There were a lot of people walking into the Colorado Convention Center Saturday morning for the Great American Beer Festival’s award ceremony, but none as quickly as I was. I was going a good 10 percent faster than all of those chumps. It’s like they hadn’t heard about the free breakfast burritos. Well, I knew about them, and out of my way!
Is it “stacks on stacks” they say now? Stacks of stacks of burritos greet us outside the Bellco Theatre, wrapped in foil and arranged on tables all over the place. They’re limp-looking, a little bit soggy, and stuffed with scalding hot scrambled egg and chorizo chunks. Without salsa, they taste like steam and little else; with salsa, they’re zesty, like a dance. I eat four.
I lurk around coffee dispensers the same way I’d lurk around outside locker rooms back in my days working sports beats. Speaking of coffee, did I ever tell you about the time I was covering a hockey game and farted in the press box? It sounded like a phone book being ripped in half, I swear to you. One of the play-by-play guys from the local radio station had to lean back from his mic for like five minutes because he was laughing so hard.
The press box fart and the mustard story: these are my lasting legacies as a sportswriter.
Breweries Get Their Golden Moments
Minnesota wins four medals at this year’s Great American Beer Festival. Superior, Wisc.-based Earth Rider Brewery also wins one, a gold medal for a coffee pale ale done in collaboration with Duluth Coffee Company. Since Earth Rider head brewer Allyson Rolph is too cool for Wisconsin, though, I decided I’m counting Earth Rider’s medal in Minnesota’s tally. Minnesota wins five medals at this year’s Great American Beer Festival.
For most of the festival, no medal gets closer than 66 miles to the Twin Cities. That’s how far away Annandale is, and Spilled Grain Brewhouse bags a silver medal for False Hope, an American wheatwine ale. Duluth-based Ursa Minor Brewing wins a bronze in the Scottish-Style Ale category for Thistle Dew; Hutchinson-based Bobbing Bobber Brewing Company wins a gold medal for Tackle Bock. Barrel Theory Beer Company finally puts the Cities on the board in a big way – a gold medal for Midwestern Exotic – but no Minnesota brewery gets called onto the podium again after that.
Some other cool moments include Rye Hipster Brunch Stout, the beer that made me fall for Odd Side Ales, winning gold this year in the Specialty Beer category; and Virginia’s Bear Chase Brewing Company freaking out in the lobby a few feet away from me after seeing themselves win a gold medal, and rushing into the auditorium to accept it. Ohio’s Fat Head’s Brewery wins another gold, and I just love that DRINK BEER MADE HERE Ohio flag they hold up at the podium. Other Ohio breweries have begun doing it too, and it’s just awesome. If you think the love has died in this industry, you’re out of your mind.
The Day-Drinking is Good ‘Round Here
Will I dump so many beers again today? No. Back at the festival grounds, I start with a beer from Huntington Beach-based Four Sons Brewery called HB Rye’it. It’s a New England IPA with rye. We’re off to a good start. I stand at Freetail Brewing’s table for a solid 15 seconds and get ignored by the staffers, but even that winds up a net positive when I sidestep into a happy surprise at Ex Novo Brewing Co. two tables down.
The word is apparently out on these gangsters because they’ve got two locations in Oregon (Portland and Beaverton), and they set up shop in New Mexico last year – Corrales, New Mexico. It’s just north of Albuquerque. It’s the head brewer’s hometown, and home to a bed and breakfast called Chocolate Turtle. When you get word that Ex Novo has a berliner weisse on tap called Cactus Wins the Lottery, that’s when you book that room at ol’ Chocolate Turtle. Cactus Wins the Lottery might have been my favorite beer of Saturday: infused with cactus, a little bit tart, refreshing, and making me kind of glad those yak-offs at Freetail ignored me. I go back for seconds, compel the people behind me to try it, go back for a third, and am bummed when I find out the keg kicked.
I stop back at Parleaux Beer Labs and get Bayou Drift, a beer that’s funky and exciting like the city it’s brewed in. I skip over to Charleston’s Revelry Brewing, where a thriller of a beer called Who’s Brett awaits. It’s a Brett IPA and this year’s gold medal winner in the Brett Beer category (technically, The Hold by Revelry Brewing made this one). Another great Brett follows, a brett saison by Utah’s Uinta Brewing. So far, this is proving to be almost the opposite of Friday night’s experience.
But there’s more! Wyoming-based Roadhouse Brewing Co. is bumping Doctor Dre at their station and I have a pretty nice New England IPA called The Walrus. Over at Red Truck Brewing, an Oktoberfest has me sneaking a second serving from a guy on the side of the stand and skipping the line. Classic media move.
I hit up Squatters and have their Hell’s Keep. It won silver in the Belgian-Style Blonde Ale or Pale Ale category, and yeah: I’d put this on a pedestal. After that, then I back into Shades Brewing and have Kviek 1. It won gold last year, and is still fucking nice today. Go Utah, eh? Shades won gold this year too with a spice beer called Kveik Thai Tom Kha but they were already sold oout. Kviek number 1 is nice. A beer from The Lost Abbey called A Creator’s Calling won gold in the Aged Beer category, and that beer is just bonkers.
You weren’t looking for detailed tasting notes on all of these, right? Okay, good.
At around 2:30 p.m., things get dicey on the festival floor. A lot of glasses are hitting the floor, lotta shards being swept up by shoe soles, lotta sticky puddles on the cement, lotta kegs kicking. I skip waiting in one brewery line because a guy is dancing with himself and flipping off nobody in particular. My last beer sample of Saturday afternoon, according to my notes, has no alcohol – an Upside Dawn by Athletic Brewing Co. Good non-alcoholic beer is an ace I like to keep in my deck, and this golden ale is positively one. I lurk around that stand, have a couple more samples, and head out.
I walk past a small puddle of vomit on my way to the exit.
I thicken myself with a macaroni and cheese meal at the Greedy Hamster between sessions. It has bacon bleu cheese and hot sauce (it looks like Cholula, but I ain’t hatin’). It’s a big serving. I mean a big serving. I mean I feel like a stoneskin ogre as I walk back to the festival for the night session. Go ahead, swing your fucking sword at my stomach. Don’t get pissed at me when the blade breaks.
I re-enter with a specific mission in mind: re-exit, and fast. I aspire to close business and be out in under an hour. I almost pull it off, too. Had I not tried so hard for a good selfie next to that pillar, or had I not gotten a picture in New Belgium’s mini-bar with that man in that shark costume, or had I not gone back to the Jameson enclosure one more time, I might have made time. Call it an hour and ten, though. My last beer is that Urban South Chocolate Piquante.
It’s right around 7 p.m., and ya know, I feel no inclination to run myself into the ground. I have a free day Sunday, and it’s my last day in town. Best believe I’m going to make my time.