gabf: how to not be that guy

Posted on: September 19, 2018

Because GABF attendees, Colorado, and, indeed, the world have changed since I wrote my first GABF advice post in 2014, I felt it was due an update. While the majority of my advice remains the same, there are some key items that I missed that must be remarked upon.

One of the most popular GABF-season posts is advice on how to “survive” the festival. What’s kind of sad is how many of these posts are necessary. And how many are very, very unnecessary. I’m not sure which category this post falls in to, but I felt that my 13 years of attending, volunteering for, and working at GABF might benefit some folks attending for the first time. Or second. Or tenth. Because apparently some things bear repeating.

  1. Do not bring a backpack. I’m stating this up front, because this will be your first issue. At the doors there is hired security who will not allow you in with a backpack. Yes, women can bring massive purses in without an issue. Yes, this is stupid and arbitrary. No, it doesn’t change the rule. In fact, if you want to get it quicker, don’t bring any bags. Why do you need a big bag anyway? If you’re planning on buying something from a vendor, they have bags. If you have a coat… don’t have a coat it’s going to be hot as balls out… or tie it around your waist (the coat, not the heat). If you have a bag, security will search it and send you away if you have anything “illicit” like food that you can’t wear around your neck, weapons, or beer.
  2. Do not bring your kids. Really? This has to be said? Even if your kid is a month old and you just can’t bear to leave your adorable little sex fruit with a babysitter, it’s still not okay. First off, the fest is very, very loud. Way too loud for adult ears, let alone Sweetpea’s little ones. Second, it’s a BEER FEST. This is a place where adults should be allowed to be free of screaming babies, diapers, and bottles. Third, the ticket says 21+, but for some reason I see 2-3 babies every session and, inevitably, baby will get bumped into by some drunk person, mom or dad will get super mad, and there will be a confrontation. You know what prevents this? Leaving the kid at home. Again, why do I have to explain this?
  3. Dress appropriately. Yeah – I know – everyone has a different definition of “appropriate.” What I mean is, the GABF hall has cement floors, so you might want to wear shoes that are comfortable to wobble around on concrete for 5 hours in. I gets really hot in there – so maybe a full Chewbacca costume would get too warm. Time is of the essence in the bathroom, so unless you’re a romper ninja, consider separate pants and top. Just – be comfortable. Make sure that whatever you’re wearing can last the whole night and isn’t going to be a distraction to you for the real event – beer drinking and lots of it!
  4. Have a place to put your glass. Whether in the bathroom, when you’re chatting, or simply when you want to take a break, you will want a convenient place to put your glass. Rahr and Weyermann malts usually give out free glass holders, but you can also buy them from any number of vendors like the Excommunicated Mormon Drinking Team. You’ll be especially thankful when you get tipsy.
  5. Have your ID and ticket out. Luckily, with the advent of pre-loading the fest (thank you whomever at the BA finally approved this), this isn’t as much of an issue. However, it still speeds things along if you have these two things out (and you don’t have a backpack).
  6. You will be overwhelmed. I have been to at least 30 GABF sessions across the years I’ve been going and every time I walk into the hall (which now encompasses all of the Convention Center halls), I am completely taken aback by the shear scale of the thing. The amount of booths, kegs, people… all of the ways to get lost, physically and metaphorically. It’s a lot to take in. Take a few moments and take a breath. Take a photo. Especially if it’s your first time, you’ll want to remember it. That will be really hard to do if you don’t follow my next bit of advice which is…
  7. Do not view GABF as a chance to get wasted. Oh yes, you will get there, but if that’s the way you approach it, you will not have as much fun. If you go to enjoy beer, taste new things, and talk to beer folk, you are just going to enjoy yourself more. Go to have a blast, not solely to get sloshed. On that subject…
  8. Have a plan. In case you haven’t heard, the layout for GABF has changed this year. Breweries are no longer organized by regions, and instead are in alphabetical order. While this will allow for some often overlooked breweries to get more fans, it also means you can’t just go to a single region and work your way through. In order to plan, I highly recommend you…
  9. Download the MyGABF app. Take some time, go through all of the breweries and various lists, and mark all of the breweries you want to visit. The app will show you a map with how many of your breweries are on each row. If you stay focused, you are going to be able to appreciate more beers.
