The Great American Beer Festival (GABF) is a beer event of unparalleled magnitude. About 49,000 attendees, including volunteers, gather each year in Denver, Colorado, to sample 3,500-plus beers from nearly 750 breweries. To coordinate all those people and all that beer, festival director Nancy Johnson and volunteer program manager Carol Hiller work year-round to produce a fun and safe event, which for 2015, according to the Brewers Association, will be “Bigger. Better. Beerier.” However, there are much smaller, less-celebrated job descriptions that are necessary to make GABF happen. When you arrive at the Colorado Convention Center this year, thank the following unsung heroes and be glad you are just there to drink beer.
Women’s Bathroom Attendant
If you have ever been to a beer festival, you know that the perfect storm of carbonation, carbohydrates and meat products coalesce to produce a cyclone of smells. This is reason enough to appreciate the GABF bathroom attendants, who are used to monitoring more civilized Convention Center events like the Colorado State Thespians conference or SLEEP 2016. One fateful night at GABF 2014, we were privy to an act of true heroism when an inebriated ticket holder let himself into the Women Badge Holder’s Bathroom (admittedly the least-trafficked lavatory in the building) and announced that he would be using the facilities. Faster than a Denver strip-club bouncer, the bathroom attendant sprung into action, escorting the besotted beer enthusiast safely off premises before he could use the sink as a urinal. Ladies, beware.
Category 8 GABF Competition Judge
Judging the GABF competition sounds amazing in theory but is less than glamorous in reality. In 2015, judges must be prepared to evaluate up to a staggering 7,000 individual brews in 92 categories. Assessing competition beers takes place in the days before the festival actually begins, after which even the most dedicated beer drinker would go running for the nearest winery or distillery and away from the Festival Hall. Leading beer experts volunteer their time to contend with massive palate fatigue and the pressure of producing fair results, but judging is an honor and offers the best bragging rights in the business. We have never envied those judging Category 57 (Imperial IPA) or Category 27 (Wood and Barrel Aged Strong Stout), but the newest category addition—Category 8: Chili Pepper Beer—has us tearing up in anticipation of the work ahead.
Every team of volunteers at the GABF is important, but none is more fundamental for getting beer in your hand than the keg/ice runner team. These brave souls fasten their requisite safety belts and summon their upper body strength to haul kegs and ice up to 50 pounds from the loading docks to the correct booth. The greatest demand is not physical but navigational—runners schlepping their way around dense, winding lines of entitled beer geeks waiting for rare beer. These runners ultimately provide the most service for the least spatially aware people in attendance. Keg and ice runners are on their feet for the duration of their shifts and are prohibited from sampling their freight. What’s the payoff? Tickets to the festival. Next year.
Denver Pedicab Driver
Pedicabs are an essential component of Denver infrastructure during the GABF. They do a commendable service taking drunk drivers (and drunk pedestrians) off the street and out of danger. Athletic pedalers can outmaneuver cab drivers and save weary festival feet while delivering you to Falling Rock Tap House before the masses descend. On the first night of the fest, the task of transporting human cargo is promising and momentous—there is cash money to be made and debaucherous behavior to observe. By the fourth night you have been vomited on and treated poorly and in the end, you did not make enough to pay your dispensary, let alone your landlord.
Safety Team Member
Volunteers for the Safety Team at the GABF get about as much love as museum security guards who yell at you when you step too close to a painting. You’ll spot them in the lobby or Festival Hall, ensuring safety and a reasonable level of sobriety to prevent the dangerous situations that could result from going back for your 14th sample of Zombie Dust.
Tedious as the job may seem, these people ensure no festivalgoers take off with brewery merchandise or booth trimmings. Safety Team volunteers are not permitted to touch beer during their shifts; worse yet, they don’t have a list of tasks to pass the time. They are there to provide a presence, and the job is so discreet that, when executed well, you won’t realize they are there.
Erika Bolden is a freelance beer writer based in Southern California. Read more at erikabolden.com.