Concerning a Trip to What is Called the Great American Beer Festival

  •  60,000 people are really loud
  • Sour beers are the new IPA,; you’re welcome
  • Sampling limits should be abolished
  •  Why don’t they move this festival around, like the Super Bowl? 

In the beginning, called by some 1981, when the world I know began to take shape, in the time when Def Leppard was bringing on the heartbreak and AC/DC was just getting back in black, when the decibel levels of music were rising to properly acceptable levels, a mythical figure liberated countless people from slavery to a post-Prohibition yellow beverage that had encompassed the country. This modern Moses is called Charlie and his exodus evidently ended in Denver, Colorado. There was much rejoicing. So much, in fact, that the freed slaves decided there should be a festival at that location every year for all that generation and newly liberated types to commemorate the exodus. Eight years ago I journeyed to this soiree in the Rockies and I went back this year. And there was much rejoicing. It was the Great American Beer Festival. Here’s a thing I noticed: as more come to commemorate the release from taste-neutral beer, the decibel levels at the event have risen commiseratively. To be sure, I have been and ever shall be a believer in this axiom: if it’s too loud, you’re too old. To be more sure, that proverb is turning its serpentine head on me these days as my ears become sensitive. As Brick would say, “loud noises!” I mean, blood oranges, sixty thousand people generate a stentorian buzz! Speaking of blood oranges, by the way, Revolver Brewing from Austin, Texas, tapped Sangre Y Miel at GABF and I thank their representative for being Texas friendly and steering me to their line in an unabashed fashion to sample it. The beer was tart and winey and sour.

Speaking of sours, you’re welcome, craft beer world. As I noted gallantly above eight years ago I came to this festival and wandered from table to table searching for lambics or krieks or goses, anything that would make me pucker, not in hops bitterness fashion, but in wild fermentation glee. There were approximately two beers that fulfilled this mission for me. (Cuvee de Tomme, from Lost Abbey or Pizza Port, being one of them; see, sours were so rare I remember one specifically !) I loved sour beers then. I’ve been trying to get them since I started drinking craft. The rest of the silly country has been giving themselves IV’s of hops and blazoning the virtues of IPAs and double IPAs and imperial triple ludicrous speed IPAs. Ha! My prescient palate eschewed such things and sought more sophisticated sensory input. And what did I find this year? The aether of the beerosphere was paying attention to my taste. This year, every brewery I visited had a saison or a farmhouse ale or a soured this or that. In fact, Real Ale Brewing, also from Texas (this coincidence happened because I chose to drink beers from Texas and Pennsylvania only), made what is now my favoritest beer ever, Tenebrae Aeterna. I can’t even pronounce that name, can barely spell it, but went back for more than one sample of that deliciously soured porter. I have long loved porter beers and to find a sour one is a dream I didn’t even know I had. The beer was splendid; dark, of course, as it should be, black in the artificial light of the coliseum. It still had the slightly charred ashen taste I covet, this time delightfully spoiled, tart, acidulous. Roasted grain soaked in a wine-vineagar. It was like, well, standing in line with sixty thousand people for forty minutes in anticipation – frustrating, annoying, blissful. It’s the butterflies in your stomach as you wait in that line, hoping that the stupid scanner the ticket checkers hold is not going to have a problem reading that QR code on your smartphone screen since that is your ticket and you don’t want to have an argument with the person holding the scanner, insisting that you do belong there while trying to find and unfold that anachronistic paper ticket you shoved in your pocket with all the other detritus from your long trip. Yeah, like that. There was another fantastic sour beer, a gose from Texas Beer Refinery. It was Gulf Coast Gose and was made with sea salt. What a terrific ingredient for a gose! I love sea salt in spice rubs for grilling, and it could be tasted in just the right proportion in this beer. This is right behind the sour Porter in terms of beers I want again. So, once again, you’re welcome craft beer world. My taste buds presaged your current fad. I can’t wait to discover the Craft World’s new taste. What style shall become nascent next? How about … free beers for Bottled Roger?

As with any beer festival sampling cups were provided. One is plastic, for the use of the hoi polloi and the other is glass, reserved for members only. Yeah! I attended both as commoner and as uncommoner. Thus, I have both special sampling devices. Am I not special? Exactly, I am not. Anyway, both cups have a six ounce capacity. (Yes, I did measure it myself). A line is inscribed on the cups, marking a one ounce pouring limit. That is only seventeen percent of the capacity. I guess I understand this imposition but I am not a fan of it. It’s hard to get an in-depth perception of a beer via one ounce. I would like to have more than one ounce. Well, I did get more than one ounce when I went back and drank a beer a second time, but I also want to try as many beers as possible. What I have noticed is that when the brewers themselves pour, they don’t seem to pay strict attention to the line. They pour their beer and they want you to drink it and they give you some details about it. Some are better at this exposition than others, too. Some just provide dry infodumps, like the technobabble that is ubiquitous in a bad episode of Star Trek: Voyager; others display Asimovian glee as they clearly delineate the laws of their liquid creations. Anyway, the point is that usually you get a little more suds from the makers. The volunteers, on the other hand, while lovely and nice people, tow that one ounce limit line strictly, in Vaderian fear, apprehensive of a Force-choke from the festival overlords if they over pour.

One other point: I like Denver. It is a city full of good beer. And I guess the mythical figure of Mr Charlie Papazian lives thereabouts and this beer festival is his. Wouldn’t it be cool, though, if it moved around the country? It could rival the Super Bowl. Cosmopolitan metropolises could vie for the honor of hosting the most esteemed of beer festivals. Plus, maybe it would hit Phoenix one year and that’s only three hours away from me. So, come on, let’s go for that. 

GABF rules!

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