What to Expect When You’re Expecting (at GABF)

Article originally published Winter 2013 West Coaster Socal – changed slightly

Congratulations! You’re giving birth to your first GABF! What’s that? You’re not pregnant? That’s just your natural beer belly? Ermagerd…so embersed. . Here’s a look at what to expect in the delivery room, as you will surely look pregnant after a week in Denver.


Session 1, Thursday Evening: Like a Virgin

Nerves fire on all cylinders as bagpipers squeeze their sacks and blow. Their quack-like drone ushers in some 12,000 thirsty people checking maps and apps one last time. The piper’s six minute march around the vast hall comes to a halt under an IMAX sized Michael Jackson poster. “Let’s do it for Johnny!” I say to a chuck-taylor wearing stranger next to me with my best Matt Dillon impersonation. Muscle memory takes over and I look for my first dance partner. I nab a 1oz sample of Damn it Feels Good to Be a Gangsta, a delicious sour dark ale from Trinity Brewing in Colorado. It gets a twirl and swirl down my throat…twice.

P1060736The Thursday session is all about fresh faces; first time brewers can be seen in their natural festicular habitat anxiously wiping down tables and straightening signs one last time. I take a moment to watch GABF 1st timer Brian Schroepfer from Valiant Brewing in action wiping sweat from his brow, dealing with draft issues and delivering pitchers to his table like the 80’s arcade game ‘Tapper’. “I’m pretty proud and honored to be here” he says after describing his lineup of beers to eager fest goers.

On the other side of the table, session one is a great mix of freshly traveled bodies; 50% of which are from out of state. Myself included, nothing is better than a post flight beerfest with a bunch of silly Americans ready to party; one ounce at a time.

Go to session one if you like: Excitement of the first session of the year. Large amount of brewery representation at each booth. A fresh haul of beer and ample quantities of rarities. Not walking into the worst cropdusted gas bombs of your life. Guy/Gal ratio ~3:1. Costumed fest goer ratio ~1:100. Glass droppage level: one every 10-20 minutes.


Session Two: It’s Friday, I’m in Love

Friday night at the GABF is electric. Brewers trust the volunteers to booth-sit for a few hours and go out for a night on the town inside the festival. The silent disco is alive with booty bumpin’, Charlie Papazian is fist bumpin’, and even two strangers in the bathroom looked at each other and smiled. Session two is all about drinking great beer and getting weird in a busy party atmosphere. Don’t be surprised if you find waldo, cross paths with an actual beer wench, or see the second coming of beer Jesus…complete with a spirit-gum beard and those creepy vibram toe shoes.

Go to session two if you like: A great beerfest party atmosphere with lots of costumed fest goers. Groups of beer savvy ladies…not just designated drivers or the dirndl hoes…actual hop loving, sour loving, funky beer loving women out in force. Weather report: mid to high levels of ass-fog moving in over the Pacific Northwest with green clouds forming above the Great Lakes. Tasting glass droppage upwards of every 5-10 minutes. Rare beers kegs running out within an hour. Plan your attack.


Bruer Tyler King pours White Chocolate at the Farm to Table Pavillion

Session Three, Saturday Afternoon: Rocky Mountain High – Members Only, Brah.

American Homebrewers Association and Brewers Association members need only apply for the Saturday afternoon session. Aside from actual glassware, this session is great to witness the ‘parade of brewers’ flooding in after the awards ceremony. It’s sort of like the running of the bulls in Spain as some Medal winning brewers are riding the highest of highs trying to get to their booth to put up medal stickers and snap photos. The GABF mobile app updates with the winners making it easy to navigate the hall and sample America’s best beer right on the spot. Of the many benefits being a member of the AHA or BA, attending this session is one of my favorites. Seeing a local California brewer take home more medals than the state of Maine is impressive and fills my heart with pride. Protip: go get a membership now, the included subscription to Zymurgy magazine is worth the price alone.

Go to session three if you like: actual glassware instead of a plastic sampling glass. Volunteers that will go over the 1oz line if you ask nicely. Floods of beer geeks rating their beer on printed spreadsheets. Day drinking. Sampling award winning beer without travelling all over the United States. Having your Saturday night free to roam around Denver’s bustling craft beer scene.


Special moment: Sampling my Beer Camp 94 Belgian Black IPA on the floor of GABF

Session Four, Saturday Night: Ohhhhhhhhhh Face

The final GABF session gets a bad rep among the press corps, which is probably why we weren’t invited to attend 2013’s session. Speaking only on my opinion of 2012, I witnessed human beer pong. I filmed a guy desperately trying to remain upright. I saw urinalbarf. But hey, someone has to finish the rest of the beer right? Some notable breweries ran out of beer and boarded up shop with handwritten “see you next year” signs. A buzzed sea of volunteers is left to deal with the onslaught of tipsy beer bros. My coverage focus quickly changed to capture the beer blight and anything-goes atmosphere. “The 1oz line is for the other sessions” a pourer mentioned while filling my glass to the rim.


