People flock to Denver from all over the country and beyond to sample the world-class craft brews featured at the Great American Beer Festival, but do they know how to do it? Eater's contributor and seasoned beer-drinker, Jess Hunter, shares her hard-earned wisdom on how to prepare for GABF before, to approach it during, and how to deal with the consequences of your decisions after.
—Line up your transportation. Find a DD, take the lightrail/bus, arrange for a taxi, connect with Uber, take a Pedi Cab, or grab one of the horse-drawn carriages. Don't plan on driving if you're going to GABF – that's a sure way to permanently spoil the fun.
—Plan your attack. Look at the GABF map and make a wish list. You'll want to prioritize. Make a Top 10 of rare beers and different breweries because those will be the beers you'll sample while your palate is at its prime.
—Line your stomach. It's an amateur move to go to a beer fest on an empty stomach and without a water bottle. Keep drinking that water. GABF has multiple water stations set up inside the session. Your entire body will thank you later.
—Check your Trinity: Cell phone, wallet, and house/hotel keys. Comfortable shoes and pockets are a must. Ladies, if you have to bring a purse, opt for the purse that crosses your chest. You'll want your hands as free as possible.
—Grab the GABF session map. GABF sessions are set up by regions (Pacific, Midwest, Mountain, etc.) and experts will be consulting their maps. You'll consult it time and time again to find that beer on your wishlist. Plus, you'll be able to locate the restrooms faster with the map.
— Keep drinking water. Pace yourself. You don't have to drink the whole thing. Sure, it's a 2 oz. pour, but when you have 40 of them, it adds up. Plus, most are above 3.2% ABV – if you don't like it, don't be afraid to dump it. Your aim at each session should be quality over quantity.
—Rinse, lather and repeat. Go back for your favorites. Try new styles! Try an unknown brewery. Rinse your glass before trying another beer (to keep drinking water, you may want to drink your rinse water). Ask questions. Talk to the folks behind the table. This year, the Brewers Association strongly encouraged each brewery to have an employee 'repping the beer. Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery is notorious for manning his booth and talking with beer aficionados. Don't miss out on the chance to talk to your favorite brewer.
—You wouldn't critique your mom. So don't critique the beers, especially in front of the brewer standing behind the table. If you think it's great, tell them; if you don't, save it. You certainly can have your opinion, but wait until you're in your own company. Thank them for being awesome. Remember that these brewers sweat, bled, and cried for that beer, and while it may not be the beer for you, it sure is for someone else.
—Eavesdrop. Listen to what people are talking about and share your favorites in return. GABF is about the beers and the community that supports them. We're all here because it's fun.
—Cut your losses on some lines. You have to do your own cost/benefit analysis. Is it worth standing in the 20-minute Cigar City line to get one sample of beer, or should you spend those same 20 minutes sampling a new brewery, like DEHSTIHL? That's your own judgment to make.
—Don't be a dick (Dave Butler of Fermentedly Challenged has a great list) and have fun.
—Keep drinking water. Before you go to bed, you might want to chug a huge glass of water and accompany it with an advil or two.
—Share your experience with fellow beer lovers. GABF is like the family reunion that you actually want to attend -- share a pint with a brewer at a local beer bar. Continue to support the breweries you love, learn more about the ones you just learned, and fall down the rabbit hole by discovering new ones.
—Support your local restaurants and re-line your stomach. There are a lot of great establishments in Denver and they're glad you're in town for this fantastic event. Support them.