What to taste? Where to go? We asked past gold-medal brewers for their best advice on visiting the Great American Beer Fest—and Denver beyond.
1. Go old-school.
“Bring a notebook. Cell service is limited, so checking each beer on Untappd is impossible.” -Sean McBride is a brand ambassador at Deschutes Brewery, which has earned 15 golds.
2. Settle on styles.
“Because GABF can be completely overwhelming with the sheer number of beers and beer styles that are there, I tend to pick a few styles I like and just try those kinds of beers. I’m a big fan of lagers and sours, so when I see one being served, I make sure to hit those up. That usually ends up being a good mix of new breweries I’ve never tried before, and some favorites of mine.” -Jace Marti is the brewmaster at August Schell’s Brewery, which won its first GABF gold in 1988.
3. Make a loose plan.
“I try to tackle my “must-try” list first, and then I spend my time in one region per GABF session. There is so much to see that it can quickly become overwhelming, so I find that sticking to one region is a nice way to experience new beers and not feel pressure to try everything in one session. It’s important to not overplan because you’ll inevitably be disappointed—they run out of beer, the lines are too long, your group wants to do something else. GABF is a great festival for going with the flow: Walk up to breweries with short lines, try new stuff, and be open to finding new favorites you might not have sought out. Some of the best beers I’ve had at GABF came from strangers’ recommendations while waiting in line for other beers.” -Melody Daversa Crisp is the marketing manager at Karl Strauss Brewing, which has won two gold medals for its Red Trolley Ale
4. Head for the medalists.
“You always want to try the prior year’s winners and the current winners to see how the judges’ palates may have changed. We were lucky enough to win back-to-back GABF gold medals in 2012 (our pale ale) and 2013 (our Belgian pale ale); I think if I never tried medal winners before, I wouldn’t know what the judges were looking for in those styles.” -Tommy Vasilakis is the brewmaster at Brickstone Brewery.
5. You don’t have to finish.
“My first GABF, I went down every row and drank every beer; after that, I realized that is not the way to approach GABF. Now, I only sample the beers I want to, and I’m not afraid to dump out something I don’t like.” -John Way is the founder of City Star Brewing, which won 2013 gold for its Bandit Brown Ale.
6. Keep going!
“Every trip to GABF starts and ends at Falling Rock Taphouse. [Owner] Chris Black was one of the first big fans Green Flash had in Colorado, and he has always gone out of his way to support us.” -Pat Korn is a brewer and barrel master at Green Flash, which claimed two gold medals in 2012.
“Rio for afternoon drinks and dinner. It’s great for knocking back a few margaritas after drinking so much beer.” -Steve Farace is the marketing director at SweetWater, which has earned five gold medals to date.
“I always head to Euclid Hall for dinner at least one night. For breakfast, I make it a point to go to Lucille’s. The obvious place to head is Falling Rock. And I never miss a night at The 1up for a little Ms. Pac-Man. My new spot to go to is The Source to hit up Crooked Stave.” -Gabriel Gordon co-owns Beachwood BBQ & Brewing, which won two 2013 golds for its stout and blonde.
“I never attend GABF without a visit to The Kitchen and Euclid Hall for eats. For a post-GABF session bar, Star Bar is the clear choice. Take a cab to avoid the vigilante guy who prints his own parking tickets and has the envelopes addressed to his own P.O. box!” -Jason Yester is president of Trinity Brewing, which won 2013 gold for its Elektrick Cukumbahh.