Surviving The Great American Beer Festival

12 Oct

Oktoberfest in Munich is world famous and although I’ve never attended, luckily I got to go to the next best thing in Denver CO, The Great American Beer Festival! In the past 10 years I’ve managed to go to about 7 of these intoxicating events and still find it challenging to describe what the experience is like. The basic idea is that brewers show up to have their beers compete for various contests and bragging rights. It is also an opportunity to advertise and meet fellow beer enthusiasts. But 95% of people don’t care about any of that, it’s there to make the activity of binge drinking sound more official.

GABF

Some of the statistics might put into perspective how grand this year’s Beerfest was. There were 624 Breweries that participated, which altogether brought over 3100 types of beer. These beers were sampled by about 49,000 attendees during 4 sessions that each is 4 and a half hours long. All these people consume an estimated 48,000 gallons of beer that get’s served…wait for it…One ounce at a time. Since there is an “all the beer you can drink” policy this allows you to try hundreds of types of beer from all over the United States. Most brewers follow this formula; there’s at least one light colored beer, one dark beer, one IPA, a Saison (these must have really caught on, cause they were rarer in years past), and one wild card beer. The wild card is where the fun stuff is and also why you try and go to the first session, because these beers are the first ones that run out. They have; coffee beers, fruity beers, pumpkin beers, wildflower beers, pepper beers, chai beers, there was even a cucumber beer I tried this year which sounds just wrong but was actually pretty good. The bitch of it is that when you finally find that absolute perfect beer, it is probably brewed in Cowfart Idaho so you’ll never see it in a liquor store. Luckily you can drink as many one ounce pours of it as you want, so bottoms up as long as you’re there.

Beerfest 1

There’s traditions that exists at GABF that might take a newcomer by surprise. Like if someone drops their cup the clack of it hitting the ground is immediately followed by a public shaming in the form of the entire place erupting in an “Aaaaahhhoooohhh”.  The first time I went, there were so many people wearing pretzel necklaces. I asked someone where they bought theirs, she laughed and said she’d made it. All those thousands of people bring homemade necklaces, including me. It is hard to believe not one entrepreneur has started selling pretzel necklaces either inside or even on the street outside, they’d rack in the cash. Anyway that’s something that GABF has in common with Comic Con; people dress up for it. There are tons of pretzel necklaces and cup holder necklaces, giant beer mug hats, Hop hats, chicken hats, all sorts of tacky funny stuff. There’s also quite a few people in full costumes (purposely not using the word “cosplay” because that’s a retarded word. You can wear a costume, or play dress up, I respect that, but call it what it is because “cosplay” has no meaning.) This year I saw some of the classic German beer serving waitresses, some Medieval  European Monks, and 6ft Oompa Loompas, just to name a few. But my personal favorites were two young women who’d dressed up like Duff Man and Surly, since I was wearing a Mr. Sparkle t-shirt (pronounced “Mistel Spalkeroo”)  I felt the kinship between us. There also may or may not be a photo that exists somewhere of me with a random guy in Princess Leia drag, it was toward the end of the night and things were getting fuzzy. You can start to see how GABF is a celebration of all things beer, not just the drinking of it, but honoring the social lubrication it provides for our society.

Simpsons

How can I go to this magical drink all you want carbohydrate wearing party? You ask yourself. Here’s where the biggest problem is. The first year I went you could walk right up and buy your tickets the day of the event at the Convention center for like $40. But since it has gotten so popular ticket prices have gone up every year and sold out faster and faster. This year they were a whopping $75 a person and all sold out in less than 20 minutes. Furthermore now to even have a shot at buying tickets online you have to sign up as a member of their little made-up “Brewer’s Association” club, that costs an additional $38 a year and that won’t even guarantee you a spot, as they say on the site “There are more members of the Brewers Association than there are attendee slots…Not every member will be able to purchase tickets.” This is why I stopped going every year, it is too hard to get overpriced tickets. The only reason I went this year was because a friend who’s part of their club got me a ticket. Believe me I love the challenge of drinking more than $75 worth of free beer in 4 hours. But this might be my last GABF for quite some time. Thanks for lots of great memories.

Carl Wells

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