Great American Beer Festival Ultimate Survival Guide

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So you’ve never been to a beer festival before? Or maybe you have. But there is no other beer festival in the world that brings the shock and awe of the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. Even if you’ve been to GABF before, our Great American Beer Festival Ultimate Survival Guide can help you not only survive this massive undertaking, but get the most enjoyment out of it.

Over the three days and four sessions of GABF, more than 500 breweries pour more than 2,000 beers to more than 40,000 people. Those are the numbers for 2022, GABF’s reemergence from a two-year, pandemic-imposed hiatus. Prior to the pandemic, GABF consistently hosted more than 60,000 attendees sipping on more than 4,000 beers from 800-plus breweries. No matter how you cut it, that’s a bit overwhelming, especially once you walk through the doors and see the mass of humanity – and beer – before you!

This is not only the biggest beer festival in Denver, it’s one of the biggest and best brew fests in the world!

Table of Contents

When is the Great American Beer Festival (Dates)

Looking forward to next year’s GABF 2024 and beyond? Check out the Great American Beer Festival 2024 date, as well as those laid out for the next several years.

2023: September 21-23
2024: October 10-12
2025: October 9-11
2026: October 8-10
2027: October 7-9

The Great American Beer Festival Ultimate Survival Guide
(Photo courtesy of the Brewers Association / Great American Beer Festival)

Great American Beer Festival Pre-Game Prep Guide

If you approach GABF more like a sporting contest that simply a beer fest, you’ll enjoy it more and get a lot more out of it. So prepping for GABF is a must. And that’s why we created this GABF Ultimate Survival Guide.

Eat Before You Go and Stay Hydrated

Be sure to put some food in your belly an hour or two before you go. Even drinking one ounce at a time (that’s how the beers are served at GABF), an empty stomach will betray you quickly.

And like any athletic endeavor – trust me, GABF is really an athletic endeavor – hydration begins well before the game. Especially if you’re coming from out of town to the Mile High City, you need to drink plenty of H2O. Unless you’re already on a strict hydration regiment, start the day before, drinking a good bit more than normal. When you get to the festival, be sure to have some water in between every four to five beers. There are water stations throughout the festival, so it isn’t all that difficult. Plus, it helps reset your palate when you’re constantly trying new and fun creations.

Are you a Beer Bucket Lister? Make a plan.

Are you an uber beer geek or a bucket lister? Then make a plan. Many people who attend GABF have a hit list of specific beers or breweries that they’ve just got to try while there.

If that’s you, make a list. As of 2023, the Brewers Association replaced the MyGABF App with a more mobile friendly and highly searchable Great American Beer Festival web site Breweries & Beers list. The new web site listing makes it really easy to scroll through the list of breweries and their beers or to search via brewery by state or by beer style, including ciders, hard seltzers, and alcohol free options. And yes, as of 2023, breweries are once again arranged on the festival floor by region instead of alphabetically.

In addition to brewery specific booths that make up the majority of GABF, there are also some specialty “taprooms” littered about. There is a Heavy Medal taproom that features GABF medal winning beers, while Collab Country features brewery buddies and brewery/homebrewer limited edition collaboration brews.

Other GABF Taprooms include: Gluten-Free Garden, International Pavilion, National Black Brewers Association, Non-Alcoholic Oasis, and United in Beer. There is even a Wish You Were Here taproom featuring suds from breweries that were unable to attend in person, but sent their beer along for sampling.

Pro Tip: Don’t wait too long in line, even for the golden goose. There are a lot of amazing beers at GABF, but many of them won’t be on your radar until you try. Some of the unknowns and lesser knowns will shock you and you won’t waste 15-20 minutes for a sip of liquid gold that you’ll quickly forget after about an hour into your session. Then just keep a sideways eye open for the lines to die down a bit. You just might get that magic pour from Dogfish Head’s Sam Caligione.

Sam Calagione pouring at GABF
(Photo courtesy of the Brewers Association / Great American Beer Festival)

If you’r not a bucket lister or too freaked out that you’ll miss something you’ve always wanted to try, meander around a bit and walk up to some of the shorter lines and try some things. Ask questions. Enjoy the beer.

GABF Map: No plan is complete without knowing how to get to the Breweries & the Beer!

The Great American Beer Festival map is a handy way to navigate the layout. The Brewers Association has provided a GABF Map PDF that can easily be downloaded and viewed on your phone or printed out so you can mark it up and highlight your targeted Breweries & Beers. (Just click on the Download button below to download it to your phone or computer for offline viewing or printing.)

