GABF 2018 is just over a week away: September 20-22. You’ve got your tickets, and now it’s time to plan! (And if you don’t have tickets already, they are still available for the Thursday evening session!) If you’ve attended the Great American Beer Festival before, you know tackling that many beers can be as overwhelming as it is awesome. With more than 4000 beers from over 800 breweries, going in without a plan is certainly allowed, though not recommended. I’m here to give you the information and tips you need to have the best GABF ever.
First: know before you go. What’s new this year?
Expanded Festival Footprint: With the addition of 100,000 square feet—a 17 percent increase over 2017 and bringing the festival footprint to 584,000 square feet—attendees will have more space to hang out and mingle with brewers and fellow beer lovers while discovering new breweries, learning more about beer at educational and experiential programs, playing games, and just having fun.
Reconfigured Festival Format: Breweries in the festival hall will be arranged in alphabetical order this year. Pro Tip: Breweries with “the” in the title will be listed under the first name following “the” (i.e. The Bruery will be under B). This is huge—a major change from past years. Previously organized by geographical region, this new setup should make it a bit easier to navigate.
Collaboration Competition and Booth: In recognition of the collaborative spirit of the craft brewing community, we’ve added a new competition this year. Up to 48 collaboration beers will be evaluated in a Best of Show format. Many of the competition entries will be served during GABF at the Collaboration Competition Booth. Don’t miss this chance to sample these very unique and limited-edition beers!
Expanded Meet the Brewer Section: Expanded by popular demand! Meet the Brewer is very special opportunity for passionate beer fans to start conversations with their brewing heroes, learn more about their beers and talk shop. Look for these booths located in the center of the festival hall. Two more islands have been added for 2018 to accommodate up to 165 breweries—a 40 percent increase!
Additional Hangout Spots and Pavilions: Joining the floor this year will be the 12,600 square foot Jameson Caskmates Barrel-Aged Beer Garden, which will feature 17 small and independent Jameson craft brewery partners and their limited-edition Jameson barrel-aged beer; and the 3,600 square foot Buffalo Wild Wings Sports Bar, where attendees can kick back, relax and enjoy independent craft beer and wings while cheering on their favorite teams on 10 TVs.
Next up: prohibited items. Be sure to look over the list (below). You don’t want to show up with a backpack or colored water bottle only to find out you can’t take it in with you.
Here are a few of my personal tips on getting the most out of the Great American Beer Festival:
First, have a plan. While the official beer list doesn’t come out until the day before the fest, you can get started with the brewery list. Is there a particular region of the US whose breweries don’t distribute in your area that you’d like to try? Have you heard great things about certain breweries but haven’t been able to get your hands on their beers? Now is the time to give it some thought. Once the beer list is out, search for your favorite styles and put them on your list. Have a plan, but keep in mind that it’s okay to deviate from it. Make random stops when you see something interesting. And if you taste something that’s not to your liking, don’t be afraid to use the dump buckets. GABF only comes around once a year, and you want to walk away with memories of all the fantastic beers you drank rather than the ones you didn’t care for.
Next, eat before the festival. I cannot stress this enough. Each session is 4-4.5 hours long. It’s important to be able to maintain a good pace so you don’t miss out on trying all the beers you looked forward to (and actually taste and appreciate them). I personally like to eat a fairly light meal so I’m satiated but not stuffed, leaving plenty of room for beer. And there are numerous options for grub inside the venue
should when you get hungry during the event.
Stay hydrated! Feel free to bring your own empty, clear plastic bottle (32 oz. or less); there are water stations scattered throughout the festival hall; be sure to drink water. If you don’t take your own refillable bottle, small cups are provided at the drinking stations; if the cups run out you can always use your taster glass.
Download the app. It contains a ton of helpful information such as a festival map, brewery/beer list, and much more. You’ll be glad you got the app, trust me!
Finally, make time to explore some of the other events around town. Whether you’re going to GABF or not, there are literally hundreds of special events, tappings, dinners, pairings, and more. I’ve put together an extensive list for you right here.
Have GABF tips of your own? Feel free to share them here.