One of the most popular GABF-season posts is advice on how to “survive” the festival. What’s kind of sad is how many of these posts are necessary. And how many are very, very unnecessary. I’m not sure which category this post falls in to, but I felt that my almost a decade of GABF volunteering and attendance might benefit some folks attending for the first time. Or second. Or tenth. Because apparently some things bear repeating.
- Do not bring a backpack. I’m stating this up front, because this will be your first issue. At the doors there is hired security who will not allow you in with a backpack. Yes, women can bring massive purses in without an issue. Yes, this is stupid and arbitrary. No, it doesn’t change the rule. In fact, if you want to get it quicker, don’t bring any bags. Why do you need a big bag anyway? If you’re planning on buying something from a vendor, they have bags. If you have a coat… don’t have a coat… or tie it around your waist. If you have a bag, security will search it and send you away if you have anything “illicit” like food that you can’t wear around your neck, weapons, or beer.
- Do not bring your kids. Really? This has to be said? Even if your kid is a month old and you just can’t bear to leave your adorable little sex fruit with a babysitter, it’s still not okay. First off, the fest is very, very loud. Way too loud for adult ears, let alone Sweetpea’s little ones. Second, it’s a BEER FEST. This is a place where adults should be allowed to be free of screaming babies, diapers, and bottles. Third, the ticket says 21+, but for some reason I see 2-3 babies every session and, inevitably, baby will get bumped into by some drunk person, mom or dad will get super mad, and there will be a confrontation. You know what prevents this? Leaving the kid at home. Again, why do I have to explain this?
- Have your ID and ticket out. If you have these two things out, and you don’t have a backpack, you will get through the doors likity-split. But remember that the ticket scanners only work so quickly, so please don’t shove when the ticket is being scanned, it will just slow things down. And, really, you’re gaining ~.005 seconds. That’s not going to make a difference.
- Do not view GABF as a chance to get wasted. Oh yes, you will get there, but if that’s the way you approach it, you will not have as much fun. If you go to enjoy beer, taste new things, and talk to beer folk, you are just going to enjoy yourself more. Go to have a blast, not solely to get sloshed. On that subject…
- Have a plan. Download their app, go through, and mark all of the breweries you want to visit. The app will show you a map with how many of your breweries are on each row. If you stay focused, you are going to be able to appreciate more beers.
- Don’t be afraid to deviate from your plan. I was on my way to the Sweetwater booth last year when I was distracted by a chocolate milk stout. It was the best beer I drank at the festival. If I had been dead set on only hitting the breweries on my list, I would have missed it. Granted, I don’t remember what the name of that brewery was now that the beer fog has descended on my memory, but more on that later…
- Try beers you would normally never drink. Why would you pay $60 for a ticket to a beer fest to just drink what you always drink? Take the opportunity to try new things. “Hate” IPAs? Try a few from different regions. Sour beers not your thing? Use the GABF app and hit up their recommendations for sours. Afraid of “dark” beers? For the love of god, drink some beers with color. This is your opportunity to expand your palate, take it!
- Do not go to breweries you can easily get where you live. This goes hand-in-hand with #6. If you can get a beer where you live, don’t waste your time. The caveat to this is, obviously, if is an extremely pricey beer, take a taste. Otherwise, why not explore more “exotic” beers? This is where having a plan helps.
- Use the app to track your beers – but make sure to transfer that information out of the app when you’re done. I told you I’d get back to this one. The GABF app allows you to track and rate beers you try. It’s a quicker, more straightforward way to rate your beers while on the floor. However, once next year’s app rolls out, it will overwrite all of that work you’ve done. This is why I could not tell you what brewery I loved so much last year. So, once you are home and sobered up, take out the GABF app and put all of those beers into another format, be it Excel or Untappd or RateBeer. Trust me, there will be a lot of blank tape, but this is one thing you can hold on to.
- Be friendly to brewers, but also be respectful. Despite the number of beers and breweries available, this is often NOT brewers’ favorite festival. The very things that make it cool (the size) also make it overwhelming. Appreciate that a lot of time, money, and planning have gone in to being at GABF and show the proper respect. If you see one of the more famous brewers, say hi, but don’t corner them or take up too much of their time. Likely, they are trying to talk to some of their friends and don’t have an hour to debate the merits of Cascadian vs black IPA with you. And if you want a photo with them, just ask, but be okay if they say no. They aren’t being assholes, they are just being people, and that’s okay.
- Be friendly to volunteers. Believe it or not, working GABF is very hard work. It’s long hours, it’s wet, you get yelled at a lot, and it can be rather thankless. If you happen to get a volunteer who doesn’t know his stuff, don’t be too harsh. Sometimes the brewery didn’t provide any information about the beers, sometimes it’s a volunteer’s first year and they are overwhelmed, or sometimes they are just covering for another volunteer on break and are scrambling to catch up. Just shrug and move on. And if you interact with one of the safety team volunteers (red shirts) who has to tell you that you don’t have a ticket for a mini-event or asks you to please stop screaming at the support column, it’s never going to move, try to be nice. Safety team doesn’t get to drink on the job, they have to be there before other volunteers and leave after them, and most have already worked a full day at their regular jobs. They are just trying to keep GABF from falling into anarchy.
- Do not be an asshole. Again, how is this something that needs to be said? Yes, I know that you know more than anyone who has ever lived about double IPAs, but that doesn’t mean that you should try to belittle the brewer who didn’t win a medal by saying how your homebrew made it to the final round at the AHA Conference. He doesn’t care. Do NOT grab boobs or butts. It doesn’t matter how drunk you are or how cute you think you are being, that’s just not cool. If you happen to run into someone because you are drunk, say I’m sorry. If they happen to run into you because they are drunk, try to keep them from falling down and laugh it off. If you get a beer dumped over your head by some guy named Lurch, flag down a safety team member. Everyone is just trying to have a good time, and if you remember that, your time will be even better.
- Slow down and dump your beer when you leave. By that time of the night the volunteers are simply exhausted, and they are doing their best to make sure your final moments at the fest are positive. If you decide to be a jerk and try to bolt by them with beer, it’s just going to end badly for you and make their night crappy. And don’t run down/jump down/slide down the stairs. No one needs to see your blood everywhere. Please, just don’t.
- Do attend events outside of the actual GABF. You are here in one of the coolest cities in the world, do not limit your experience to just the GABF. There are plenty of great tappings, beer dinners, and breweries around town for you to visit. It’s a good way to round out your trip and make it about more than just getting housed. I have some suggestions on places to go in my post from yesterday.
- Eat well and often. Beer drinkers cannot live on pretzels and jerky alone. Take some time to visit one of the great eateries in town and get some real sustenance. Maybe even eat some greens. We are at 5280 feet above sea level, and the beer will affect you quicker here than down lower, so getting a good base (a lot of protein and fat) will help you make it through the week. Getting some greens will also help your GI tract recover quicker. Everyone will tell you to drink a lot of water, and that is true, too, but getting the right food may be even more important.
- Have fun. No, seriously, have fun. I have to constantly tell myself this as I tend to get insanely stressed during this week. GABF is about enjoying everything there is to love about beer in the United States. Brewers have spent a lot of time and money to bring their product out here, and they deserve to serve it to people who are stoked to be drinking it. And we, as geeks, deserve to spend this short amount of time really, truly, completely letting our passion for beer overtake us. Literally and figuratively, drink it up.
It’s time. Get out there. Go.