Surviving and Thriving at the Main Event

When you get through the door, it’s easy to go gonzo right out of the gate, especially if you’re not worried too much about waiting in line for those golden geese. But it’s all too easy to go buck wild and lose yourself and your dinner before you’re even halfway through your session.

GABF Do’s and Dont’s

✅ DO Pour it out: I’m usually the last one to let the server pick up a glass with even a drop or two of beer left in the bottom. But at a beer festival, particularly at GABF, you’ve got to be okay pouring out a beer that you don’t like. Even some that are just average should probably go in the pour buckets that are widely available.

You will be blitzed before you know it if you follow the “no beer left behind” ethos at this monster beer fest. It’s okay to pour out something you don’t like and the brewers and servers at GABF expect it. You’re not going to hurt anyone’s feelings, and you might just save yourself from the night from hell.

✅ DO Stand in line: For the bathroom! This is one line you don’t want to sleep on. You are sharing this festival with several thousand other people. The bathroom lines can get loooonnnnggggg! So think ahead… and if you see a short or non-existant bathroom line, take advantage of it. If nothing else, trust me on this one!

✅ DO Hang Out: There is a lot of opportunity to hang out at GABF. There are areas like The Backyard. There is live music, cornhole and other brewery-type games. There is a Sing City Karaoke Stage, a Silent Disco, the Brewers Studio, a Designated Driver Lounge, and other hangout opportunities if you don’t want to spend the entire night running from booth to booth.

There are also food trucks! Don’t forget to stock up on stuff for your belly as you go.

Garrett Oliver at GABF 2019
(Garrett Oliver at GABF 2019)

✅ DO Get Beer Nerdy: If you are a beer nerd and like to know all there is about beer, you should chat up some of the folks at the booths, many of them are brewers, owners, or brewery staff. In addition to that, be sure to check out the Brewers Studio section, where brewers such as Sam Calagione and Garrett Oliver, American Homebrewers Association executive director Julia Herz, and others often talk about what’s brewing in the beer world.

As you can see, there is a lot going on at the Great American Beer Festival, whatever it is that floats your boat. And after years of attending, I can tell you that, while the last few minutes of your session are usually filled with FOMO (fear of missing out), four-and-a-half hours is a decent amount of time to slow it down a bit and truly enjoy yourself and not worry about tasting every last beer on your hit list.

GABF Server with pitchers
(Photo courtesy of the Brewers Association / Great American Beer Festival)

Getting to and from GABF … safely!

Just like you planned for enjoying the festival, make a plan for getting to and from GABF. In this day and age of light rail, city buses, Uber, Lyft, taxies, designated drivers, etc., it’s relatively easy to get to and from the Great American Beer Festival safely. Denver has numerous transportation options.

It certainly isn’t worth the risk to hurt yourself or someone else by driving home or back to your hotel, Airbnb, etc. This is a difficult festival to avoid getting at least buzzed, if not flat out drunk. Four and a half hours of one ounce pours and too much goodness to pass up are not worth a dodgy drive. 🛑 DO NOT DO IT! 🛑 Get home safe, so you can do it all again next year!

Beyond GABF – Exclusive Events

In addition to the Great American Beer Festival sessions themselves, there are a couple rather unique opportunities for beer lovers that happen in conjunction with GABF.


PAIRED is a unique event that partners unique beers not found on the festival floor with acclaimed chefs from across the country for an exclusive food and beer pairing event. PAIRED requires a separate ticket from GABF, but is an incredible experience for anyone that wants to explore the wonders of finely crafted beverages alongside exquisitely prepared foods.

Denver Rare Beer Tasting – Pints for Prostates Fundraiser

Always held on the Friday of GABF week, the Denver Rare Beer Tasting features the chance to sample rare, exotic, and vintage beers from dozens of leading craft breweries and the opportunity to meet the men and women who made them. These are some of the most sought after beers in the world. Like PAIRED, the Denver Rare Beer Tasting is a separately ticketed event from the festival and in 2023 is being held on Friday, Sept. 22. It is also a fundraising effort for Pints for Prostates, a grassroots campaign designed to raise awareness among men about prostate cancer and the importance of early detection in fighting the disease. 

GABF Supporting Events and Tap Takeovers

There are truly any number of supporting events around the Denver area both before and after Great American Beer Festival each year. There are many beer-related parties and tap takeovers with hard-to-find beers going on tap for the first time in Denver. Check out an extensive list of GABF related goodness happening in Denver from our friends at Porchdrinking.

Great American Beer Festival Video

Check out our short video of 2019 GABF through the lens of a craft beer geek!

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