  10. Don’t be afraid to deviate from your plan. Allow yourself to get swept away by a beer or a brewery that isn’t on your list. Maybe you suddenly decide that you want to focus solely on tasting German-style lagers – DO IT! Let your palate be your guide.
  11. Try beers you would normally never drink. As mentioned above, the new layout will mean that you are likely to see far more breweries you are unfamiliar with than before. VISIT THEM. Why would you pay so much money for a ticket to a beer fest to just drink what you always drink? Take the opportunity to try new things. “Hate” IPAs? Try a few from different regions. Sour beers not your thing? Use the GABF app and hit up their recommendations for sours. Afraid of “dark” beers? For the love of god, drink some beers with color. This is your opportunity to expand your mind, take it!
  12. Do not go to breweries you can easily get where you live. This goes hand-in-hand with #6. If you can get a beer where you live, don’t waste your time. The caveat to this is, obviously, if is an extremely pricey beer, take a taste. Otherwise, why not explore more “exotic” beers? This is where having a plan helps.
  13. Don’t ask for over-sized pours. See that little line on your glass? That’s the legal pour limit for the GABF liquor license. It also allows you to try more beers and to not have to suffer through beers you don’t enjoy. I often hear “that’s only one sip!” but I rarely see someone take out a pint in 16 sips. Volunteers and breweries risk being kicked out for over-pouring, so help them out by enjoying your ounce.
  14. Don’t be afraid to dump a beer. Whether it’s not to your taste or a bad beer, feel free to dump it in the dump buckets located on every table. That’s what they are there for. You don’t need to offer an explanation as to why – we’ve all been there – just ask for a rinse and get another beer that you will hopefully enjoy more.
  15. Use the app to track your beers – but make sure to transfer that information out of the app when you’re done. The GABF app allows you to track and rate beers you try. It’s a quicker, more straightforward way to rate your beers while on the floor. However, once next year’s app rolls out, it will overwrite all of that work you’ve done. So, once you are home and sobered up, take out the GABF app and put all of those beers into another format, be it Excel or Untappd or RateBeer. Trust me, there will be a lot of blank tape, but this is one thing you can hold on to.
  16. GABF is more than logging beers. Wait – isn’t that the exact opposite of what you just said above? Nope! Well, kind of, but hear me out. GABF is about the beers – and you’ll want to remember them – especially the ones that you loved. But if you spend the entire fest with your face buried in the app and not taking in the crowd, the brewery reps, the whole atmosphere – you’re missing out on the best bit. It’s important to remember the beers, but it’s more important to remember the experience.
  17. Because a beer won a medal doesn’t mean it’s the best beer there. Many of the beers being poured were not entered into the competition, but, even if they were, that doesn’t mean that the medal-winners are either (a) objectively better or (b) more to your taste. Also remember that the beers that were actually tasted as part of the judging were stored for six weeks in a warehouse before tasting and may or may not resemble what you are getting on the floor. Additionally, there are only three medals, and in some cases hundreds of beers in that category, so you could have fifty beers that just missed medaling by a hair. I love trying the medal winners – but I try not to fixate on them at the detriment of tasting other great brews.
  18. Be friendly to brewers, but also be respectful. Despite the number of beers and breweries available, this is often NOT brewers’ favorite festival. The very things that make it cool (the size) also make it overwhelming. Appreciate that a lot of time, money, and planning have gone in to being at GABF and show the proper respect. If you see one of the more famous brewers, say hi, but don’t corner them or take up too much of their time. Likely, they are trying to talk to some of their friends along with the thousands of other GABF-goers and don’t have an hour to debate the merits of Cascadian vs black IPA with you or – worse – take advice on how to make their beer “better.” You will learn so much more by listening and asking thoughtful questions than you will recounting your own past glories. And if you want a photo with them, just ask, but be okay if they say no. They aren’t being assholes, they are just being people, and that’s okay.
    And definitely don’t burst into tears and blubber about how Garrett Oliver is your hero while The Beard Wrangler looks on in horror.


