last year, 46,000 people attended the GABF, which included 578 breweries and 2,774 beers, according to the GABF website. This year, the Brewer’s Association expects 49,000 people to attend the festival, where they can sample 3,100 beers from 624 different breweries.

So, now that we know the official numbers, we can understand the pirates’ decision to pound their brews. But, alas, there is no possible way to try 3,100 beers in one night, don’t try; none of us want to see the result.

While we all will inevitably have beer-induced stumbles, there are ways to avoid being a pirate.

First, browse the list of breweries at this year’s GABF and pick a handful you would like to try. If you don’t know many breweries, select a region to start with. The Festival Hall is divided into eight regions: Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Rocky Mountain, New England, Pacific, Pacific Northwest, Southeast, and Southwest. Each region has its own way of approaching beer styles (Ex. A California IPA will taste much different from a New England IPA).

Another good way of approaching the GABF is to focus on a style of beer you want to learn about, trying many different examples of one style will give you a better understanding of the category.

To sop up all the beer you’re trying, grab a free can necklace and turn it into a Snyder’s pretzel vessel – not only will this ebb your alcohol munchies, but will cleanse your palate, allowing you to actually taste your beer. Hopefully, the innate human curiosity will kick in and you will have a conversation about the aroma, flavor, and viscosity with your GABF buddy. Not only will this slow your drinking a bit, it will help you learn about this thing we all love: Beer.

In recent years the Brewer’s Association has made an effort to include more educational components, like seminars, mock judging sessions, and the Brewpub Pavilion, where people can expound their knowledge on flavor profiles and learn about food pairings (See the GABF event schedule).

So, moral of the story: Think about what you’re drinking, actually taste it rather than chug it. Not only will you have a lesser shot at becoming a pirate, but also you may actually learn something, and hopefully you’ll still remember it the next day.

About Sarah Haughey


Editor, Denver off the Wagon. Sarah is a native of the "Napa Valley of beer," but her beer-drinking roots stretch all the way back to the Emerald Isle where Haughey (Haw-hee) is famous. Sure, our name may have got it's rap from the corrupt prime minister, but we like to think it stands strong due to our long-standing ability to pound a few too many pints. After stints on the East Coast and in San Francisco, Sarah came running back to Denver where her full-time job is exploring all the city's new craft breweries one sip at a time. Follow me @sarahhaughey4 to see where I'm grabbing a beer or for news about local breweries. Like to cook? Me too, check out: Lifewithalittlespice.com

  • Holly

    Uh this would be Saturday night. But let them have their beer chugging night. We can appreciate and enjoy Thur, Fri and Sat day sessions.

  • Sarah

    They’re at every session. Look around you, can be quite comical at times.

  • John

    This is a horrible article. You say pirates, but that is why it is so successful. The worst pirates are the Denver slutty girls that don’t know shit about beer and they want to get drunk.