And it looks like bitchtitted beardos in post-ironic tees handing me sample after sample of one ounce beers in a giant beerhall of unrestrained libatious disorder.
I have heard heaven -- the almighty afterlife -- and it sounds like Highland bagpipes and the deep, throaty overtures of collective male enthusiasm. It sounds like dudebros, guffawing and whooping like fishcamp Aggies on their last night of indoctrination, brainwashed into the belief that the plot has not been lost; but that this is the plot. The mindless luxury of automatism.
I have sensed heaven -- where the deities reign -- and it feels like state pride; the inertial mass of environmental stimuli pinging your internal receptors like the hormonal radioactivity that comes with anticipation and the contemplation of things. It felt like home.
I have smelled heaven. And this was not it. This was not heaven.
But I tasted heaven, processed the textures, parsed its complexity -- and it tastes like the Great American Beer Festival. Every bit of it; the spectral variety of 580 visionaries who plodded their wares onto whichever vehicular means necessary in a dauntless and concerted effort to give 50,000 beer fans accessing Denver as a means to sample the country's greatest liquid commodity.
As attributed to Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm II of Germany in every publication I searched, it is said that he uttered the consequential words, 'Give me a woman who truly loves beer and I will conquer the world.'
And this is how the father of one highly-energetic 10-month-old boy and husband to a really busy wife ends up in a Denver rental flat during GABF weekend without either of them, and instead with my beer-loving compatriot, Mike, ready to conquer sobriety. Yep, Kaiser Wilhelm through some kind of apparitional intervention, hinted to our wives that making this trip would be just the kind of familial challenge that each of them needed on that weekend. Naturally, we were up for the challenge, and we accepted on all accounts.
Thursday: Day 1 was very kind to us in the same way that the Friday afternoon of Austin City Limits Fest is only pleasantries and breezy sunshine. Denver is such a fucking awesome city. Never been in my adult life -- though I passed through the area several times during my budding 1980s youth for soccer tournaments, and one of my first memories of rapscallionism was all our fathers taking us to tour the Coors Brewery in Golden as, i dunno, 8-year-olds or some impressionable age.
But having returned so many years later to such a different landscape, I may as well have been visiting an entirely different continent. Denver is the case study for new urbanism, particularly new urbanism in the Western United States with their brilliant approach to resident infill, warehouse refurbishing, and most importantly -- historical preservation.
And the beer that dominated our iced-down hotel bathtub in 1986 is now a flitting afterthought compared the enormous influence of actual, well-made craft beer in the region. So much so, they decided to make Denver the permanent bachelor pad for beer dorks like myself on this one week in October. And all of us were here, breathing in the fresh air of democratic progressiveness.
The first move we made after entering the sheer mind-blowing amplitude of the great hall, past the bagpipes and picture snappers, beyond the regional segregation of the power-players like the Midwest, Pacific Northwest, and Mountain regions, was to pay homage to our home-breweries from Texas. Mike said that on his past visit to GABF in 2010, the Southwest section of GABF was essentially a flaccid penis representation of what was going on -- or maybe better stated -- what was about to happen in Texas. This year, 20 breweries from The Great State represented its citizens in all their buzzy glory, and it made for a hotly embraced reception from the rest of the festival-goers. It was spectacular to run into our friends from Austin Beerworks, Hops & Grain, Thirsty Planet, Black Star Co-Op, Jester King, Circle Brewing, and (512) -- the same way you would feel about a Christmas bonus. You just knew something great was gonna come out of it.
After some gladhanding and general highfiving and overly gripped, enthusiastic handshakes, we were off as a tandem to conquer something. I had made a general list of must-hit brewery booths during the flight, which basically turned out to be a good way to waste a couple of hours and nothing more than that. It did help us get a general sense of who was at the festival and where, but making a to-do list for GABF is like trying to handwater trees on Pikes Peak. There's just so much to get to ... and so we just fucking dove right in.
I was out of breath within the first 20 minutes. All the visions I had of taking tasting notes and staging photographs essentially became shitty blurry pics from my 5-second Android shutter and some basic gestural communication to my friends-in-beer. There was no time for anything else besides boning this carnival like a Rum Ham.
Truthfully, there was just too much going on to fully commit to memory, especially the swishy recollection impeded by 12% drugs. It was a world of golden lights and pitchers. At one point in the boozy night, I am standing in line waiting for Dogfish Head's scripper-like offerings, and Sam MF'ing Calagione himself stood forth to offer me World Wide Stout. THE Sam Calagione. THE World Wide Stout.
