My last day in Colorado started even earlier than all the other days I was there, as I had to make an 8 a.m. flight, and the Denver airport was about an hour from my hotel. As I sat in the terminal waiting to board—and on the plane trip back to Dallas—I jotted down a few thoughts on my first Great American Beer Festival, which i have expanded on below.
First, the location: the Colorado Convention Center is huge, and easily held all of the booths, seminars food vendors and other assorted going one. The layout, however, left a bit to be desired. The brewery’s booths were set up in sections from A-Z, and the sections jumped around a bit all over that hall. There were multiple times that I would look up expecting to see Section D for example—since I was in Section C—and saw a totally different section instead. This was probably due to having to fit so many different sections in a specific space, but was still a bit disconcerting at times.
Although I knew there was going to be a lot of people at the festival, I still was not prepared for the mass of humanity I encountered at times, especially on Friday night. In fact, there were times when I could literally not move due to the people in my way, although that did not happen very often. I did see a number of very intoxicated people—especially Friday night—but only one pool of puke, although to be fair, I did not attend the Saturday night session. The Saturday afternoon Members Only session was easily the most enjoyable, as there just were not as many people there.
One of the things I was warned about by multiple people before I left for Colorado was that the wait times for beer pours was horrendous, mostly for the harder to find beers, of course. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the vast majority of lines took less than six minutes, and that list included Toppling Goliath. Having said that, there were a few longer waits, including for Sam Adams Utopias (36 minutes), Weldwerks (16 minutes) and Avery (12 minutes.)
In addition to the actual brewery booths serving beer, there were plenty of other events happening in the convention center. One of these was the various seminars that were held during each session, some of which were well worth the time to attend, and a few others that seemed to be thrown together at the last minute. My favorites of the ones I attended were Travis Rupp from Avery Brewing Co., Blaine Landberg and Thomas Vo of Calicraft Brewing Co. and Chris Davison from Wolf’s Ridge Brewing. In addition, the Paired event —which was held just off the main hall on two separate nights—was excellent, and featured some great combinations of amazing food and great beers, all put together by chefs from around the country.
Having said that, some of the most enjoyable parts about GABF for me happened outside of the convention center. Both What the Funk! Festival and the Denver Rare Beer Tasting IX were well worth both the money they cost for tickets and the effort to get to the off-site locations. Just be aware, both events tend to sell out extremely quickly, so if you want to attend, be sure to keep track for when tickets go on sale.
While the amount of breweries that attended was a bit overwhelming, there were also a number of other vendors scattered around that I found interesting. Along with the obvious growlers and glass companies, there were also a few beef jerky companies that I tried, the best of which was Chef’s Cut, whose Sriracha uncured bacon is excellent.
And now, a few random numbers and bullet points about my four days in Denver:
- Miles Driven — 378
- Miles Walked — 10.9 (32,124 steps)
- Number of Beers Tried — 102
- Number of Breweries Visited — 1 (Avery Brewing Co.)
- Number of Pools of Puke I Had To Avoid — 1
- Longest Line I Waited In For a Beer — 36 minutes (Sam Adams)
- Number of Tasting Glasses From Various Events I Brought Back — 5 (What the Funk!, Denver Rare Beer Tasting IX, Regular GABF Taster, Members Only Session GABF Taster, Paired Taster)
- Number of Beers Purchased and Brought Back — 23
All in all, I had a great time, although there was not near enough time in each day to do everything I wanted to, and I look forward to next year’s festival.