Great American Beer Festival Diary: Day 2

Frank Haataja's media pass for the 2017 Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado

I wake to the sound of a cat.

It’s 3:30 a.m., Friday. I try to go back to sleep and fail. The Plan was to be up at 6 a.m., leave by 7 a.m., and be downtown by 8 a.m. My first assignment is at Marlowe’s, for the Samuel Adams media brunch. I ate so much at this brunch last year, I didn’t have to eat again the rest of the day. This brunch is, using analytics terms, efficient.

I map out my attack plan as I lie there. I know what table I want. It’s less than 10 feet from the buffet, on a balcony overlooking the restaurant. I know to leave half the plate for bacon and another one-quarter for piled foods – corned beef hash, eggs, etc. That way, any sandwiches or sliders can be set either in the remaining one-fourth, or set atop the bacon. They can be tipped over onto the piled foods if balance becomes an issue. All level space should be occupied at this point. The carved meats can just be set on top.

I know not to mess with the sausage links. They’re simultaneously the least-healthy and least-enjoyable meat on the table. I also know to avoid the biscuits and gravy, unless the biscuits look really inviting. In most buffets, though, you’re dealing with Pillsbury tube-type biscuits. If you really want gravy, you can put it on other things.

The goal is to come away with perhaps four or five bites more than you can realistically eat. You can pick away at the remainder as you go; but, if you can’t, or simply don’t care to, at least you’re not being wasteful. Wasting at a buffet is an egregious act, especially if you’re not paying. Should you get through your first course quickly, you’ll be able to hop back in line with no problems.

I wake up and it’s 7:30 a.m.

Samuel Adams founder Jim Koch speaks at the Samuel Adams Media Brunch at Marlowe's in Denver, Colorado during the Great American Beer Festival
Samuel Adams founder Jim Koch speaks at the Samuel Adams Media Brunch at Marlowe’s in Denver.

I reach Marlowe’s around 9 a.m. I get the table I envisioned, I get the buffet line spot I envisioned, and the tray full of bacon I envisioned is there for me, full as it was in my dreams, with sriracha sausage enchiladas and corned beef hash. This brunch is one of the best buffets I have over the course of the year. I build my plate exactly as I’d planned out.

There’s a great panel covering the importance of independent craft brewers. Jim Koch, Samuel Adams’ founder, also touches on the origins of his company back when he started and finding space in the industry for innovation today. I’m recording it, so I only half-listen while I finish my Day 1 entry. As I leave, a Samuel Adams staffer offers me a bottle of Sam 76, a new release from Sam Adams. She asks if I want a cold or a warm one.

Can I drink it out there?” I ask, pointing out onto 16th St.
I’m not sure,” she says. “Do you know what Denver’s open container laws are?”
Only one way to find out!” I say, and I take a cold one.

I decide not to be That Guy, though, and instead just drink it at my AirBNB.

After a few hours of walking around or drinking coffee at Starbucks, I enter the Convention Center at 3 p.m. and get my press pass. I can’t actually enter the festival until 5:15, so I poke around and prepare the day’s interviews in the meantime.

With about an hour left before press entry, I overhear a man on his cell phone. Most of his output is F-bombs, but one non-F-bomb thing he says is, “I want to drink beer! I want to go to the festival. I have no friends!” He walks away after that, his output having reverted back to being mostly F-bombs.

He looks exactly like the kind of man who has no friends and overuses the F-word.

A glass of 1800, a historic English IPA made by Minneapolis, Minnesota's Town Hall Brewery

Around 5:10 p.m., I’m in. 1800, an English IPA from Minneapolis’ own Town Hall Brewery is the first thing in my glass. Two members of Town Hall are there, and we chat while I sip down this 1800. It meets the expectation Town Hall Brewery has set for itself over the last 20 years. More than the beer, though, right now, I’m enjoying the people at the Town Hall booth. For as great as they are at what they do, they are never pretentious about it. One of them came to my Brewing in 2020 panel back in March. He says I did a really good job. Rather than just taking this compliment, I, being me, immediately point out how big a shitshow my very first panel was.

My first interview is Matt Campbell of BottleKeeper. He’s a hard-working guy who’s passionate about his product and delivers precise answers during our interview. I can tell he has a business background. He gives me a couple of BottleKeepers to test after we chat, then gets right back onto the floor offering demonstrations. He’s in the Great Lakes region, where I spend a lot of my time, so I see him a lot. I don’t see him take a break once.

I cruise through the swarms and get a taste of some little-known breweries while heavyweights like Rogue Brewing, Stone Brewing, Russian River, and such have lines that stretch all the way out to Loveland. A Rapid City, S.D., brewery called Lost Cabin is the first such brewery to impress me. It’s a scotch ale that clocks in at 8.2% alcohol by volume (ABV), with the heavy malt presence I love.

I go back for this beer repeatedly during the festival, and there’s never more than two people in line when I arrive. Are people really just coming here to spend 10 minutes in line at the Stone stand?

An old favorite from last year, Chapman Crafted Beer‘s Blogger black lager, is as great as I remembered. It’s advertised as “smooth, toasty, and opinionated.” It’s definitely smooth, most certainly toasty, and of course I taste the opinions. Chapman’s stand, when I visit, is much more crowded than I remember the previous year. During an interview a while back, food photographer Ashley Chung coined the term “the flavor of opinions.” It’s a popular flavor, apparently, and Chapman wields it well.

A car at the Chapman Crafted Beer stand at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado

I used to stick around at beer festivals until the very end. I’m too old for that now. By 9:30 p.m., I’m on my way to the Hyatt, where Left Hand and some other breweries are hosting an after-party. It’s a pretty chill party, but I need that. I order a beer, and get about halfway down it before realizing I’m really only thirsty for water. I drink probably four waters during the party.

I order a dish of two miniature Philly sandwiches and a side of French fries. The young lady next to me seems very impressed at my ability to ignore everything around me while I eat. There is drinking – an inordinately large shot of tequila shows up at one point – and people take turns posing with a trophy Joe Shea and his team won in a karaoke contest earlier this week. We eat, we drink, we chat, we try on silly hats, we drink some more, and we leave.

I call up a Lyft this time. I express apprehension to my driver about walking home at this hour since I don’t know the neighborhoods. He looks at my route and assures me I would have been fine.

My two-mile drive costs me $18.


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