Go to the final session if you like: A college beerfest atmosphere. All-you-can-drink Hefeweizen, pale ale, BMC, browns…speaking of browns, the gas being unleashed at every angle can be geeked out on. “Why, I think that gentleman had a brussels sprout and chorizo burrito for lunch!” “No no no you silly fool! It smells like a goat that ate Chicken McNuggets out of an overnight diaper!”, “Ahhh, yes yes, you are correct sir.” Go to session four if you like to watch old people nap. Go if you like to avoid brewers. Go if you like to hear a constant 300 person choir of glass dropping Ohhhhhhhhhhh’s. Did I mention the uncontrollable gas and loose pours?

Overall, the Great American Beer Festival is the best in the world. You really can’t go wrong with any session, just make sure and target the session that is best for you. Be sure to upgrade your internet connection prior to ticket sale day and work on your glass holding skills. Didn’t get tickets? I still highly recommend visiting Denver during GABF week. With overlapping events all over town from brunch to close, you really can’t go wrong. See you at 2014! If you see Old Rasputin, say hi!

Visit greatamericanbeerfestival.com for more info.



The Great American Beer Festival is Decadent and Delicious

gabf lineA human shield surrounds the Colorado Convention Center as if to protect the building’s precious liquid contents. 2,700 beers sit inside; cold, vulnerable and perhaps a bit nervous to be percolated into their final transformation: Pee.

The Great American Beer Festival’s landscape sits before us like the Grand Canyon. In true American fashion, Scottish Bag Pipers squeeze their bags and blow to commence this epic three-day beer festival. I wipe the sheen of sweat from my brow and clench my butt cheeks in anticipation. What the hell am I going to drink first?

Goldilocks better not be drinkin’ my beer in there!

The parade of festival goers is as diverse as the beers inside. There’s the sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebes, and the dickheads* – all here for one reason: Craft Beer. Mini-Pilsner plastic cups in hand, people prance in to find the perfect beer to wet their fest-whistles. Most have a plan in mind, but fuck all that. I choose to bounce around the festival like a shiny pinball, letting the occasional flipper bounce me back into action. With more than a quarter of all American breweries in this titanic-sized room, I like my odds!

Noble Ale Works head brewer Evan Price busts me taking an incognito shot.

A hundred people make a bee-line for Russian River Brewing Co’s booth. “It’s all about the Pliny”, says the guy next to me, sheepishly. Many people in the long line scope out breweries nearby like magazines in the grocery store checkout. My hometown brewery Noble Ale Works benefits from this as a number of people duck out of line for a pre-emptive strike.

Finally up front at Russian River, “I’ll take a number two, extra pickles” I say. The volunteer rolls her eyes. I clear my throat and ask for a Toronado 25th Anniversary (American Wild Ale) for my first beer. Despite my lame humor attempt, she levels my sample dead-even on the 1oz mark while squinting. My first sip makes me smile and sigh. I close my eyes and thank my Fairy Beer Mother. “Bippity, Beerpity, BOO!”, I say to Pliny guy. We tap our plastic festival glasses and part in different directions, thankfully. There’s nothing worse than a Pliny fanboy at a beer festival. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great beer…FOR ME TO POOP ON! JK OMG, calm down. You’re such a touchy reader, geez.

Credit Cambria Griffith, Golden Road Brewing

Kendra isn’t a fan of head. (thanks for the awesome pic, Cambria of Golden Road Brewing)

My first drinking buddy of the fest is Kendra Birdwell, GM and Cheesemonger of the Bruery Provisions in Orange. We graze over to the American Cheese Society’s booth and she vouches for the lineup. Feedin’ time at the cheese booth is slow like a bunch of heifers chewing cud. With fifty people in line, we move three feet in five minutes. “Ever milk a bull?” I ask. Thankfully it’s so loud she replies, “What?” while batting her alluring Zooey Desschanel-like eyes. “This line is nuts! Let’s drink some beer”. Indeed. We bolt like a bulls at a rodeo, aiming for the annoying clowns.

I thought for sure the line for Dogfish Head would be crooked, zig-zaggy, or shaped like an infinity symbol, considering their ales are for off-centered people. Nope. It was military straight. Sam Calagione is up front, high fiving, hand-shaking, kissing babies and posing for pics. Garrett Oliver at Brooklyn Brewery is doing the same! My new strategy while out of my region: skip the booth if it’s manned by all volunteers (unless they’re hot). If the brewers are there, stop in for a chat and a beer. If I like the first beer, get another. Repeat. If there’s a line > 10 people, hop in it and get whatever looks good.(Skipping ahead a blog post: this strategy worked out great! Many of the beers I sampled this way ended up winning awards!)

