Beer and Loathing in Columbus, Ohio

. January 29, 2014.

We were somewhere around Findlay riding the edge of that that big, weird, u-turn-esque curve into 23 South when the boredom began to take hold. I remember saying something like ‘I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe we should get some caffeine …' And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, no, not really at all, just a few crows. Becca’s head jerks a bit as I “accidentally” roll over the rumble strips for a second and pull away from the freeway and into some grimly subdued small rural pit stop town.

Becca has spent the last hour with her adorably mousy befreckled face smashed into the window, not snoring, but that kind of heavy rhythmic breathing that can only denote sleep. The lone company of the vacant and obviously acting voice of the audiobook reader humming his way through Infinite Jest over the stereo has become tiresome. As I pull into a McDonald’s drive-thru, I briefly contemplate whether taking on the audiobook of a long and reportedly difficult novel is ambitious, or if I’m just registering one notch above being a lazy-ass because I’ve opted out of page turning altogether.

An overly excited and commercially viable voice jumps out of the drive-thru speaker. Becca pops her head up and grins, unaware of the psychotically maniacal laugh line running across her face, forged by the window. She rattles off her order which I consider a novice mistake before a debauched night of binge drinking. I place my order with much more concise expertise, coffee will dry me out and have me tethered to the toilet, and with nothing but gallons of delicious brews in my system, the dehydration will already be a problem. I order an ice water with my tall iced americano, to hydrate me while I get the precious caffeine I crave. This isn’t my first booze soaked rodeo…

Now because I don’t have nearly enough liquor, ibuprofen, or coffee within reach to fight off this hangover, I’ll have to ignore the rest of my haphazardously constructed homage to Hunter Thompson and give you a poor bro’s Tucker Max. I’m sorry. I went to the Columbus Winter Beer Fest.

We arrive at our hosts’ (Robbie and Carolyn) house and get through the standard greetings and catching up banter over what will be our first beer of the night, Cigar City’s Invasion Pale Ale. I soak in all of it’s delicious mildly hopped glory. The girls are a little bit more pensive about getting into beer so early in the day given the nature of what’s to come, especially since I myself have quite the past reputation for drunken assholeishness and my friend Robbie is quite Irish. We’ve even given his wasted alter ego a nickname—The Irish Tornado.

Robbie is an articulate, funny, light-hearted, and all-around likable person. The Tornado is an emotional void prone to violence and over the top buffoonery often at the expense of everyone else. The kind of person who would just as soon tackle you in lieu of handshake, all the while screaming about how you are now his bitch while pressing his family jewels onto your face. And though we giggle at the mention of the Tornado, there are definitely some troubled weather patterns on the horizon.


It’s decided that a strong base of food is in all of our best interest, so we can survive past 11pm. I flag down our server and am scoffed at by Becca as I attempt to order a pint of a brutal Dogfish Head seasonal.

5:45 pm Convention Parking

As fun as event traffic can be in our state capital, we navigate with a certain level of ease, passing old hang outs of mine brought back old memories of just how poor I was in college. When I was especially broke, I used to wait for big OSU game days (massive amounts drunken bros everywhere) and around 2 am I’d head into a pizza joint called Hound Dog’s. Since the wait staff was a bunch of tattooed and pierced punks, and the general demeanor of any given server was apathetic at best, I could easily walk up to any table inconspicuously and ask if anyone wanted a box for their leftover slices. Someone always did, I would then nonchalantly ask a cashier for a box for my table, head back, box up the food and take off into the night. And because nobody working there cared, I could ritualistically repeat my petty theft during any home game.

It begins. We wade through crudely constructed lines and enter the massive hall. It’s simultaneously too big and not quite big enough. A beat down old situation that registers less like an event center and more like any given gym gym form an 80's training montage. But, I bought a VIP ticket so I get a cool 10 oz. mug.

Deschutte’s Hop Henge Experimental IPA
A major let down. Though it’s crisply hopped there’s just something about the pale ale that is unfulfilling. Unlike my second try, their staple the Black Butte Porter, which is gloriously rich and dark. My palate rejoices at the contrast.

Fat Head’s Goggle Fogger
A nice Hefe. Always an easy style. Ohio Brewery bonus.

Head Hunter IPA
Glorious. A piney IPA with tastes of hops, grapefruit, and a hint of pineapple.

Founder’s Imperial Stout
Sweet, boozy. And I barely had to convince the tap handler that I run a bar to get VIP status. I still feel like a douche putting it out there though.

Dirty Bastard
A dark caramel beauty. The name says it all.

Following each beer is a small committee-like discussion of what we like and dislike about each brew, immediately followed by our faces being illuminated by our phone screens as we punch in our brews into our ‘Untappd’ beer rating app. It seems lame, but the app awards you badges for drinking different beers, unlike reality, which would normally discourage this level of imbibing.

I’m excited about this tent—Stone simply does not make sub-par beer. Double Bastard, Russian Imperial Stout, Vanilla Porter, the deliciousness is high. I play my bar-owner card again, this time to no avail.

Becca’s friend, Mike, or Mark, or…. some guy, rolls up on us and throws Hawaiian leis around our necks. Strings of yarn with non-designer pretzels hanging from them are now ours to munch on. A friend of mine comments on how we’re likely to catch the deadly flu that’s going around in this environment, accepting hand-touched food that dangles in open air. But in my lack of intellectual fortitude, I chalk it up to nothing more than the jealousy of a pretzel necklace-less bastard.

Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale
Old reliable. It’s like the creased baseball mitt you wore down to a nub in little league. It’ll always be there for you and it will never disappoint.

