On the last day of the Great American Beer Festival, circa 2014, I met two grown men who enthusiastically, and with little shame, confessed to me that they had both dipped into their kids’ college funds to pay for the once-in-a-lifetime GABF weekend trip to Denver they were currently soaking up the last few hours of. They spent weeks planning out their trip, from the local breweries they would visit, to the beer bars they would hit up, to a tactical game-plan to thrive in the chaos inside of the Colorado Convention Center where the fest takes place. All of their planning paid off. These guys made the most of their short weekend, creating some serious stories to tell their kids when the time came to explain to them the importance of scholarships…
With so much going on during the week of the fest in Denver, we took a cue from our favorite beer-loving bad dads and put together this list to help you tackle GABF week like a pro.
Getting Around Denver
First off, if you haven’t booked your hotel room or suckered your long-lost third cousin that lives in Denver to put you up for the weekend, stop reading this article now and go do it. You’ll thank us later. Secondly—make plans to stash the car—you won’t need it during GABF week. The majority of the happening beer bars and breweries offering pre and post-fest events are within walking distance from the convention center. Those that aren’t are usually a short cab or Uber ride across town.
Inside of the Festival
The folks at the Brewers Association, the masterminds behind the Great American Beer Festival, are kind enough to make up some pretty thorough and accessible maps to help you track down that beer you’ve been dying to try. Use the map. While you’re waiting in the fairly large line to get into the fest (which starts to form about an hour before the festival kicks off), take a look at the map and get a game plan together. You already know which breweries you’re stoked to check out, so head to their booths first to try to beat the lines. With over 800 breweries represented at the festival and more than 3,500 beers being poured, that map is like a bible for the serious craft beer drinker.
But snagging a coveted ticket into the fest isn’t just about spending five hours sampling as many beers as your tiny liver can handle. Thanks to the Brewers Association, the festival also includes cool educational components, beer and food pairings, and some wacky and fun traditions that you don’t want to miss—like Silent Disco—an Oskar Blues Brewery-sponsored event inside of the convention center. Making a total fool out of yourself dancing to oldies music that only you and the other twenty people donning special headphones on the silent disco dance floor can hear is as much of a GABF rite of passage as dropping your tasting cup and getting booed by hundreds of strangers. Check your map to find the Silent Disco booth and hours for all three days. If you’re a legit beer nerd, like, you religiously brew it at your house on a regular basis, swing by the American Homebrewers Association booth to talk shop and learn new tips from fellow beer nerds. And if you’re looking for the ultimate beer experience, check out BeerX: The CraftBeer.com Experience which infuses education and entertainment into the three-day fest. From rubbing elbows with the brewers and brewery owners in the industry that have garnered celebrity status, to learning how to evaluate beers like a certified GABF judge, to deconstructing the brewing process and sampling rare beers, you’ll find it at BeerX.
For a full schedule of GABF events and a list of participating breweries, visit: www.greatamericanbeerfestival.com.
Best Hangout Spots Outside of the Fest:
Every year during GABF week, breweries from all over the country work to schedule tap takeovers, tastings, and killer events to keep beer drinkers occupied and fully hydrated outside of the festival hours. If you’re looking to fill up your schedule during festival off-hours, head to one of these following spots:
Euclid Hall: Only a short walk from the Convention Center, Euclid Hall is one of the city’s most popular beer bars thanks to a killer food menu and an exceptional beer menu offered year-round.
Star Bar: If you end up at Star Bar, be prepared to belt out a beer-fueled karaoke rendition of a Justin Bieber song on the bar’s tiny stage. Star Bar is great for late night fun and is one of the go-to spots for off-duty beer reps to hang out throughout the week.
Falling Rock: The OG of Denver beer bars, the Falling Rock Taphouse runs a GABF countdown year-round and is one of the top places in town to find a huge selection of beers on tap—which mostly include rare, aged, and specialty offerings during GABF week.
Avanti: The new kid on the block, Avanti Food & Beverage is upping the game this year by hosting beer events every night of GABF week featuring a who’s who line-up of craft breweries throughout the country. Avanti is also a collective eatery and houses seven different restaurant options.
Freshcraft: At the bar at this local craft beer-lovers hangout, you’ll find over 125 craft beers to choose from, and in the kitchen, you’ll find a menu made up of the kind of amazing comfort food that will help you survive a week of heavy boozing.
Don’t-Miss GABF Week Events in Denver:
There are so many. But here are a few of our favorites:
Tuesday, October 4 | 6 pm
What the Funk!? Invitational
If you really want to pregame for GABF, check out this boozy event celebrating all things barrel-aged. A mini beer festival of sorts, What the Funk!? will feature tastings of barrel-aged beers from around the world. Tickets are $100 and can be found along with more info on the event www.wtfinvitational.com.
Wednesday, October 5 | 8:30 pm
Upslope Brewing Co. Tap Takeover at Freshcraft
Curious as to what a Smell My Hand Long Pepper Black IPA tastes like? Yeah? You’re braver than we are—but you’ll have your chance to taste this Upslope/Freshcraft collaboration beer on Wednesday night of GABF week. Upslope’s also bring a Bourbon Barrel Pumpkin Wine and a barrel-aged dark Belgian, along with a handful of the taproom favorites. Stay tuned to www.freshcraft.com for more details.
Thursday, October 6 | 7 pm to 12 am
Epic Brewing’s Fourth Annual 50 Firkin Fiasco
A special event thrown by Epic Brewery in Denver where the brewer’s bust out 50 unique firkins for your tasting pleasure. Squeeze into the Epic tasting room, brewery, barrel-aging space, or anywhere where there’s a tiny slice of room to rub elbows with industry folks and taste some unique beers. Keep an eye out at www.epicbrewing.com for tickets to go on sale.
Friday, October 7 | 10 pm to 1 am
Oskar Blues Post-Session Tap Takeover and Live Music
The biggest post-session parties go down on Friday night, and Colorado-based, Oskar Blues Brewery, gets in the action every year by taking over all of the taps at the Blake Street Vault and setting local rock band, Interstate Stash Express loose to rattle the bricks in the old downtown Denver building. No cover for this party, but expect to be sipping on some high-ABV, specialty Oskar Blues beers. www.blakestreetvault.com.
Saturday, October 8 | 8 pm
Avery Brewing Co. Robe One Out Party at Star Bar
GABF week is hard, and the nobody understands that more than the folks at Avery Brewing Company. Back again this year, Avery is throwing a big ol’ post-session robe party at Star Bar where the first 30 people in robes through the door get a free Avery beer. No cover for this crazy party, and feel free to throw on a pair of slippers to get extra cozy while you sip on some Avery taproom-only releases and redefine the term, “nightcap”. Stay tuned to www.averybrewing.com for more info.