The Thoughts and Ramblings of a GABF Virgin


The Great American Beer Festival is horrible.  It’s a mess.  At it’s worst, it’s a showcase of our unrelenting thirst for beer gone wrong, an over glorified frat party of sorts, and an indulgence of excess and satiety. At it’s best, it’s an exercise in patience and self control as you slowly move around from stand to stand at a rate slower than rush hour in Los Angeles.  By the time an hour has passed, you’re slightly inebriated, marginally irritated, and reasonably forgetting the difference between IBUs, ABVs and IOUs.

Really?  No, not really.  Who am I kidding.  This was the best thing to happen to me since…well….since ever.

The Great American Beer Festival is nothing short of extraordinary.  It’s a haven for those who worship at the church of water, yeast, malt and hops.  Its an assemblage of the best of the best, the finest of the fine, a proverbial who’s who of the brewing community, both big and small.  It’s a sanctuary for saison sippers, a haven for hop heads, and a paradise for pale ale devotees.  Most of all it’s a community, one that brings together the faithful from all over the country, to share in it’s magnificent glory for three short days.

I went into GABF like any other virgin.  Excited, curious, and with the slightest bit of trepidation.  With no game plan and no idea what I was getting myself into, I was immediately overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of it all.  Staring into the great beyond and falling witness to row after row, keg after keg, and pitcher after pitcher, I felt my chest tighten slightly and my hands grow a bit moist.  I took one deep breath and ventured into the abyss.

Luckily, the Brewer’s Association does a pretty amazing job of setting up the event so even a rookie like myself can find their way about.  Breweries are organized alphabetically, as well as by geographical region.  If I wanted a beer from Denver, I’d find myself in the “Mountain” division.  If I wanted something from Seattle, I’s search out the “Pacific Northwest” grouping.  It’s like the dewey decimal system for beer.  Kind of.  Maybe.  Either way it was easy enough to figure out even after a couple of high gravity sip sessions.

With no method to my madness, no control of my chaos, I made my way through the unwashed masses.  If something caught my eye, I drank it.  If I saw I booth with no line, I drank it.  If I saw a pretty girl pouring a beer, I politely asked for some, and then I drank it.  After a little time, and a little more drink, I began to revel in my lack of planning.  I simply existed and basked in the glory of what GABF is at it’s core.  Beer. Good beer, great beer, and some of the best beer I’ve ever had the privilege to drink.  At the end of it all, it’s simply beer.

I plan on attending again next year.  With my cherry popped, I may go in with a bit more confidence.  I’ll write down a plan.   I’ll map out what breweries, beers and styles I have to try.  I’ll get a necklace full of pretzels like everyone else.   Or, maybe I won’t.  Maybe I’ll simply walk in and go where my feet and palette take me. There’s something special in the mystery and blissful ignorance of it all.  After all, there’s nothing like your first time.


About Justin Schoenborn

Justin was a Midwest guy who one day, by circumstance or the divine, found his way out to Denver and never looked back. He spends his days cycling, skiing, fly fishing and photographing; never without good food and great beer close at hand. He also has a love affair with every camera he touches.

  • Sarah

    Great article!

  • Ginger

    Hell yea Justin. I almost feel like I was there with you. Except I would’ve been much happier. 🙂

  • Ursula Cecile

    Great reporting but I have no clue where we can find all that brew around here I guess we have to start slowly

  • Lea

    Nice to hear your experience at your first GABF! Glad you enjoyed it.

    P.S. it’s vs its…