GABF 2015: Tips to get the most out of the festival (and stay standing)

The Denver Post is sending a mix of veterans and newbies to this year’s Great American Beer Festival, Sept. 24-26 at the Colorado Convention Center. Be sure to check out our calendar of other beer-focused events during GABF week and our contributors’ regional scouting reports on breweries to check out. Here’s what our staff is looking for and how they’re strategizing to make the most of the festival.

John Frank
State politics reporter and craft beer writer
On Twitter: @ByJohnFrank

Best bottle shop to visit while in Denver: For out of towners, a trip to the local bottle shop is a must. The place to go is Mondo Vino, 3601 W 32nd Ave. Beer manager Foster Ramsey can point you to all the good stuff, including a few hard-to-find offerings from Cascade and Russian River, as well as can’t-miss local beers from Crooked Stave, Trinity and more.

Colorado brewery you can’t miss at the festival: Black Project Spontaneous and Wild Ales. This Former Future Brewing spin-off rarely releases beers, and they sell out in minutes. Brewer James Howat is making some of the state’s most interesting wild beers.

Under-the-radar beer bar: Falling Rock Tap House on Blake Street is the big draw, but Terminal Bar in Union Station offers 30 Colorado craft beers on draft — and one of the most unique drinking experiences anywhere, in the middle of a train station.

Most under-appreciated region at GABF: I’m an evangelist for southern beer. So much good stuff. So visit the Southeast Region and check out my write-up on the best places to visit.

GABF pro tip: Don’t drink every 1-ounce pour. Dump the ones you don’t like.

Jenn Fields
Travel and fitness editor
On Twitter: @JennFields

First brewery booth I’ll visit: Spencer Brewery, to try America’s first official Trappist ale.

GABF Pro tip: Drink plenty of water to delay drunkenness and stave off tomorrow’s hangover. For those coming from sea level, this is a good counter to the advice from medical professionals not to drink heavily when you arrive at altitude.

GABF strategy: This will be my first GABF, so I’m worried about decision fatigue setting in if I go without a plan — even though I hear beer really helps alleviate decision fatigue. I’ll mine our regional guides for a list of beers and/or breweries I don’t want to miss and then stick to it, even when inebriation sets in. No, really. Why would you doubt that? OK, so maybe some beer wanderlust will be part of my plan.

Favorite beer style to browse at GABF: Stouts. No wait, Belgians. No wait, sours. Smoked porters. Dang! Are we seriously supposed to choose just one? Who wrote this questionnaire?

Don’t forget: The Beer and Food Pavilion. I love beer pairings. It’s a great way to try both styles and breweries that might not otherwise have grabbed my attention. Plus, food is also part of my overall GABF survival strategy. It should probably be part of yours, too.

Jeremy Meyer

Editorial writer
On Twitter: @jpmeyerDPost

GABF Pro tip: Try the beers from the state guild groups. Often they are from brand new breweries that aren’t in their own booths at the festival and there can be some great finds. Also, try out the pro-am beers that feature homebrewer recipes made by professional breweries.

First brewery booth I’ll visit: The Rare Barrel (Booth V16). It is an all-sours brewery out of Berkeley, Calif., that last year won gold medals in both the World Cup and GABF in the sour categories. Its brewmaster is from The Bruery. It is phenomenal.

GABF strategy: One strategy that always seems to fly out the window after a few beers is to map out your attack. But don’t be rigid. Listen to what others are saying. The best part of the festival is finding those undiscovered gems, the ones that are part of the buzz in the hall. Hit them quick because that buzz often carries fast, and suddenly those breweries are out of beer.

Favorite brewery region: Pacific. Some brilliant breweries are operating in California right now, such as these San Diego gems: Societe (Booth X12), Modern Times (Booth U5), Pizza Ports (Booth U24) and AleSmith (Booth S5).

Five Colorado breweries to visit on the convention floor: Odd 13 of Lafayette just hired a new brewer from Allagash, and they are coming up with some wickedly interesting combinations, such as a kale and cucumber sour and a double IPA that’s one of the best on the market. Bootstrap Brewing of Niwot’s Insane Rush IPA is one of my favorite canned beers this year. 4 Noses Brewing of Broomfield, Tommy Bibliowicz’s thriving brewery near the Rocky Mountain Airport, is brewing experimental, barrel-aged and traditional beers (Ritual Rivers Porter, brewed with Ritual Chocolate and Two Rivers coffee beans, is a powerhouse). Kokopelli Brewing Co. of Westminster has 30 taps and most of them are pouring beers made in-house (Hop Slugger IPA is outstanding). Horse and Dragon Brewing of Fort Collins has solid traditional beers, some of the best of their styles coming out of one of Colorado’s best beer towns.

