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The First Timers Guide to the Great American Beer Festival

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The 2011 Great American Beer Festival is almost here and while thousands of GABF veterans will enter the sacred hallows of the world's largest beer fest, so will thousands of first timers. And like every first-timer at any event or practice, mistakes are likely to be made without the proper guidance.

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So... here's the proper guidance. In no particular order, this is the best list of tips for everyone to make your GABF experience the best it can be!

1. Have a plan. The Great American Beer Festival will have over 450 breweries pouring over 2300 beers. That's a lot of beer and no one can try them all. So go through the GABF festival map and map out the breweries you most want to visit. I always go to the breweries I can't get in California or haven't had from recent travels. Don't waste your time on something you can get where you live unless it's a special GABF beer or a beer that debuts at GABF (see Black Tuesday). I want to try the new and different beers that I don't normally have access to.

And while you are mapping out what you'd like to try, leave room for some breweries or beers that catch your eye or that a friend says you must try. There will be more than a few of these and leaving room in your plan will make your time on the GABF floor more successful.

2. Wear comfortable shoes. There is usually a long line to get in to the sessions at GABF plus all the walking to and from the Convention Center and of course inside the event. Wear something comfortable and you will enjoy it all even more.

3. Eat! There are a lot of beers at GABF. Have food in your stomach to absorb these 1oz wonders of craft beer or you'll be drunk in the first hour.

4. Pace yourself. There are a lot of beers there but you don't have to drink them all on the first day. Unless of course you're only going to one session and then you should have a stretcher waiting for you at the end.

5. Hydrate! Yes, beer is made of 90% water. Unfortunately that 90% does not act as hydration for your body. Make sure to drink lots of water throughout the day. Your body will thank you.

6. The Mile-high city. Didn't know that is Denver's nickname? It is. And altitude has a dramatic effect on the body, especially while drinking alcohol. Keep in mind that in higher elevation, your normal tolerance levels will be much lower. Pace yourself.

7. Get 8 hours of sleep. I know, it sounds goofy that in the middle of the biggest beer festival in the world you should get some rest but trust me, you should. I did this last year by going back to my hotel room early enough to get some rest and wake up refreshed and it made all the difference in the world. Waking up with a headache and nausea doesn't add to the GABF experience. And what happens late at night in drunkenness isn't something you have to be there for anyway.

8. Attend the Saturday afternoon session if you can. Saturday afternoon is when the awards are handed out. It's super cool to see who wins what, plus, during the awards, you can go try many of the award winners on the floor. It's also reserved for Brewer's Association/Homebrewer Association Members only so become one.

9. Check out the Pavilions. Attend some of the many sessions on brewing, cooking and pairing food with beer, the panels with brewers or the book signings. These will enhance your overall GABF experience.

10. Don't drop your glass. It's one of the worst sounds in the entire world, right up there with fingernails on a chalkboard. Someone drops their plastic GABF glass on the concrete floor, which is louder than you might expect, and thousands of people all react with this gutteral "ooohhhhhhhhhhh". Worst of all... it happens constantly, throughout all four sessions. Just don't do it.

11. Locals party time/drunk fest. It is important to know that the Friday night and Saturday night sessions are party time for Denver locals. It's a drunk-fest and after the first hour, it's really not much fun for people who are serious about enjoying craft beer. Plus, the brewery reps do not usually attend those sessions. There are plenty of outside events going on during those sessions that are definitely worth checking out.

12. Outside parties. There are a ton of outside parties and events at GABF. Most of the local breweries will host an event of some kind as will the local craft beer bars like Falling Rock and fundraisers like the Beer for Boobs Brunch at Fresh Craft. Check out the calendar on the Brewer's Association website for more events and pick the ones you want to attend and enjoy yourself. Keep in mind that these outside parties add on to what you have already had to drink so remember to pace yourself.

13. Denver's airport. If you are flying in and out of Denver, be aware that the airport is no where near downtown and it's a $60 cab ride if you go solo. Also, the airport will be packed from roughly 10am-2pm on the Sunday after GABF so fly out later that afternoon if you can. That way you can sleep in from Saturday night's fun and not have to deal with ridiculous lines.

14. Traveling with beer. It's always a good idea to bring a few bottles of a good beer from wherever you are traveling to trade with people who do the same at GABF. Plus, it's easy to find bottles of good stuff you want to bring home. If you know how to pack beer in a suitcase so that it won't get broken by TSA or the airline, go for it. And don't forget the baggage fee (unless you're flying Southwest Airlines, as I do).

Or a better way is to pack some beer in a good box to either check at the airport or ship to your hotel ahead of time. I do this with a great styrofoam wine/beer shipping box that protects my beers and allows me worry free shipping of beers back and forth. Ship it FedEx or check it with Southwest and you can guarantee your precious cargo will arrive unharmed.

That's a pretty comprehensive list for any GABF newbie. If you follow these guidelines, you are all but guaranteed to have a very enjoyable experience.

If anyone has other suggestions to add to the above, please comment below!

Cheers!

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