Brew it and they will come

by Chris Lowrance

I am surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of people, and they are all drunk. Normally, this is not a situation I enjoy. But today I’m as drunk as anyone, and everyone here is my friend. Nearby, the muffled tickle of glass breaking precedes a dull roar as each member of the crowd bellows in sympathy. The sound radiates in a wave from the unfortunate source, and when it reach me I join in with an inebriated bellow. There are 200-plus craft beers to be sampled at the Summertime Brews Festival in the Greensboro Coliseum Annex last Saturday, ranging from supermarket staples to stuff fermented in local garages with mad-science fervor. Those unlimited samples are poured into your official Brews Festival glass — a four-ounce tumbler etched with the main sponsors (the local classic rock station, Rock 92, and YES! Weekly) and a little “2 oz.” line that is mostly ignored. Let’s see… there’s 128 ounces in a gallon, so conceivably you could drink between three and seven gallons of beer during the four-hour event. The typical alcohol-per-volume of beer is 5 percent, so that would be between 19.2 and 44.8 ounces of pure ethanol in your guts. My high school health class taught me the average liver can process about an ounce an hour. But trying every beer isn’t the point. Besides, the best strategy is to attend with friends and, while waiting in line at a particular brewer’s booth, decide on different beers to ask for. That way you can sample several kinds at once. Don’t bring anyone with mono, and don’t bring a designated driver in: They will drink. Get a cab or have someone pick you up. Another clash, another roar. At first, this freaked me out. I’m not sure if there was a sudden moment of revelation, or if slow intoxication pulled me into the wisdom of the crowd, but I finally figured it out; You only get one sampling glass, you see. You break it, you’re done. Add in drunken fingers and wet glasses (there are rinsing stations throughout the Annex) and more than one poor SOB loses his ticket to ride this afternoon. Thus, with every shattering glass the call goes up and echoes throughout the building. Like the wind rushing past the ears of Orpheus as he turns around and is swept from Hades, or Icarus falling from the sky, or a writer who took a Classic Mythology course and finally has a chance to use it. After helping usher out another lost drinker, I step up to the Battleground Brewers Guild table, a team of backyard wizards and madmen. The Battleground boys will have 20 beers on tap by the end of the evening, but the one recommended to me by all is the Tequila Jalape’o Golden. I will remember this beer later, when I wake up from a dead sleep with most of my esophagus in flames. The Dark Knight Chocolate Vanilla Stout is good, though, which makes it rare among chocolate beers — most are too bitter for my tastes. But the great thing is: You get to try. Don’t like it, pour it out in a nearby bucket and try again. Soon, you’ll be getting recommendations from strangers — “Oh, you’ve got to try the Carolina Strawberry!” “Hey, when you get up front ask for the Sweet Water Blue!” Soon those strangers don’t seem like strangers. Soon you’re making unsolicited suggestions yourself. A glass breaks, and I shout at the ceiling. Not everybody drinks wine. It’s intimidating for the initiated, and can be expensive depending on your tastes. Liquor has the same problem — it’s a little more democratic, but definitely should remain a “sometimes” thing. Beer knows everybody. Lagers for those that like substance, wheats if you prefer a lighter touch. The purity of hops and barley, the playfulness of fruits and berries. Beer has your number. I see it at the Brews Fest, where portly men in trucker hats swig next to indie chicks with severe haircuts and horn-rims. Guys in retro video-game tees drink with Deadheads. The upcoming Tattoo Convention pitches T-shirts next to home-siding salesmen. Beer brings us together, in the pursuit of good tastes and fuzzy memories. Pulling out of my stupor, I realize my fingers are slipping on the rim of my glass. I clutch on like life depends on it. To comment on this story, e-mail Chris Lowrance at