The Ultimate Guide to the Great American Beer Festival



Ah beer, the lifeblood of ‘Merica. So a review about a beer festival…on a music blog? You know I love beer around these parts. TRR even has a radio series called Mixed Brew where I crack a beer and see where the playlist goes from there. Beer and music go together like yin and yang. Potatoes and gravy. Simon and Garfunkel. Okay, I’ll stop.

Now if you love beer, the Mile High City is the place to be. They brag about their beer in California, in Oregon, in Michigan, and in Wisconsin, and I have to say, well done in those great states. But nowhere else can you find more breweries per capita or the largest beer festival in the country, The Great American Beer Festival.

Not only is it the largest festival in the great US and A, but it’s the largest beer competition in the world with over 700 breweries pouring 3,500 beers and 5,500 brews being judged. Check out the winners here. As Charlie Sheen would say, “Winning.” A little pop culture throwback right there.


If that’s winning, then we’re all in good shape.

The review of the festival can be summed up quite easily: EPIC. I mean, it’s as amazing as you can imagine. The most gigantic thing in the world with thousands of beers all around. The review is the easy part.

So I figured I’ll turn this review into a guide and help you, my beer drinking friend, navigate the craziest and greatest festival of them all. Learn from the drunken mistakes I keep making year after year and execute GABF like a boss. So take this handy-dandy step-by-step guide, print it out, put it in your pocket, and then try to read it after four and a half hours of drinking. Challenge…accepted?

Step 1: Get the Ticket

GABF is a really hard ticket to get, even if almost 50,000 people go each year. It sells out in minutes and if you log on right at 10am, even on multiple computers, you still can fail (happens to me year after year somehow). It’s very frustrating, so I’d suggest going an alternate route. First, you could join the Brewers Association and snag up to four tickets a day early. Plus, the tickets are cheaper, you can go to a members-only session, and you get discounts at a ton of breweries by showing your cool little BA card. Gigantic beard optional. Another sweet deal is volunteering, but again, that’s a hard ticket to get. You have to be invited by an existing volunteer, so I guess you’ll have to go out and make some new friends. Once you get the volunteer gig, you just do some menial labor for a few hours to help setup, or party while pouring brews at a session, and you get to go to the festival for the price of on the house. Damn, volunteering / helping out the world never felt so good.


An association for beer? Score!

Step 2: Have a Game Plan

When you first enter the festival hall, it’s jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring. You run around, hit up your favorite breweries, try some crazy beers, and get a smidge wasty. No shame in that, but I think I’ve enjoyed GABF much more when I rolled up with a game-plan. This year, I went in scouting out some of my favorite types of beers and mostly stuck with that, venturing out to try some hard-to-find beers and some very interesting brews as well (bacon beer should be on your bucket list). Some like to just stick to an area as the festival is organized by region. With the handy-dandy GABF app, you can peruse al lthe breweries, look at tours based on beer styles, and add them to a list. Rolling with a game plan has never been easier. Thanks technology, you’re the best!


No Colt 45 or Billy Dee Williams, I checked.

Step 3: Prepare Thyself

“Let’s get in there and crush as many beers as possible.” The famous last words of me and every one else who make others say, “Some people just can’t handle GABF.” Live and learn friends, I will tell you that you need to prepare the body for the onslaught of beers. I’m talking about a strict regimen of quality beer drinking leading up to the beer festival. And then I’m talking about prepping for the festival like you’re about to run a 10k. Get a carbo load in the night before, down more water than a triathlete during the day, and get a mondo meal in a good hour before you head to the festival. And those pretzel necklaces, they’re genius. It’ll cleanse your pallette, avoid you hitting up overpriced food at the festival, won’t slow you down, and help soak up the booze. High-five to whatever drunken Einstein came up with that.


Ah so that’s how he figured it out.

Step 4: Get to the Festival

There are two schools of thought here. Either get there nice and early or get there really late, but not in between. 90% of the people there do the in between. Get there early, bring a good book, maybe chat with someone (see make new friends tip above) and chill out. You get in first and hear some dudes shred out on some bagpipes as they try to pump you up on your walk into the massive festival hall with zero lines inside. On the other hand, hit up a restaurant, snag some food, drink some water, and chill out until 45 minutes to an hour after the doors open. Then head over to the festival and waltz right on in. Either way, make sure you rock a bike (you’re so hip), a cab company of sorts, or the light rail that stops right in front of the convention center.


The ultimate bike.

