Great American Beer Festival Diary: Day 1

Artwork outside Denver's Rialto Cafe, where Ska Brewing is hosting daily happy hours during the Great American Beer Festival

Artwork outside Denver’s Rialto Cafe, where Ska Brewing is hosting daily happy hours during the Great American Beer Festival

Charger, charger, charger …

Charger.

I don’t need much when I travel – I’m not even checking a bag on this trip – but send me someplace without chargers and I might as well be on that Naked and Afraid reality show. I haven’t seen it, but I’m guessing by the title that people spend time being naked and afraid. That’s how I feel without chargers. While my wife is insisting I recount my underwear to make sure I have enough, I’m making sure I have two phone chargers, my laptop charger, my microphone cord, and a jump drive.

I do.

My coverage last year at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) was absolute horseshit. Let me just say that. I tried to do too much, and the final body of work reflected my over-extension. I actually only applied for credentials this year because I was confident I wouldn’t be granted them. If I’m let in, I figured, it must be God telling me to keep covering beer. I’d been having that conversation internally, too, but an email from the Festival settled it for me.

So there I am, strolling into the airport, two hours before my flight takes off for Denver. Before we left, my wife assured me that the TSA line won’t be too bad on a Thursday morning at 6 a.m. My wife is brilliant. She’s almost never wrong.

But she’s wrong today.

The Bloody Derby at the Red Cow restaurant location at the MSP International Airport in Bloomington, Minnesota

The Bloody Derby at Red Cow’s MSP Airport location. You can find it in Concourse E.

As I’m sliding back into my sneakers, the woman behind me loudly speaks her mind and mine: “Time for a beer!”

I pass a man on the way down Concourse E, a man wearing a red felt cowboy hat and an orange skirt. Three animal tails hang where a human tail would hang if humans had tails, which they don’t, so this looks the second-highest level of weird. He has a long, gray beard, but you already knew that. I settle into Red Cow and order something called a Bloody Derby. It’s made with “grand dad bourbon.” Hit me!

It hits me, quickly.

I pass an airport policeman bicycling down the hallway and charge my phone at an empty counter outside QDoba. It’s only 26-percent charged. Better safe than sorry, right? I fumble the charger out of my pocket a little bit, because the Derby did its job, and I fumble the chair pulling that out, because it did its job very well. I get it just over 50 percent before I get in line for the flight.

Once on the plane, I am seated in row 25C. All around me are families with small children, over-dressed business types on their phones as they walk onto the plane, and a couple of people I think I recognize who are likely headed to GABF as well. I haven’t had enough coffee for conversation, and I never have enough coffee to deal with screaming children or businessmen talking loudly about their business dealings.

Luckily, I don’t have any of that. I’m in a row of three, and the other two sleep the whole time. I play a really good game of Ballz that takes nearly the whole flight. I have nothing funny to say about my flight.

My phone is 31-percent charged when I get off the plane.

Sliders and an Alaskan Brewing Husky IPA at Henry's Tavern in Denver, Colorado, during the Great American Beer Festival

Sliders and an Alaskan Brewing Husky IPA at Henry’s Tavern

I get off the plane, have a great meal downtown, and walk back to my Airbnb. It’s two-and-a-half miles, but I refuse to pay Lyft the estimated $8 to drive me that piddly distance. So, I wheel my luggage that two-and-a-half miles to the place, lift it up to sprint across busy streets, and feel it crash into sidewalk bumps. My boxers are sweaty. My T-shirt is sweaty. The hoodie I wore on the flight had been stuffed into my computer bag. My socks might as well have been wore down a Slip-n-Slide, and why is my phone perpetually about to go under 20-percent charge?

I reach my Airbnb, get the keys, find my bedroom, and drop right the fuck dead. The host isn’t there, but her cat is … and she decides to introduce herself. She saunters into my bedroom, jumps onto my bed, walks onto my chest, gets her face maybe three inches from mine, and give me the longest mean-mug I’ve ever received. Having effectively delivered her message (and it was very effective), she saunters back out of the room.

I lie there for a little bit longer, change my shirt, change my socks, decide my next boxers would just get sweaty again anyway, and head off to Thursday’s parties. My phone is back above 50 percent.

*** *** ***

I’m constantly humbled by breweries’ willingness to let little guys like myself into their parties to eat myself one shirt size larger and drink myself social. My first outing is at 2 p.m., at Henry’s Tavern for the Alaskan Brewing party. I get a taste of a new year-round IPA that will be hitting Minnesota soon and will stay here year-round.

I sit down with Andy Kline. In nine powerful minutes, he covers everything from that new IPA, the history of their Alaskan Amber – the beer that built the empire – the surprisingly large impact of their following back home, huskies, and an event in Minnesota he says was inspiring. I’ll have this in greater detail in a separate write-up.

Two-and-a-half hours later, I’m at Rialto Cafe for the Ska Brewing party. There, I’m introduced to a Double IPA that will be doing the same. The Ska Brewing guys were the first to invite me to their GABF party last year, and the first to give me an interview there, so they’ll always have a place in my heart. Owner Dave Thibodeau gives me time once again. We discuss their Double IPA, and their success in the Minnesota market since entering a few months ago. A few members of the Ska team recognize me from last year, which is pretty cool. I’ll have this in greater detail in a separate write-up as well.

I have a Pink Vapor Stew. When Devin, their local sales guy, described it to me, it had a lot of words I didn’t like – things like “beets,” “carrots,” and “sour.” I enjoy the beer, though, quite a bit. It’s wild, which you should expect from Ska Brewing by now, but the flavors harmonize well. If it comes to Minnesota, I suggest you give it a shot. It’s a sour, no doubt about that, but not so much that it kills you. Speaking of life, my phone charges the whole time. It’s near full by the time I leave the Rialto.

Another brewery team who has been very welcoming has been Left Hand Brewing. Even before my first GABF, Minnesota Beer Hero Joe Shea and his team have made me feel at home out in the mountains every time I’ve been out there, whether for work or otherwise. I was given a tour of their facility on a whim this year, and met one of their founders in passing last year. I work with them a lot, because their beer is great and working with them isn’t a pain in the ass. Despite their size and the magnitude of their success, no one is blown off or treated as insignificant.

The Ska party gets done around 6 p.m. I text Joe about his plans, and he tells me about a rooftop party at Tap XIV at 10 p.m. I can get a nap in before heading back out, I figure. I get back to my Airbnb around 7 p.m. and slip off to sleep. The cat, having already made her message clear, does not come in.

I wake up at 3:30 a.m. the next day. Perhaps it wasn’t my phone’s charge I should’ve been worried about.