Thursday, October 6
I’d been to the Great American Beer Festival before. That was at least twenty years ago. We bought tickets at the door. The tasting glass was actually glass. You could get as many samples of beer, one ounce at a time, as long as you had the glass. Sometimes people dropped the glasses – the sound of the breaking glass had a ringing quality that allowed it to be heard over the general hubbub of the crowd. People at the epicenter would call out an “Oooooh!” that rippled through the hall. No more beer for some poor guy. This occurred with increasing frequency as the night progressed, as you might imagine.
All they had was beer; there was no food. This was back in Currigan Hall. It was just a big open space (the world’s largest rigid space frame when it was built in 1969). There was a balcony that went all the way around the inside, just a wide corridor, really. Nowhere to sit, but you could lean on the railing take in the spectacle of the next dropped tasting glass. We found a vending machine up there, Funyuns and other long shelf life pseudo-food.
That was then. Things are different now. I haven’t even tried to get tickets as they sell out so fast. This year I’m told it took sixty-seven minutes. Sixty thousand people will taste nearly seventy-five hundred different beers. It’s the largest beer festival in the country, attended by people from all over the world.
Jason was kind enough to give me a ticket this year.
I don’t make it downtown very often. Last time was for the Bronco’s parade back in February. Genae and I took the bus, the Flatiron Flyer, to Union Station. That probably would have been the easiest thing to do tonight but Genae suggested I make an adventure of it and take the train instead. We have a few free passes, so what the heck.
After an early dinner I headed to the train station. I didn’t know exactly where it is, so I just punched the address into the phone and set off. Naturally, it took me to where they’re still building another parking lot, on the wrong side of the tracks from where I needed to be. Finally in the garage, I get a prime end spot next to the stairs. As I’m stepping out of the garage, I hear a train whistle. There’s the train, pulling into the station. Several minutes earlier than I expect. On reflection, it must have been sitting there the whole time as this station is at the end of the track (for now). It wasn’t pulling into the station from the east, full of commuters, it was coming from the west, empty.
I didn’t exactly run to the train, but I did pick up my pace a bit when a fellow ran past me. I needed to validate my free ticket. The guy who ran by me was working one of the credit card machines. I looked at the other but didn’t see anything about validation. I asked the other guy if he knew how to validate my pass but he didn’t. We got on the train, sat across the aisle from each other. How much trouble could I get into for not having my pass validated?
It’s a nice car, brand new. We sat a while before the doors closed and we departed. I never went through a turnstile so I assumed somebody would come by to check for tickets. I chatted with my fellow passenger. He, too, was headed to the festival. He’d spend the evening there with his son, then Uber home to Erie. Before long our conductor arrived. I told him I failed to validate my pass. He told me what I should look for next time and took my pass, which he immediately gave back to me.
When we got off the train we immediately met two women who asked us if we knew how to get to the beer fest. “We think we know where we’re going. You’re welcome to come with us.” On the train he had asked me where we needed to go. I said I thought it was 14th and Champa. We’d hop on the mall shuttle and head that way. Of course, half the people on the shuttle were going to GABF. Turns out I was off by a couple of blocks. The entrance is on 14th at California.
There was a line of people, four abreast, going through the glass doors. My train companion headed to will call and I went to get in line. At first I thought it was maybe fifty feet long. But it took a jog around a corner. Then underneath the building, past service entrances, along the single row of parking, almost to 12th Street. How many people in a line two and a half blocks long and four across? And the place has been open for about an hour, so how many people were there already?
Mercifully, the line moved pretty quickly. As we made our way toward the front a steady stream of people passed us on their way to the end. Lots of guys had necklaces made of pretzels. Take a bite of pretzel between samples to clear the palate. Judging by the number of pretzels, some of these guys were serious. Some were not so much necklaces as bandoliers, reaching from left shoulder to right waist.
Once inside I headed over to say hi to Jason. His team was pouring last year’s medal winners in the back corner of the entrance hall. I had my first sample right next door, the Bleidorf Kolsch from Periodic Brewing.
I downloaded the GABF app a few days ago but haven’t played around with it. I was thinking I’d be able to check off the beers I’d sampled. Instead, it gave me all sorts of sliders. I’d have been happy with a checkbox or a 1-5 star rating. It also wanted me to sign on to Facebook. Too much bother. Instead, I grabbed a pen from Port City Brewing and circled all the beers I tried in the 32 page beer list we got at the door.
My plan, more or less, was to stick to lighter beers for the most part, avoid standing in line, skip Colorado brewers and anything I can buy at the store, and walk every mile of the show. I also wanted to keep in mind the train schedule; my choices were 9:21 and 10:21.
I’m a lightweight. I sampled only a fraction of a percent of the available beers. I tried a variety of fruit beers: watermelon, black cherry, blueberry, peach. I like my fruit beer to be subtle. These were all pretty “in your face” except the blueberry. The only dark beer I tried was a chocolate chipotle – the chocolate was just undertones and the chipotle a smoldering aftertaste.
By the time I’d made a couple laps of the place I decided I’d had enough and made my way out. I arrived at 16th Street about sixty seconds too late to grab the shuttle. I expected to see another one soon; I expected one to pass me before I walked the length of the mall. This was optimistic: I never saw another shuttle. I made it to the train station at 9:24, missing the train by three minutes.
My free pass also works for the bus. When I texted Genae to tell her I’d be waiting nearly an hour for the train she suggested I take the Flatiron Flyer and she’d pick me up and shuttle me to the train station to fetch my car. Seemed like a lot of bother, and it kept her up after her bedtime, but in the end it saved me ten or fifteen minutes. And saved me pacing up and down the platform for an hour as I didn’t see any benches.
I enjoyed the evening. The beer festival isn’t something I need to do every year but it was fun and interesting.