The Great American Beer Festival (GABF) is held annually in Denver during the last weekend in September. This was my second time out there for it, the only other time coming in 2001. This year I knew a lot more about what to expect, a giant convention hall filled with brewer booths, but still I was overwhelmed. It's hard enough to take it all in when there are hundreds of brewers and about 1700 beers (and of course, you can't), but thanks to the RateBeer crowd, I was tuned into lots of other activities, plus the ones we did for ourselves.
My schedule was fairly tame compared to some of the people I met up with, but it was more than enough for me. Before I'd even left the Denver airport, a fellow RateBeerian recognized me and we agreed to hit a brewpub in town for lunch. Another one spotted me when I got out of the SuperShuttle to let a fellow passenger off, and he ended up joining us. So after checking in at my hotel, I made my way there for lunch, meeting up with even more folks. After lunch, we hit one more brewpub before we went to the initial session of the GABF. I went to two of the four 4-hour sessions of the GABF (Thursday evening and Saturday afternoon), and I tried roughly 30 beers each time. In between samples, I drank about two times as much water as I had in beer, a big key to avoiding hangovers, not to mention dealing with the dry Colorado environment. Much of the time I was with one or several of the fellow RateBeerians in attendance, many of whom I'd met at previous events. Between the brewpubs and the GABF session, I felt too winded to hit any of the other activities going on, either at Falling Rock, one of the best taphouses in the country, or at the hotel tied to the conference, which was hosting an industry event that I could have attended. The fact that the GABF session ended at midnight east coast time didn't help, as I'd gotten up at 5:30 that morning.
Because I essentially stayed on East Coast time while out there (in large part by going to bed at a decent hour), I had no trouble going to Falling Rock for opening the next morning (11am), and a friend and I stayed until we'd had time to finish the pint of Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale we drank from the tapped-at-noon keg. From there we made our way to a brewery open house where we met up with the other RateBeerians, then to two nearby brewpubs, before I went back to my hotel to await a friend from back home who drove up from Colorado Springs for dinner. Dinner was very nice -- I hadn't seen Jennifer in over two years (and it may have been as much as a year since we had spoken), but we found it very easy to pick right back up. It really is nice to have friends like that. After saying goodnight after a too-filling dinner, I found myself too tired to make it to the Falling Rock yet again.
After Saturday's afternoon session, we did have a RateBeer gathering, and while it was nice, it felt a bit too crowded (it was in a nearby apartment), and I wasn't really up for drinking much so soon after a GABF session (though it didn't stop me from trying a few of the bottles being passed around). I left fairly early, went back to the room, and took it easy, never overcoming inertia to head to Falling Rock.
This morning, like each of the other two mornings, I met up with Mark, a fellow early morning RateBeerian, for breakfast at Sam's #3, a nearby diner that offered tasty food, big portions, and fairly reasonable rates. Afterwards, I caught the SuperShuttle back to the airport, and I suppose it shouldn't have been a surprise to discover another RateBeerian already in the van.
I'm not sure if I'll make it to next year's GABF, but I have to admit, I'm already thinking about it.