Warren Zevon has a song called “Things to do in Denver when you’re dead” that ran through my head several times during a visit to that city this past weekend. To be more precise, it went through my head while trying to get to the city from the airport, which is conviently located only if you are a cab driver or shuttle company.
But as much as sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic feels like a slow (very slow) death, I was very much alive, as was the fellow shuttle passenger situated in the front seat. His shirt bearing the Sweetwater Brewery logo suggested he was in town for the annual Great American Beer Festival, a gathering of craft brewers and the people who love them.
I am one of the latter. As the long ride continued, I discovered he is the former, the co-founder of Sweetwater. And as my questions about my favorite brewery piled up, it was Freddy Bensch who might have wished he was dead.
Craft beer is like a lot of things: You think you are an afficianado until you find people who really are. I enjoy drinking (and reading about) all styles of craft beer, seeking out unique brands and styles at the liquor and growler stores. But I met my match in Denver.
There were more than 3,100 beers represented at The Great American Beer Festival, with tickets for the three-day event selling out in 20 minutes. It is the largest collection of American beers of any festival in the country, and the hopheads who attend are every bit as fanatical as a statheads are with sports.
The festival had an app for chronicling the beers you tasted — 1-ounce each, poured into your festival cup — but many connoisseurs did it one better, snapping pictures of the write-ups of their favorite beers for future review. I learned of this while waiting in a long line for maple bacon coffee porter from the Funky Buddha Brewery, my new friend suggesting beers I should try by flipping through this phone.
Alas, the special maple beer was gone when we reached the front of the line. So I had to settle for an ale called No Crusts that replicates the taste of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. As consolation prizes go, it was pretty darn good.
While the festival was about trying new beers, the ride in from the aiport was about discussing an old favorite. I’ve been a Sweetwater fan since the brewery’s inception, and I love its beers, particularly the unique brews it releases through its Dank Tank series. Getting to talk beer with one of the minds behind Sweetwater was a treat, one I didn’t hide.
Despite being a journalist, my questions may have come off a little like a Chris Farley skit on “Saturday Night Live” with me naming off beers and telling Freddy how much I liked them: You remember that one time, when you brewed Some Strange? That was awesome.
Beer makes for easy conversation, which in this case made a bad commute enjoyable. And Freddy was a good sport, answering my questions graciously and inviting our group to visit him at the festival. We exchanged numbers, which led to a text the following day saying Sweetwater had won a gold medal in the competition part of the festival. That will give me fodder for our next visit:
Remember that one time when LowRYEder IPA won for best rye beer? That was awesome.
Email Todd Cline at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Wednesdays.