GABF 2019 Planning Guide

Colorado Beer Girl
Photo courtesy of the Great American Beer Festival website

It’s GABF Week 2019!

We’re just two days away from the 2019 Great American Beer Festival! 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 and Saturday evening sessions). 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 recommendedI’m here to give you the information and tips you need to have the best GABF ever.

First: know before you go. What are some of the highlights of the fest? And what’s new this year?

Event Highlights

Ikon Pass Stage presented by WinterWondergrass®: Located in the Backyard, WinterWondergrass will be presenting three sets of incredible live music per session. Located in the festival hall amidst 800 breweries from across the country, the Ikon Pass Stage presented by WinterWonderGrass® will feature three 30-minute sets of live music during each of the four sessions. The performances are included in the price of the festival ticket.

Line Up

  • Thursday, Oct. 3 (Evening session 5:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.)
    • Leftover Salmon front men Andy Thorn and Vince Herman will be joined by Silas Herman
  • Friday, Oct. 4 (Evening session 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.)
  • Saturday afternoon, 5 (Afternoon session 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m)
  • Saturday, 5, (Evening session 5:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.)

Jameson Caskmates Barrel-Aged Beer Garden: Returning for a second year in a slightly larger foot print, the ~14,000-square-foot Jameson Caskmates Barrel-Aged Beer Garden will feature 22 small and independent Jameson craft brewery partners and their limited-edition Jameson barrel-aged beer. In addition, the garden will host experiential areas including master cooper Ger Buckley’s stage, a Bow Street education experience, and interactive activities.

Fresh Hops: Washington Beer Commission is back with the freshest beers of the 2019 hop harvest. Each session will feature five fresh hop beers from ten breweries not found anywhere else in the festival. Due to the timing of the 2018 festival, fresh hops were not on exhibit, so this will return for 2019.

Silly Fun: Daily fun to be had with attendee favorites, including the Silent Disco, karaoke, backyard games, Friday Festival Flair costume contest, and some new additions such as brat, hotdog and bun races, a funhouse, and more!

Festival Format Return to Regions: Back by popular demand! Breweries in the festival hall will be arranged in alphabetical order by state within nine (9) regions (Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Mountain West, New England, Pacific, Pacific Northwest, Southeast, Southwest.) Pro Tip: Breweries with “the” in the title will be listed under the first name following “the.”

Photo courtesy of the Great American Beer Festival

Friday Festival Flair Contest: Attendees line up early for the contest which starts at 8 p.m. on the Karaoke stage. 9News anchor Steve Staeger will emcee the festivities.

History of Craft Exhibit: Wander through the three-dimensional timeline of the history of craft beer, featuring photos and items from the Brewers Association archive.

Up-Close Education Opportunities: The Brewers Studio and Sit and Sip at Camp provide fun and up-close experiences for beer lovers to gain a deeper appreciation of craft beer and the creative process and the personalities behind it. Located in the festival hall, both stages will feature 20 unique presentations during the four GABF sessions. Attendees will hear from both veteran and up-and-coming brewers as well as other top industry professionals. View complete schedule here.

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s Original Brewhouse: As part of their 40th anniversary celebration, Sierra Nevada is taking their original brewhouse first used in 1980 on the road to the nation’s biggest beer events. The brewery will first debut at the Great American Beer Festival. This original brewhouse harkens back to the start of the craft beer industry itself. In the late 1970’s when Ken Grossman founded Sierra Nevada, the industry was so different there was no place to buy new or used brewery equipment in the US for a small craft operation. So he cobbled together used dairy equipment and built one of the nation’s first microbrewery brewhouses. That’s exactly what will be showcased at the GABF.

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 appIt 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. Happy planning!

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