Step 5: Survive the Line

GABF is the only place where you walk to the entrance and then immediately walk as far away as possible from the entrance. You get there, and then you have to walk to the end of the line like half a mile away. Then you follow around in the line for 30 minutes until you’re back at the entrance. You realize that you should have followed step 4 at this point. If you’re caught in the massive line, just following along and don’t flip when people cut in front of you. The line spans out to six at the entrance, so you’ll all get your chance to crush beers at roughly the same time. Just judge those people and stare at them. Judge. Stare.  Judge. Stare.


Tom Selleck just seems relevant to this post somehow.

Step 6: Execute!

Holy s**t, you made it. 10 miles later, and you’re in the largest beer festival ever, with a little taster cup, and hours to utterly dominate. Well then, get to work! Avoid the cluster at the beginning, move to the far end of the hall and execute your plan. Going to the Great Lakes region? Get over there and start tasting. Drinking only dark brews? Get a damn stout in your glass. But remember, the best advice of all, is that this is a marathon, not a race. Your ridiculously priced $80 + ticket isn’t going to be recovered if you crush 60 ounces of brew. It’s more for the experience of having more beers on hand than anywhere else. It’s about quality, not quantity, so those seemingly sissy one ounce pours are actually a good thing, giving you the opportunity to try more amazing and rare brews.


Oh yeah.

Step 7: Avoid Distractions

They have lots of fun events to supplement the festival like a silent disco and some old dude running a karaoke machine. Thats well and good, but you’re not at a damn karaoke bar on a Tuesday in the ‘burbs, you’re at GABF. Get to tasting beers. I guess it’s kind of a thing to yell when people drop their plastic (thank God) tasting glasses. You’re not in high school pointing and laughing at other people’s misfortunes anymore, get to tasting some brews. You’re also probably going to have to break the seal at some point, despite your efforts to fight it. Those ridiculous lines to the bathrooms? Distractions too. Head to the far end of the hall and rock the portos where there are never any lines. Of course, make sure to sample lots of beers on your walk. Killin’ it.


Living room karaoke like a boss.

Step 8: Regroup

Oh boy, it’s only about an hour in and people are already getting sloppy. Come to think of it, you’ve got a pretty tasty buzz already and have started high-fiving way too many people. Imperial = oh s**t. Barrel aged = a problem. It’s cool, take a breath, maybe look at the map, and snag some water at the stations available in every aisle. No, you’re not a sissy for hydrating, you’re smart. Maybe pretend to be “beer smart” and discuss the “flavor nodes” of the beer. You must have a beard to discuss these things though. Another thing you’ll want to do is regroup with your, um, group. Two to three people is the ideal group size for GABF, because otherwise you’ll spend most of the time trying to find people in your crew. Seriously, you’re looking at four and a half hours of calling and texting people as you all wander around like kids in a candy store trying beers and not really meeting together. It’s near impossible with a big crew, so just try and stick together to avoid wasting time searching for each other. Again, a game-plan is key in getting everyone on the same page.


This is what trouble looks like.

Step 9: Round Home

You’re on the home stretch now. Can you believe it’s been 4 hours already? I know your drunken mind will be compelled to rev into beer crush mode, but don’t let it. Take this opportunity to head to the popular breweries that have the lines on the end caps. The crowd will have dissipated a bit at this point, making the line more manageable and will give you a second to catch your breath. Still try to stick with your plan and go for certain brews, certain regions, or past winners. Enjoy the special brews, take down the rest of your pretzel necklace, and face the sad fact that last pour is at 9:50. No, you can’t charm the volunteers into giving you more, I try and fail every year.


Lionel Richie says drink water to keep partying “All Night Long.”

Step 10: The After Party

One year at GABF, we went out for some tequila shots after. Bad move. Another year, we ventured away from the Convention Center and got food, drank water, and talked about all the awesome brewskies. Better move. Oh wait, I think we got some margs instead of water. Never mind, bad move again. Anyway, avoid the crowds and go get some grub. Let the light rail station crowd dissipate, avoid the stumbling drunk people (me) and get some food and water in you. Revel at the marvel that is GABF. You did it, you conquered it, and next year, oh yes, you’ll do it again. Why? Because it’s the greatest 4 and a half hours of your life, that’s why.


Anything but tequila!

Disclaimer: I am in no way associated with GABF or the Brewers Association, but it really would be cool if I was. Hint, hint bearded brewing people, hook me up with some free burrs!

Leave a comment


  1. Beer and music sure go together. Hic, most of the posts on my music blog have been drafted (yes, I like my puns) at the neighbourhood brewery.

  2. Next year count me in good pal, I wanna be a part of your game plan. PS, now that the wedding is over we can start planning a trip.. BOOYA!


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