  19. Be friendly to volunteers. Believe it or not, volunteering at GABF is very hard work. It’s long hours, it’s wet, you get yelled at a lot, and it can be rather thankless. If you happen to get a volunteer who doesn’t know his stuff, don’t be too harsh. Sometimes the brewery didn’t provide any information about the beers, sometimes it’s a volunteer’s first year and they are overwhelmed, or sometimes they are just covering for another volunteer on break and are scrambling to catch up. Just shrug and move on. And if you interact with one of the safety team volunteers (red shirts) who has to tell you that you don’t have a ticket for a mini-event or asks you to please stop screaming at the support column, it’s never going to move, try to be nice. Safety team doesn’t get to drink on the job, they have to be there before other volunteers and leave after them, and most have already worked a full day at their regular jobs. They are just trying to keep GABF from falling into anarchy.
    Especially this guy. He's all about the anarchy suppression.
    Especially this guy. He’s all about the anarchy suppression.


  20. Respect the bubble. It’s inevitable – you happen to run into someone because you are drunk, say I’m sorry. If they happen to run into you because they are drunk, try to keep them from falling down and laugh it off. Some lines get tight, it happens, you laugh and talk beer 2 inches away from someone else’s face. But intentionally invading someone’s bubble isn’t cool. Do NOT grab boobs or butts. It doesn’t matter how drunk you are or how cute you think you are being, that’s called assault, brotha! Newsflash: men with big beards don’t necessarily want every passer by grabbing or stroking them. It’s okay to keep your hands on your glass.
  21. Do not be an asshole. Again, how is this something that needs to be said? Yes, I know that you know more than anyone who has ever lived about double IPAs, but that doesn’t mean that you should try to belittle the brewer who didn’t win a medal by saying how your homebrew made it to the final round at the AHA Conference and if she had only done what you did, they would have won, too. She doesn’t care. If you get a beer dumped over your head by some guy named Lurch, flag down a safety team member. No one wants/needs unsolicited comments on their body. Name calling is just infantile. Everyone is just trying to have a good time, and if you remember that, your time will be even better.

  1. Slow down and dump your beer when you leave. By that time of the night the volunteers are simply exhausted, and they are doing their best to make sure your final moments at the fest are positive. If you decide to be a jerk and try to bolt by them with beer, it’s just going to end badly for you and make their night crappy. And don’t run down/jump down/slide down the stairs. No one needs to see your blood everywhere. Some of us can never get that image out of our heads.
  2. Drink a lot of water. My rule is that every time I pass a water station, I have to fill up my cup and drink the whole thing. If I fill up my cup to rinse it, I drink that, too. Any chance I have to drink water, I drink a lot of it. It helps keep my palate fresh, my mind clear, and the floor vomit-free.
  3. Avoid the weed. Not altogether. I mean, it’s legal, you’re an adult: go forth and enjoy. However, you could be limiting your enjoyment of GABF by showing up baked. That whole “getting wasted isn’t the goal” thing is especially true here as mixing the intoxicants can have a negative impact on your entire night.
  4. Do attend events outside of the actual GABF. You are here in one of the coolest cities in the world, do not limit your experience to just the GABF. There are plenty of great tappings, beer dinners, and breweries around town for you to visit. It’s a good way to round out your trip and make it about more than just getting housed. Porchdrinking has a complete calendar of GABF-auxiliary events and I have posts with my own suggestions on great places to eat and drink and things to do around town.
  5. Eat well and often. Beer drinkers cannot live on pretzels and jerky alone. Take some time to visit one of the great eateries in town and get some real sustenance. Maybe even eat some greens. We are at 5280 feet above sea level, and the beer will affect you quicker here than down lower, so getting a good base (a lot of protein and fat) will help you make it through the week. Getting some greens will also help your GI tract recover quicker. Everyone will tell you to drink a lot of water (including me), and that is true, too, but getting the right food may be even more important.
  6. Have fun. No, seriously, prioritizing having fun. I have to constantly tell myself this as I tend to get insanely stressed during this week. GABF is about enjoying everything there is to love about beer in the United States. Brewers have spent a lot of time and money to bring their product out here, and they deserve to serve it to people who are stoked to be drinking it. And we, as geeks, deserve to spend this short amount of time really, truly, completely letting our passion for beer overtake us. Literally and figuratively, drink it up.

It’s time. We’ll see you in the hall.


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