Joe Nguyen
Daytime online sports producer
On Twitter: @JoeNguyen

GABF Pro tip: Pretzel necklaces will help provide much-needed sustenance as the night continues. Bonus points for wearing soft pretzels. And remember that there’s a Chipotle just two blocks from the convention center, at 16th and California.

First brewery booth I’ll visit: Dry Dock Brewing Co. from Aurora. Have to start with the home brewery.

GABF strategy: Research, research, research. Are there must-visit breweries on the list? Hit those spots up first. Better to enjoy the really good beers before the inebriation kicks in later in the night. And stop by Samuel Adams early. Typically every year the brewery brings out a small batch of its alcohol-rich Utopias (the ABV was 28 percent last year). Either try it at GABF or buy one of the limited-edition bottles (they run about $200).

Favorite Beer Week activity (outside GABF): Anything at Falling Rock that week. There are special tappings all week. Don’t like what’s being offered? There’s more than 75 beers on tap. Or go to Freshcraft, off 15th and Blake, offers 24 beers on tap and more than 125 canned and bottled brews. Plus, the food is delightful.

Colorado brewery to visit during GABF week: Comrade Brewing. They’ll be there at GABF, but a personal favorite, the Koffee Kream Stout, is only available this year at the brewery in southeast Denver.

Josie Klemaier
Golden/foothills reporter and Denver page designer for YourHub
On Twitter: @JosieKlemaier

GABF Pro tip: Check out the unique events going on in Denver outside of GABF. Offensively Delicious: A Craft Beer Comedy Show, at Oriental Theater Sept. 23, sounds like a no-brainer, with tastings, pints and comedy from brewers and local comedians.

First brewery booth I’ll visit: Scratch Brewing Company out of southern Illinois. I love their woodsy, foraged style. Just looking at their menu of eclectic sours, saisons and ales speckled with ingredients like hickory bark, sumac berries and cedar puts me back in a fragrant autumn woods in the heartland. Appropriately, they will also be at the Beers Made by Walking Denver Festival Sept. 23 at Our Mutual Friend.

Best quick and filling place to eat near the Colorado Convention Center: I’m not a fast or filling eater, but if I had to I would grab a burger at 5280 Burger Bar. For a gotta-try spot worth the walk: Honor Society, near Union Station.

Beer bar you can’t miss: Tivoli Brewing opened recently in the Historic Tivoli Union on Auraria Campus, a lovely short walk from GABF. They brew historic Denver beers and pour 52 taps, and the space offers great views of the city. Also, if you’re looking for a local German beer fix, skip the Oktoberfest debauchery and head to Prost Brewing.

Don’t forget: The Brews or Bust art exhibit this year at GABF, featuring some amazing artists.

irst brewer boot ’l visi: f you spend a decade in Indiana and also love hops, you develop an attachment to 3 Floyds’ Zombie Dust, as close as you can get to citra-hops perfection, at least for my palate. (Yes, some mock me for my overzealousness when the GABF floor is flooded with great IPAs and pale ales.) So last year I started out a couple sessions in 3 Floyds’ queue. The Munster-based brewery’s booth is a consistent draw, so getting a taste of Zombie Dust or its other equally tasty brews means waiting in line early before they run out of that session’s allotment.

GABF strategy: Steady as she goes, hard as that is. You’ll never sample more than a fraction of what’s on offer, so just make peace with that. Take time to savor what’s good. Don’t start with a lot of heavy beers. Use the GABF app to keep track of what you like, because it’s inevitable that it will all run together. And if you really, really like something, go back for a second pour later.

Best quick and filling place to eat near the Colorado Convention Center: For proximity and tasty sandwiches, you can’t beat Which Wich, which is next door. Not fancy, but does the trick.

Beer bar you can’t miss: Others here had great suggestions, but I say take a nice walk northwest out of downtown. Go across the pedestrian bridges and the South Platte River — and a quick jaunt over I-25 — and the Highland Bridge will deposit you at Ale House, at 16th Street and Central Avenue. It’s part of the Breckenridge Brewery’s restaurant portfolio but has a solid tap list, heavy on other Colorado brews.

Don’t forget: To be ready for surprises and seek them out. Ask other fest-goers and brewery reps for recommendations. Last year, I was delighted to discover several great tastes from Bayou Teche Brewing, out of Arnaudville, La. It required little wait, consistently. Trends shift quickly in the hall, and the booths with long lines aren’t always the ones pouring the best stuff.