Golden Road’s Kissing Booth

My tasting strategy: With a 1oz pour, beer evaluation is basic. After a complete glass-rinse, I drink the rinse water to refresh my palate and to hydrate on a 2:1 water/beer ratio. I then take a whiff and a small sip to evaluate aroma, then swish the rest in my mouth to evaluate flavor and mouthfeel. I ask for a second pour if something gives me chub! I front load my non-hoppy beers for the first couple hours, then increase IBU’s as the session wears on; although palate fatigue didn’t seem to be an issue with 1oz pours.

Like a crazy man, I attend all four sessions of GABF. Here’s notes on each:

Joslyn Ellstrom opens her throat for Goose Island’s White Truffle Sour, a beer that turned my palate upside down.

Thursday: Great session! Not crowded, lots of rare stuff. Brewers linger at their booths and answer questions. Note to self: Go for lower ABV and IBU on the first day due to elevation change. You got shitcanned! Eat food before leaving for after-parties! Don’t choose a drinking buddy that will be there for only one day. They are running a 5K and you’re doing a marathon!

Nico and Shaun of 21st Amendment tidy up for the session.


Friday: Same as Thursday, but SUPER crowded. I had two drinking buddies tonight! The lovely LeAnn Hubbard (Selmas Pizzaria & Taproom Manager RSM) and beer blogger friend Joslyn Ellstrom (pic above). Note to self: Hit the cheese first. Ramp up ABV and hoppy beers here, or don’t, you charming, sexy man.

Saturday Afternoon: This is the members only session where they have real glassware. Pours get a little looser. Brewers are at the awards show and grabbing lunch during the first half, so expect a lot of volunteers. After the awards show, look for award winning beers to sample!

No happy endings at the DD lounge.

Saturday Night: Holy shit. Even the volunteers are drunk at this session! People are dropping glassware at a rate of three a minute. Full pours on whatever is left! Most of the good stuff is gone. On the way out, I ask a girl dressed like Nintendo’s Mario if she wants to jump on my mushroom.  She hums the Super Mario theme as I walk away into Denver’s cold, crisp night.

Overall: If you had to choose one session: go Thursday. If you want two, add Saturday afternoon. If you want to get barfed on, go Saturday night. With so much going on around town, there’s no way you will be disappointed.

Family Feud: “What smell is most likely after 3 hours at GABF?”

Other stuff! This festival is the biggest and best out there. Where else can you say, “I’d like to sample Berliner Weiss’ from all over the country, then DO IT in one hour? I did! Where else can you sample Pliny the Elder, Bootleggers Knuckle Sandwich, Stone Brewing Co Enjoy By 11.09.12, Alpine Duet, and other beers back to back? I did! Where else can you discover Gruits, Cheecha, and a bulls balls Stout under one roof? Nowhere but the MF GABF. I went on a brett bender. I went on a sour bender. I went on a hop bender. I went on a barrel aged bender. I came and I conquered the Great American Beer Festival.

Gripes: The lighting. It’s bad enough you’re in a room with heavy drinkers with possible liver problems…the lighting made everyone look like stage three Jaundice. On Thursday, the lighting spiked up for a minute to normal levels showing it was option to dim them horribly. Environment Shmenvironment. Give us some light so we don’t look like Oompa Loompas!

Presentation on how not to drop one’s cup.

The cup droppers. Every time someone dropped a cup, a hundred Andrew Dice Clay’s pop out of nowhere and yell, “OHHHhhhhhhh”. I heard someone drop their cup on purpose and yelled “Ohhhh” on his own! Joslynn said a girl dropped her cup in the restroom! Ewww. Put the damn cup in your cleavage, you butterfingered dingus!

Overall: This was my first time at GABF and won’t be my last! I can’t wait for the next one! Denver (and Colorado) is a craft beer utopia! So many great food options, gastropubs, and beer loving locals. “Craft Beer has changed how beer is perceived and America’s role as a brewing nation.” – Julia Herz, Brewers Association.

I caught the Brothers Allstrom straightening their magazines.


Dave and Don of Haven Brewing, Natalie and Vinnie of Russian River and Patrick of the Bruery.


Ladyface Ale Companie’s GM Cyrena Nouzille! Such a pretty lady, too.

Get up off that arm butt! Social Spitfire Cambria Griffith of Golden Road has super human arm strength, btw.

I asked if they “tea bag” the bull testes in each keg, or how that worked.

Any now, sleeping old dudes at GABF:

*quote from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off; John Hughes (There’s the sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebes, and the dickheads) CHEERS. Thanks for reading. In case you missed it, here’s my pre-GABF post that is so raunchy my work’s net-nanny blocks it.