I stood in the middle of what could only be described as a fire hazard. Hundreds of people shuffled around me, while thousands more milled and writhed within the several thousand acre space we had been confined to. All 13,000 of us had to have thanked our lucky stars that the fire marshal didn’t want anything to do with our little event that night. No, this isn’t some strange adaptation of humans forced to be bugs like The Human Centipede, this was simply me standing in the midst of the beer festival behemoth known only as the Great American Beer Festival.
This year marked the fourth year I attended, and I had some mixed feelings regarding the event that I had grown to know and drunkenly love. Just one week before, I was interviewed by the Denver Post regarding the festival. You can read it here. (Ignore that last name and know I was barely quoted only at the very end. The rest is great information). The piece focused on the growth GABF has seen in the past couple of years, among other things. During the interview, the questions posed to me were geared towards whether or not I was going and why. At the time, I had tickets for the opening session, but plans had changed and everyone was going to have to work Friday. I was torn on what to do. Do I trade for Friday tickets, or sell them altogether and use the money for booze, drugs and hookers?
After a 10-15 minute conversation with the Post (yes, there was lots of editing on their part), I started thinking a LOT about what happens in Denver the week around GABF and what the festival meant to me after four years of attendance. It seemed like every major beer bar had a string of their own events the entire week leading up to the festival and climaxed with more events and special tappings the days of the festival and after the sessions concluded. One could easily have the wildest bar crawl on those days and nights (which I definitely did, but that’s another story) without stepping foot in the Colorado Convention Center. Why bother spending $75 on a ticket that can be harder to get than crack in a police ward when there’s events coming out of Denver’s ass?
The main complaint from a number of beer aficionados this year was the festival has gotten too big and it’s taking away from the beer sampling. Long lines and huge crowds plague those poor beer nerds’ experiences and hinder them from trying all the beers they crave. Combine that with the annual fucking ticket crisis, only to see tickets on Craigslist for way more than face value moments after selling out, and many have decided the festival isn’t worth the money and energy. Let’s face it, beer is finally trendy and I, for one, am not afraid to embrace that fact.
This makes the whole festival sub-event environment growing around GABF more intriguing. I assumed the smaller events would be a great place to try beers and avoid the crowds. I was completelyfuckingwrong. Once a festival session was let out, the lines to get in just about anywhere were insane. Like “stay behind the velvet rope and you better be on this fucking list and if you’re not on the list you better not try to tell me you should be on the list because I will fucking kill you with my bouncing abilities” long.
Let me clarify, the festival was insanely busy. 13,000 people milling around, drinking beer and trying to talk to their friends makes for a navigation nightmare. The men’s bathroom line would boggle anyone’s mind and the ladies laughed their asses off as they walked right into the women’s room for a change. Thankfully I was so dehydrated from the party I went to the night before, I didn’t even have to pee until damn near last call. Otherwise, going to the bathroom is a total fucking nightmare or saved for a dark Denver alley much later. Still, despite these negatives, there is a crazy energy when you’re drinking with a metric shit ton of people around you, and the costumes people wear can be pretty outrageous. Basically, the people watching is top notch, and I fucking love people watching.
BUT the people watching around town during the week is also top notch. I haven’t seen any stats and refuse to do research, but Denver had a HUGE fucking influx of tourists and industry people for GABF. As a guy who likes to wander around, the ability to travel from bar to bar and see the insanity unfolding in the streets is my kind of party. Then fast forward to 9-ish when the drunken masses start leaving the festival and BOOM. Some of my best adventures of the weekend weren’t even during the festival itself, but the events before and after (again, these will come later). While it sounds like this makes me lean towards telling GABF to piss up a rope, that isn’t true. I’ll quote myself via the Denver Post insomuch as to say, “I still have a soft spot in my heart for big festivals.”
In all honesty, next year will be a struggle if I don’t know a GABF virgin is coming. First timers, I have no way to tell you not to come. It’s an amazing event for beer fans of all levels. Yes, there might be a slightly “frattier” element than in years past, but there’s no denying it’s grand awesomeness and I am more than willing to be your guide while your festival hymen is delicately plucked from your dainty privates. It’s a place where you feel comfortable saying, “If this place did catch fire, I could burn alive happy knowing I experienced this wonderful event.” Plus, if you’re going to experience beer culture, GABF has proven itself to be a HUGE part of that world, whether beer folk want to admit it or not.
An open mind and a few beers can make anywhere an adventure.