I had all these intentions about telling him what a hero he was to so many people, not only to those in Denver at that moment, but those in backyards and bars who've received his respite from macro. I was going to tell him how he was an innovator and a legend, the William Wallace of craft beer.
But all that came from my end was a stupid grin and a long pause of my arm extension. I'm not even sure I said thank-you. So, Sam, here it is: Thank-you. And thank-you for the 18% World Wide Stout. Easily the highlight -- and standout beer -- of Day 1.
Fuck. I'm kinda hung over as balls.
We're in search of anything that looks like thick-cut bacon, but we settle for a goddam bagel. Not hangover food -- but being that Denver is basically a reefer commune, there is excellent coffee, and that pushes me through the morning.
Have you ever ended a night of heavy drinking with more heavy drinking at one of the most notorious beer bars in the country, talking to neckbeards from Indianapolis about who-the-fuck-knows-what, but you remember chuckling and back-patting a lot? Then settling back into the comfort zone of Russian River's Pliny the Elder and Temptation with the Austin brewing contingency until you can't feel whether your teeth are still in your mouth anymore?
This is why thick cut bacon is important.
Friday: Day 2. Yeah, Day 2 of anything strenuous is always kind of a drag. You feel like you could just get in a cab and go home and still have a lifetime of memories. But fuck that. We're here to be 25-years-old and we're gonna BE 25-years-old dammit.
It took a total of two ounces to get my groove back in the great hall. I mean, fuck, the place is so infectious with goings-on that its impossible to be anything but idiotically amped. I drank a beer that required a bull be castrated. I stood in line for that. And I liked it. (It was good -- nutty. Was that the obvious joke? Eh, I could be so much better than that.)
We set a game plan to blitz the Midwest like Manny Diaz's nickle formation. Only we didn't get caught in the bubble screen. We sacked the shit out of it! Founders, Jolly Pumpkin, Short's, Goose Island, Bell's, North Peak, DESTIHL, Kuhnhenn, and Sun King -- all our bitches. There were others, but these were the best. In fact, the hilights of the night -- maybe the entire weekend -- came from this region on this night. Out of the possible 100-esque beers we sampled, six of my top 10 favorite were brewed by Middle American brewers.
• Sun King Double Barrel Aged Pappy Van Muckle Wee Heavy Scotch Ale
• Goose Island Elijah Craig Barrel Aged Gingerbread Dream Baltic Porter
• Goose Island Elijah Craig Barrel Aged Xocolatl Barley Wine
• Founder's KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout)
• Destihl Reserve Gose
• Kuhnhenn DRIPA (Double Rice India Pale Ale)
It made for a night that seemingly went by in mere minutes. Somehow, we ended up at a brewers-only, post-festival event in the basement of the Sheraton, which featured several hundreds of bottles and cans from the judges panel that were extras for catch-and-release. My brain itself started to ferment -- but not to be outdone by ourselves on night one, we rocked the Falling Rock again, but soon gave up our mission to kill ourselves and opted for street meat instead.
The Denver area may have the best concentration of great breweries, but they know fuck all about food trucks. Apparently, I was so pickled that I ordered my shawarma with potatoes in it. But I don't think I did that. And the fucking hot sauce. I'm going to have stomach problems tomorrow and I just can't help myself from devouring hot potato shawarma. Ah shit.
Day 3: Saturday starts off like every other Texas-ou weekend, with UT getting throttled like a Suzuki GSX-R at a steriods convention at the Jersey Shore, and Mike and I are all the more embarrassed for it. Tell you what's pretty cool -- walking around a large convention center filled with masculine, beer-drinking shitheads while wearing the burnt orange like rape victims. Also that day, Texas brewers fail to impress many of note at the judges competition and bring home only 9 medals, 3 of which are won by our flagship semi-macro. Yes, I understand the judging and how it works, but I don't have to like it.
My buddy Dean who I talk about in this post, texts me with the great news that Jay Shambo, who I talk about in this post, won the Pro-Am gold medal for his collaboration with New Belgium called More Fun Blonde Belgian Ale, beating out 93 other entries. I also discover that Funkwerks (see the 'Dean' post) wins small brewer of the year. These news tidbits makes me feel so much better, and so I get over my humbuggery of the day, and proceed to kick this festival's ass one last time.
And so we did ...
and it was heaven.