The Great American Beer Festival. GABF. Beer Fest. For some, it’s a beer-drinking crowning achievement to check off the bucket list. For others, it’s an annual party. An excuse to get hammered or dress up in costume and get hammered. Admittedly, I usually fall into the latter of the groups. We’ve gone with fake mustaches, funny hats and monocles, variations of pretzel necklaces and generally tried to power hour our way through the hall to maximize ROI (Rate of Inebriation). Yep, we were those people, and I’m not sorry.
This year was a little different. I would be trying to stretch a functioning liver out over three days of what I could only assume would be heavy drinking. Going hard one or two nights isn’t too dangerous of an idea, but three nights can be like throwing a box of bullets into a fire: it will be lots of fun, but some casualties could occur. I always wanted to experience the first night and compare how the crowd differed from the madness of the second session, and the eventual beer wasteland of the fourth session. I kept calling it the alpha and the omega in my head. Yes, it’s stupid. No, I don’t care.
Thursday evening flew by faster than I expected. We arrived, got our media badges and wandered into the hall about 45 minutes before the doors opened. Turns out, no one could pour beer so we used the opportunity to check our equipment. After the five minutes it took to check equipment, we just started roaming the hall having a look around. There was a surprising amount of last minute prep going on at some of the booths. We stopped by the Left Hand booth to say hi to our ‘ol buddy Ryan and see if he could hook us up. No dice.
Then, promptly at 5:30, we heard a sudden wave of cheers. Distant at first, but much like (what I assume would be) the roar of a tidal wave, it slowly gained volume and power. Moments after the initial cheer, the entire hall was rattling with the cheers of tens, then hundreds and finally thousands of eager beer drinkers with their fists in the air. Their faces gleeful, cheers exuberant and steps springy. Their attitudes exuded the “Game on, motherfucker” mindset that had planted itself firmly in my brain. So, “Game on, motherfucker” it was.
I was mostly surprised that I was able to move around pretty freely during the session. It was extremely well attended, but I never experienced a point where I thought I’d have to start tossing a few elbows to get through the crowd. The usual breweries (Three Floyds, New Glarus, Cigar City etc.) still had lines the size (relatively speaking) of Ron Jeremy’s dick, and you still had to plan ahead for the bathrooms unless you enjoy standing in your own piss-soaked pants, but I didn’t get the claustrophobic sensation of being swallowed by the crowd or the endless shoulder bumps of past years.
We drank beers from staple breweries like Cigar City, Left Hand, Sweetwater and a few others. Mostly we just wandered the hall and tried to get the balls to do some interviews or other video work with the equipment we schlepped to the event. We never really had a planned path and usually found ourselves on the move to a brewery clear across the convention hall, sampling a few beers here and there along the way.
By the end of the night, we were ready (Read: plenty drunk) to try a little social experiment. We had Pete go into heavy traffic areas and strategically drop his sampling cup to see the crowd’s reaction in different areas. Results varied and I’m not even going to go into detail about it because we only thought of the idea to make him look stupid. It worked. He falls for just about anything.
Then, the session just kind of sputtered to an end. I didn’t really feel like there were the desperate hangers-on who wanted to keep the party going by dashing from booth to booth to find one last volunteer ready to break the “No pours after 10pm” rule. Everyone just kind of started filtering out. I didn’t feel any sort of urgency to hold onto the moment like I had in past years. That could have stemmed from the fact that I knew I had two more nights of exactly this ahead of me. No work, no real responsibilities, just drinking.
Since the session just kind of limped to an end, we decided to go check out the nightlife in downtown Denver. We’d spent the past 4 hours drinking craft beers and the only possible follow up we could conceive was drinking some cheap ass swill and playing arcade games. The One Up Lodo happens to be the place to do that, even if the cheap ass beers’ prices don’t match their adjunct lager formulation.
The crowd, the company and the light-as-a-feather Schlitzes were just what we needed to kick the buzz into high gear. Even with Matt and I losing a 10 point lead in “NBA Jam” to the fucking Mavericks, we ended that night on a high note. We slammed some pizza from Marquis and made more new friends in line (Including a guy who was willing to kidnap your Ex for a very reasonable price). Finally we got home to rest our weary, drunken heads in preparation for what we expected to be a massive Friday.