Let’s face it, craft beer geeks are the new Shriners, and every cliche and joke about their conventions now applies to us. Hordes of funnily dressed conventioneers invading a city, joyfully stating “We’re going to paint the town RED, motherfucker, and then we’re going to come back and paint it AGAIN!” Any common sense that one would observe in their daily lives going out the window with little regret, the mutual exuberance of time and place making sanity unrealistic. While the locals moan with dread or genuine welcome depending upon whether they’re making money off of the invaders, or just suffering through the ordeal. So yes my friends, we’re the new guys and gals wearing goofy headware.
The diversity of beer lovers contributes to whatever tomfoolery ensues; any and every kind of special interest exhibits proudly on revelers not afraid to waive their Geek Flag high. And the opportunities to wave that flag become more numerous every year as the thirsty roam the streets for rare and vaunted beers. Breweries not normally distributed in Colorado are increasingly applying for temporary distribution licenses to serve during Great American Beer Festival week at taphouses around town. Cigar City and Sun King Brewing notably topped that list, competing with special releases from homegrown favorites for the tastebuds and favor of the fickle.
Nearly every bar and restaurant in downtown Denver has hopped on the growing beer train of GABF, ready to fill any perceived gap in a nonstop beer orgy. New taphouses and gastropubs have popped up like mushrooms in the rain over the past few years throughout downtown and bordering neighborhoods, easing congestion until they too, become well known.
Talking of taphouses in Denver, you’d be remiss not to mention the craziness of the venerated Falling Rock, a craft beer haven that continues to pack the ever greater hordes in, even when there’s no apparent room to put them.As the furor increases through the week, standing room only becomes the norm, every inch of railing on the patio a seat. Every strata of beer geek slithers in and out of FR; from the refined, barely sipping beer snob, to the reeking, glassy-eyed drunken schmo, the taphouse is a microcosm of the festival itself. Working just two doors down, I’ve seen every aspect Falling Rock has to offer while enjoying a pint, and so I leave that madness to the uninitiated, brave, and die hard.
Fairly recent newcomers like Euclid Hall and Freshcraft have themselves become destinations for the beer brethren, packing them in nearly as tight. They have learned, like other eateries just opened, if you increase your taps, they will come. Lucky Pie is a prime example of this philosophy and necessity in Denver, if you want craft beer cred, you need to have at least ten taps dedicated to the best; you’ll suffer if the majority of your drafts are macros.
And everywhere there are taps, there are events to entice residents and visitors alike. Starting almost two weeks before hand, the craft beer steamroller pulled in drinkers like a has-been Santa at the mall the day after Thanksgiving. There are so many special tastings, benefits, anniversaries, beer dinners, and tap takeovers, that just standing would be a challenge if you could somehow attend every shindig. Other than GABF, we had to make do with just Wit’s End’s first anniversary party and a beer blogger appreciation at Renegade Brewing.
It was evident from the never ending stream of local brewers dropping in during the anniversary celebration, just how nice a guy Scott Witsoe is. Ever ready to talk to anyone in his taproom, he makes all who come in for a pint at Wit’s End feel at home. You’d never know that the doors opened two hours early for the day, a packed house was the rule from minute one, lull was not a word that had any kind of relevance that afternoon. And to fuel the beer drinking well wishers, Marco’s Coal Fired Pizza set up shop slinging pies on their mobile pizza oven.
The Beer Blogger Appreciation Night at Renegade was a little laid back during the early hours of the event. Along with yours truly, the Colorado Beer Girl, and Inky Beer joined in the discussions with owners Brian and Khara O’Connell, and the rest of the crew from Renegade. Sam Doniach, the new Head Brewer was introduced and cross examined, while Laura, the ‘Ambassador of Beer Enjoyment’ proved the perfect hostess. And throughout it all, they kept us well supplied with the elixirs the brewery is known for. The Midnight In Bruges Belgian Black IPA was exceptionally good, a smooth and complex starter for the evening and good prelude for the beers that were generously served up.
Keeping the punters content is a major concern of the focus of all of this insanity as well. The Brewers Association is facing a number of challenges in satisfying the exploding number beer geeks wanting to attend. Their decision to use Ticketmaster looked naive at best, the resulting clusterfuck of the presale frustrating BA and AHA members to no end. The general public sale the next day left many questioning just how fair the process is now. In this age of mistrust of big business, it seemed like the scalpers got the lion’s share, further infuriating a public who feels pissed upon and taken advantage of. While hard evidence remains elusive, rumors of Ticketmaster employees grabbing up huge chunks of tickets before the official sale time filled social media after the festival sold out in a record 45 minutes.
Just getting in to the convention center elicited more frustration for members. Caps of the amount of tickets marked for the member entrance were as good as arbitrary. A glitch at checkout on presale day meant that those who were online first had to wait up to two hours before the transaction went through, by which time thousands more were in the cue. Since all of the tickets purchased by members were labeled so, it would have been more equitable to allow all of them to use the entrance, regardless of whether they were labeled ‘Member Entrance’ or not.
But a rearranging of the medal ceremony’s time and place gave one glimmer of hope to the faithful, allowing more breweries to attend and more beer to be served up. It also increased elbow room at an event that has been a trying lesson in crowd navigation for many years. But the lines are, if anything, longer at the most sought after breweries, which no amount of finagling will ever solve.
The new addition of a brewpub pavilion was a welcome sight, showcasing both the food and beer of American brewing’s largest segment. Chefs from the chosen breweries prepared a more palatable alternative to the garbage served up by the convention center vendors. It was a step in the right direction, but needs to be expanded; the space provided a little too tight, and only one brewpub serving up food at any time; our hopes to eat some Trinity Brewing fare dashed by the rotating schedule.
In the end, the booths and attractions only get larger, bedazzling the pretzel wearing hordes. Cars, silent discos, and ever more complex behemoth structures assail the senses. The craft beer wonderland creating a landscape for the Waldos, Vikings, Egyptians, Aztecs, and Beer Goggled to populate and wallow in. The amount of swag being handed out by the fistful guaranteeing that the attire for next year will be diverse and myriad.