October 22, 2012

GABF Planning Strategy

The Great American Beer Festival is just around the corner and for those lucky enough to score tickets to this sold-out event, there’s good news: this is going to be your best GABF ever! Why you ask? Because we’ve been tracking the pulse on the craft beer scene and have the lowdown on the festival’s best breweries and the most efficient way to hit them all.

A few quick pointers for the newbies out there though… Rule #1: Hydrate, hydrate, HYDRATE. You’d be surprised how fast 1-oz samples add up. Rule #2: Eat beforehand. Arriving with a fairly full stomach is important for obvious reasons. But besides that, food is limited to hotdogs and such inside and you don’t want to waste too much time eating anyway. Lastly, don’t panic when you see the line; it moves surprisingly fast and is actually a fun, festive environment.

Alright, here’s the itinerary we’ll be following this year. It includes a mix of large and small breweries, as well as experimental and classic beers. Use this guideline and I guarantee most of you will try beers you’ve never encountered before. After all, checking out new, exciting brews is what the GABF is all about!

[Disclaimer: Everyone’s alcohol tolerance is different. Be sure to take the evening slow and not over-indulge. The following itinerary is merely a suggestion. The author, nor North Denver Tribune, can be held liable for any resultant actions.]

At last, you’ve entered the hall and have your tasting cup in hand. Make sure to grab a map and soak in the glory that is the GABF. You’ll quickly notice that the festival is organized by US regions and at the entry point, you’ll find yourself in front of the Midwest section.  Immediately head to Founder’s and get things started right with a taster of their insanely delicious Breakfast Stout (coffee-infused imperial stout), as well as the bourbon barrel-aged version, Kentucky Breakfast Stout. To cut your coffee buzz, continue on to New Glarus and ask for their appropriately named, Raspberry Tart; a sour raspberry-packed ale.

Pressing on in a counterclockwise direction, you’ll hit the small New England section that houses Allagash. Give their barrel-aged trippel, Curieux, a try; its wonderful mix of fruity Belgian yeast and oaky vanilla is a truly masterful combination. The adjacent aisle hosts the equally small Southeast section. Tampa Bay’s Cigar City is a GABF staple due to their never-ending creativity. Their Jai Alai IPA, with its caramel notes and complementary citrusy bitterness, is a must.

Moving onwards, you’ll hit the Silent Disco. Grab some headphones and cut the rug for a track or two. You can thank me later.

Exiting the dance floor with music still ringing in your ears, you’ll find yourself in front of the Pacific section. Locate The Bruery’s booth and taste their Hottenroth berlinerweiss; a uniquely tangy wheat beer style rarely found in the US. Be sure to ask what time they’re opening bottles of Black Tuesday, an ~20% ABV bruiser of a stout that many consider to be the best beer poured at the festival.

Next stops are Lost Abbey and Russian River. There will be lines, but for good reason. Be patient; they move fast. Considered two of the finest breweries in the world, every beer they pour is worth trying. Many are sour, so keep an open mind when sampling them; considering them almost more like a wine or fruit liqueur is advice I give many people when trying for the first time. Once you get a taster, get back in line to try the next one on the list.

At this point you should be at the far end of the festival hall. Keep moving counter-clockwise to the Southwest section. Jester King, located in the hills of Austin, has elevated the Texas brewing scene to a national level; be sure to check them and their Noble King, a spicy and dry, yet grainy saison, out. Spend time perusing their bottle labels too, which are some of the most creatively illustrated in the entire beer world. On your way through, stop at Live Oak who brews one of country’s (if not the world’s) best hefeweizens.

You’re on the home stretch! The Pacific Northwest section is up next and hosts perennial medal favorites Alaskan Brewing Co and Elysian. Alaskan’s Smoked Porter has won more medals than any other beer in GABF history and for good reason. Elysian meanwhile, has perfected the art of pumpkin beers and their bountiful interpretations of this versatile gourd can’t be missed.

Looming ahead should be the final section: the Mid-Atlantic. For those still feeling up to it, Dogfish Head, the region’s craft brewing powerhouse, and their seemingly endless list of uber-artistic brews, is a great way to pass the dwindling moments of the festival.

As last call is announced, head out a few minutes early to avoid the drunken taxi queue that’s always been the bane of this otherwise illustrious event. On the cab ride home, realize how lucky you are to live in Denver and mark next year’s fest on your phone’s calendar. Until then, Prost!

Share Button