For the love of Beer

Our small mountain town of Durango, hosts a modest population of roughly 15,000 people. That means, for every 3,750 of Durango's residents, there exists a micro-brewery to cater to their every bubbling, burbling, beer beseech. Nowhere else in the country offers its residents the quality and variety of suds that we enjoy here in Durango year round. However, once a year since 1981, Denver has us beaten. Each autumn, brewers and their devotees descend upon the Mile High City for the premiere celebration of all things beer, The Great American Beer Festival. The GABF is three days of Christmas morning for beer lovers. There are 2,016 diverse kinds of beer in 67 different categories. Last week I was lucky enough to be there for the 23rd annual gathering of beer greatness.

The festivities began innocently enough on Thursday evening, but this was very much the calm before the storm. The vast majority of those in attendance for Day 1 were those in the biz. I myself have a strong affection for beer but a stronger affection for one of the local brewers. So I left the professionals to go about their business. They rubbed elbows, toasted their best brewed endeavors and generally spoke in a secret language that those outside of the know would likely find as odd as Klingon. While the masters of malt manipulation chattered happily about whether they preferred Fuggles to Hallertau hops, I decided to venture around the convention hall and try not to get drunk. With the official GABF magazine in hand, I marked the most intriguing selections. UBER BRAU, Velvety Hammer and Saint Arnold's Fancy Lawnmower Beer all piqued my interest. I carefully rolled the flavor of each one-ounce pour around on my tongue and tried to imitate the tooth suck of the connoisseur. This is an art form that I have yet to master. Trust me, it is much harder than it sounds, and no matter how practiced your palate may be, you still look stupid doing it.

Friday night was an entirely different scene from Thursday, with the former night's air of civility quickly forgotten. For many of the attendees of Day 2, the GABF seemed little more than a frat party thrown in a convention center. Rather than conscientious choices based on style and region, most fest fiends on Friday simply wanted their glass filled with anything and often. They stumbled from table to table shouting their mantra of "Livers are evil and need to be punished!" On Saturday afternoon, things got serious when 400 breweries competed for gold, silver and bronze metals. The most exciting moments of the entire festival took place over two agonizing and bittersweet hours between 1:30 and 3:30. Just as every parent believes that their child is the best and brightest ever born, so do the creators of beer. So it goes without saying that every brewer who entered the competition wanted a medal. Sadly, more than half went home empty handed. As each category of beer topped a large screen on the stage where the metals were to be presented, I could feel the collective holding of breath by the anxious crowd. When the names Carver Brewing Co. and Ska Brewing, Durango, Colo., appeared on the 20-foot screen, I screamed and cried like it was 1965 and the Beatles were up there. A rush of home-town pride overcame me, and the high lasted longer than even the best beer buzz ever could. It could only have been sweeter if all four of our local breweries had been recognized for their awesome brewing abilities. Congratulations to Ska for taking the gold metal for their Buster Nut Brown and to Carver's for winning bronze for their La Plata Pilsner.

The GABF takes place during the last weekend of September every year. Be sure to check it out at least one time in your life.

Lainie Lowndes



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