The Great American Beer Festival from a Homebrewer’s Perspective

by Robert French | Last Updated: October 10, 2011

Homebrewers love beer and the opportunity to be around people who brew it.

At the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), you will get more chances to talk beer than any other place or event I have been to.

It really is incredible.

There are 4 sessions at GABF that you can attend. On top of the sessions, there are dozens and dozens of tasting events, beer dinners, brewery tours and private parties.

There are way more beer events to attend than you will have the time for and it gets a little overwhelming trying to keep up, but here is my recount from the 2011 experience.

The Sessions

The Thursday session in my opinion is the best chance you will get to talk beer and try things before they start to run out. It’s the first day, and there is a lot of excitement about the festival.

The Saturday “Member Session” is great for people watching. All the awards are given out during this session so just about every brewery will have someone on hand. Unfortunately, this is the session where you will start to see breweries running out of some of their best beers.

While on the floor of the convention center you will notice one thing quickly…volunteers.

Yes, volunteers do the majority of the pouring during at the event. This is really not a bad thing, because it allows the brewers to answer questions and it also speeds up the lines a bit. If you are good with faces you will see some of the big guns of brewing cruising the hall or hanging out at their table. Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River, Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery and Matt Brynildson of Firestone-Walker to name a few.

Although the big names are great to talk to if you get the chance, most of the time they are too busy or it is too crowded to expect them to give up much of their time to answer your questions.

The real fun starts when you stumble on to that great small brewery that you may have never heard of and the brewer is just kinda hanging out. Try a few beers and then start asking questions, most of the time you will find them eager to answer questions and more than willing to spend a few minutes discussing  methods and procedures.

When you get this chance, use it too your advantage. Dry hopping, sours, fermentation temps, aging or whatever interests you…ask away! If you like what they brewed, ask how they did it. You will not get better hands on information anywhere.

For me, it’s just about the coolest thing ever.

One thing to keep in mind, you are drinking; If you are really trying to learn and explore, be careful. There is a lot of beer and even at 1-oz pours you can over do it pretty quickly.

I only attended one session this year, but I highly suggest you hit a minimum of two sessions. There is just too much great stuff to try in just one session.

Beyond the Sessions

Before, during and after the sessions you will run into brewers just about everywhere; bars, restaurants and even your hotel lobby. I hate being a pest so I try not to bother people too much away from the event.

But every once in a while you will find yourself standing next to a brewer while in line for a beer or just hanging out in a bar. If you get that chance, it’s a good time to tell them how much you enjoy their beer. Everyone enjoys a complement.

Planning for next year

Yes, I know GABF just ended, but It’s never too early to start planning. Really!!! One of the first things I do when I get home is put my vacation request in for the next year (I’m not joking). ¬†

Use your time wisely when in Denver. Plan early for brewery tours and events. The town is crowded and events sell out very quickly. I highly suggest subscribing to a few craft beer blogs. This way you will start hearing about events that are in the planning for GABF.

One blog that is a must if you are going next year is Denver Off the Wagon

While at GABF I was lucky enough to get a VIP tour of New Belgium Brewery. I will be writing a post about that tour very soon.

Photo Credit: The Great American Beer Festival

Native to Southern California, Robert brewed his first homebrew with a good friend back in 1995 and has been brewing ever since. One of the driving forces that keeps him homebrewing is the sharing of beers. He gets far more enjoyment from sharing one of his brews than from just having a pint at home.