It’s something like 1 a.m. when I first arrive at my Airbnb. I finagle the front door key out of its lockbox, unlock the door, flick my contact lenses into a trash bin, slide open the bedroom door, and come crashing to sleep without so much as crawling under the covers. It was after I wake up Friday morning that I really see what I’m staying in.
Cute place. White kitchen cupboards with yellow doors. White walls, yellow curtains, dinette set like something out of a doo-wop diner. Flamingo-print shower curtain. The host calls it her little bungalow in the Airbnb posting; her photo set in the posting features three close-up shots of flowers in the backyard. Sunlight just floods it on a bright day.
I’d relax in this bungalow all day if I could, but I’m here for workplay. I’ve got my Erin Rose T-Shirt and Air Force Ones on, DAY WALKING cap clipped to my belt loop, and brunch plans. I slide my door key into my wallet, slide my wallet into my front pocket, slide my belt on, and slide out the front door.
These would be the first of 28,144 steps that day. It’s a one-mile walk to the Oxford/City of Sheridan Station, where I’ll take the C Line into downtown Denver.
More or less.
Going the Distance, Going for Speed
Catch me on a Lime scooter, cruising at like six miles an hour, whistling “Ride of the Valkyries” while I scorch Downtown Denver’s bike lanes. I’m still not sure why the C Line had to stop service early and drop everyone off, and looking back now I don’t really care. The important part is that I panicked for a couple of seconds, found a Lime scooter, signed up for an account, and became techno-Hermes for one glorious morning.
All this for the Sam Adams media brunch. If you score an invite to this, you’re two things: 1) a person of at least nonzero influence in the craft beer industry; and 2) probably not eating again for the rest of the day. Bet your caboose I ain’t missing this. I pull up to the Denver Pavilions, dismount my Pegasus, and start upward toward Lucky Strikes.
If you’re not familiar with Denver Pavilions, imagine your local mall but rebuilt in the fashion of M.C. Escher’s “Relativity.” That’s basically Denver Pavilions. I notice an Express, a Coyote Ugly, a Hard Rock Cafe, and signs directing you to the Best View of Denver. These arrows will eventually lead you to wonder – as in, you’ll wonder “Is this the right spot?” or “Was there another arrow I was supposed to follow?” or “Is this seriously the best view of Denver?” It isn’t. There’s no way Denver Pavilions can offer the best view of Denver. Even if it wasn’t a clusterfuck, it’s surrounded by higher buildings in the heart of downtown.
Representatives of Sam Adams and Dogfish Head welcome us at Lucky Strikes. Sam Adams and Dogfish Head merged earlier this year, and understandably a lot of the conversation centered on that merger (if you followed the merger’s proceedings, nothing brought up Friday would be new to you). The latest Utopias was also announced, as was the brewery selected this year for Sam Adams’ Brewing the American Dream program. This year’s winner is Chicago-based Bold Dog Brewing.
Really good candied bacon this year. Being based this close to Canada qualifies me to judge their poutine, and it’s pretty sad.
Media members shamelessly self-promote and ask time-wasting questions during a brief Q-and-A at the end, then people start leaving. I’m one of the first out, and this is where my Air Force Ones really start putting on miles.
I walk to Wynkoop Brewery, try a couple of samples, and leave my sunglasses in a men’s room stall. I walk to Rock Bottom Brewery, ask for a 10-ounce pilsner, get a pint of pilsner, but I don’t argue because it tastes good enough. I walk back to Union Station, and take the C Line back to City of Sheridan. I walk toward a Super Target sign, assuming a Super Target would be close by, and discover the Super Target is actually a half-mile away. More walking.
Imagine dragging your carcass across a half-mile of parking lot under a cloudless, hot sky. If you’ve done it before, you know. It feels vaguely the way I imagine it feels to be an aluminum can right after being set into a wall-mounted can crusher. The only oasis is a Carl’s Jr. I get a jalapeno double cheeseburger and walk back to that little bungalow. At this point, I’m at 18,000 steps and my legs are already a little bit wobbly.
I get a Lyft to the Colorado Convention Center, and my Great American Beer Festival visit finally begins.
Friday Night at the Festival
The Friday night session of the Great American Beer Festival ends with me stopping back at the Urban South Brewery stand for one more sample of that Chocolate Piquante: a chocolate stout infused with habanero peppers and cinnamon, aged in Jameson barrels. This beer is a perfect commixture of my favorite things. I take sips of it and curse under my breath in disbelief. I point it out to people who are standing nearby. They try it and love it.
This was my favorite beer of the whole festival. If revealing that so early means you stop reading, so be it. Enjoy the rest of your day.
This year’s total attendance was about 60,000 people across four sessions, and 800 breweries were on hand. I’m sure you can imagine what kind of crowd density we’re dealing with here. Lotta sidesteps and “Ope!” as I make my way through it. My Erin Rose T-shirt scores compliments left and right. Who needs Duff Man costumes and Halloween superstore lederhosen when your everyday fits are on point, y’know?
I enjoy Chocolate Piquante in comfort. Breweries who’ve taken part in the Jameson Caskmates program are grouped together in a sort of gated neighborhood within the festival grounds. On my way in, I’m given free drink tokens for local bars and burlap swag bags; the floor inside is covered with cushy turf; and the breweries serve their samples from homely stations with region-specific decor.
Great beer is pretty easy to find in there, and I don’t just say that because Chocolate Picante is 10 paces from the front entrance (but that helps). Lafayette, La.-based Parish Brewing offers a barrel-aged candied pecan stout that drinks like silk and makes me say “Oh, daaamn!”; the Sweet Child of Vine Old-Fashioned at the Fulton Beer stand is infused with oranges and cherries, and aged in Jameson barrels. It’s 5.4 percent alcohol by volume. I drink my first sample quickly, double back and grab a second to go.
But my night begins with Lupulin Brewing’s Lateralus, a vanilla coffee stout and yet another example of Lupulin Brewing’s across-the-board excellence. Two years ago, Lupulin won gold at this festival for a Dortmunder; back at the office, a co-worker has become a blubbering fool for Hooey. Lateralus is another “Holy shit, yep” from Lupulin Brewing.
After that comes Parleaux Beer Labs’ It’s Almost Jazzfest, a New England IPA that’s funky, juicy, and – fuck it, I’ll say it – jazzy, baby. Parleaux Beer Lab co-owner Eric Jensen has strong ties to Minnesota, and is doing some really cool stuff out in New Orleans’ Bywater neighborhood. I’d tell you more, but I’m working on a story about that as we speak.
There’s a beer called La Mûre from pFriem Family Brewers I really enjoy, and I go back to the Brewdog stand a second time for a sample of Cosmic Crush – but a lot of beers miss with me at the Friday night session, and I don’t tough those beers out anymore. I’ve never dumped as many samples at a festival as I dump that night. I’d have much better luck in the Saturday afternoon session, but I look back and still can’t believe how many samples I dumped that night.
Another thing I don’t do anymore is ride the festivals out until the closing bell. I jet with about an hour remaining, and I stop at Anthony’s for a slice of Sicilian-style pizza before I leave town. I wish it would have been better. After that comes more walking. I drag myself to Union Station, only to learn the C Line has shut down for the night. Another Lyft, another splash onto my bungalow bed.