One part of beer culture that I most treasure is the beer fest. It’s a place for everyone to gather together, enjoy new and favorite beers and catch up on the happenings at our specific breweries. This year’s 5th Annual Gnarly Barley Brew Fest started out as any other, but ended with some of the best memories I could have as a beer blogger and brewery employee.
The day started with blue skies and warm weather. We were fighting over who got the chairs in the shade under the Loveland Aleworks booth. None of us wanted to be out in the sun. Everyone had brought their A games this year to vie for the coveted People’s Choice Award. Special beers were tapped throughout the day, several breweries brought small food offerings to pair with their product and booth displays were over the top.
Soon, clouds and winds started to roll in. While we were enjoying the cooler weather, rumors of tornado warnings and high winds prompted breweries to start staking down tents, covering valuable equipment and encouraging patrons to move inside. The warnings didn’t lie, as soon the sky opened up. Huge, heavy drops of rain began pouring from the clouds and fierce winds cleared out the entire festival grounds in a matter of minutes.
We stayed hunkered down under our tent, holding it in place from the winds. Several breweries were
rushing to take down their tents and protect their equipment. We were still pouring beer for those brave enough to still be out, or sharing our tent with us. After a couple minutes, security guards came around and told everyone they needed to go inside and take cover.
It took only a couple seconds to become completely drenched in the rain and we pulled down tents and ran inside. The tornado warnings didn’t stop a lot of breweries from filling up pitchers and water jugs with beer to bring inside. We all huddled in the basement of the Budweiser Events Center, looking (and probably smelling) like wet dogs. Pitchers and jugs were passed around with exclamations of how crazy this was. From the windows of the building you couldn’t see any of our booths less than 30 yards away.
We were only required to stay inside for about 40 minutes and when were were allowed to go outside it was still raining at a heavy pace. I ran out with one of my co-workers to check on our equipment and we made a pit stop in the City Star tent to catch our breathe. The wind and rain was freezing, you would have had no idea it was closing in on 100 degrees a couple hours prior. Us, and a few others who came out to brave the weather, checked on not only our own equipment but others. Tents that were still up were filled with water and on the verge of collapse. We tried to save as many as we could by dumping the water out, but the High Hops Brew Shop tent was too big and came crashing down, taking homebrew kits with it.
Once we discovered the things that were safe, and those that were a total loss (soggy cheese tray anyone?) we filled up pitchers and headed to shelter in the VIP tent where a few people were congregating. Half the festival grounds had 4-8″ of water running through it, and anything not weighted down with kegs or stakes was overturned. Most people were still inside, or had left the festival all together when we were given the go ahead and start pouring again with an hour in the festival left.
Only a small handful of breweries decided to go back and serve, including Loveland Aleworks and Pateros Creek Brewing. The rain let up, but never stopped. We stood, barefooted, in inches of freezing water with soggy posters, stickers and coasters destroyed by the storm strewn around our booth and the festival grounds. But it was awesome. The camaraderie of the brewing community to stick together and look out for each other, coupled with their positive attitude turned what could have been a scary and devastating situation into one of the best experiences I have had in my current career.
The only negative of the day was the death of a dream. Some friends and I had joked around about doing a brewer’s calendar a la Fireman’s Calendar style. But after seeing so many brewers take off their shirts to wring them out, I don’t think the world is ready for that much hair, belly and farmers tan. PS- The brewers are all welcome that I am not willing to share the several pictures of you without your shirts on that were sent to me, ha!
I am hoping next year’s Gnarly Barley will be a little more tame, but if things do go wrong I am glad I will be surrounded by so many amazing people. If you are interested in more general information about the festival, check out a post by my friends at PorchDrinking.com