Bell’s Cherry Stout
Sweet, tangy, and unenjoyable. I’ve drank enough to dull the keen taste in my mouth to a point beyond fully enjoying the normally robust but balanced brew.

Oskar Blue's Deviant DalesIt’s a disappointment. The Dale’s Pale Ale that precedes it is far superior. Why is everyone always trying to ruin something good by amping it up. No one ever asked for Boondock Saints 2, a new Black Sabbath record, or even second and third attempts at Dumber and Dumber. But capitalism must forge on, regardless of common decency.

8:00 pm New Holland

The early tingling behind my eyes is starting to seep in, my favorite drinking sensation. I’ve gone through much darker phases of my life, in which light buzzes simply did not exist. I’d conditioned my body with enough booze that I would go from seemingly fine for a majority of a session, to completely blacked out.

I read somewhere that your brain will cause black outs so that your body can keep breathing. I don’t resent black outs, I appreciate my body making the subconscious choice that continuing to live is much more important than the looping and banal conversations and regretfully bad decisions that are common place to an overnight drunk. I invite it in.

New Holland Dragon’s Milk
A mind numbingly good bourbon barrel aged stout. Carolyn cringes and pours it in the a dark cloudy vat of discarded ales and tosses me a cross between a dry heave and a dirty look. Both disappointed at wasting a beer and angry that I recommended it in the first place.

8:20 pm Three Floyd’s

The Black Keys of beer. Everyone feels like they’ve got the inside track on a cool secret, and acts surprised when others bring it up, knowing full well it really gets just as much air play as everything else. From black livered veterans to IPA fanatical green tongues, Three Floyd’s is what everyone wants. The line wraps halfway around this festival. I’m buzzed and this wait simply will not stand. I bribe my way into a spot halfway in, and it only cost me a bite of my pretzel necklace. A decision I slightly regret as the drunken hipster touches every other pretzel on the line in his effort to break off a large sourdough. I start to think Nick was right, I will probably get some kind of super-flu and die, but it’s THREE FLOYD’S.

A hint of sweet wheat flavor, but a damn good amount of hops and malt. Won’t make you believe in god, maybe some other minor beer deity. Like Steve, god of solid ass brews. I slam it and ask for a refill before I get ushered out of line.

Pride and Joy
Beautiful orange gold haze, a pale with more balls than it has business dealing with. I want to chug it but the fullness and woozies have caught me for a moment

I’ve convinced the others that I need to go to the bathroom for conventional reasons. But I know my mission. I am resolute. I am going to puke.

I walk at a brisk ‘I’m not headed to the bathroom to puke’ but hurried pace. I get in line and play it cool. I strike up a conversation, about how Three Floyd’s is good but totally overrated with the people in line with me. I slightly gag in the strangers face during conversation but I play it off as a yawn. Damn I’m smooth.

The wait is too much, the minute hand on my proverbial vomit countdown clock nears midnight. Damnit, I need in. I break line and the pretzel necklace affords me another cut, this time just inside the restroom door. The foolish fool that I've traded with opts not to break off a piece of pretzel but simply bend down to nipple level and bite it from the yarn. We both laugh hysterically to break the discomfort of our exchange. The bearded man near my chest coughs pretzel dust all over my shirt in his hysteria. At just this moment, the door swings open and a blonde kid with the face of a lite beer drinker locks eyes on us. His face twists with confusion.  With a bit of luck, the boy's festival experience is ruined forever. Always thinking that just behind some men's room door in all of future craft beer establishments, men in snack clad necklaces are getting incredible salty kicks from things he’ll never know.

After shuffling through line and eventually wading through the slushy bathroom floor and into a toxic wasteland formerly considered a stall, I realize Nick was right. There is simply no way I can justify keeping this pretzel necklace on me.

I relieve myself, in a hurried and self-conscious way. I try to ninja it, I flush first and swiftly chunk, so the loud bowl swish covers my soft and efficient heaves.

I walk out of the stall wondering why I bothered to cover my tracks. These are complete strangers and the state of the restroom so despicable no one bothers to make eye contact anyway. Each phantoms of shame passing through, a brief intermission on their otherwise filthy bathroom-less lives. I feel fantastic. For a brief moment, I completely understand why a person would become bulimic.  

I feel so good after the restroom that in my thick buzz and post-vomitory bliss that I decide I’ll go on my own and cram as many beers as I can without the weight of everyone’s conversation to slow me down. I first notice a gigantic line in front of the tent of a small brewery I’ve never heard of. Fifty West Brewing.

I wonder if the line is due to some fluke that a trend-crazed group of people like craft beer aficionados can cause. A situation where one large group of people got in line and instantly eager craft drinkers caught on. Like some new trend was born and they just had to be a part of it, then because more people were in line, more people just had to get in line, a weird hip gravity was established and everyone was going to be perpetually drinking a the smallest niche trend in history of beer. I’m not above it and I feel great.

I pull another jack move and cut in line. This time I simply trade my pretzel necklace. I’m not going to eat it—it’s been in that filth dungeon of a bathroom. The urine soaked air has defiled it. But this rube doesn’t know that. Thanks for the spot.

I get to the front, flex my bar ownership (still feeling like a douche), make nice with the owner, and come to realize the hype. They’ve got the goods. Ghost of Imogen Russian Imperial Stout, 30-37 Pale, Speed Bump, Coast to Coast. It’s all gravy.

I feel the way Katy Perry tells me I should in the song Firework. 

10:30ish Revolution, North High, Lost Coast, Mad Tree, Finch’s, 5 Rabbit, Deschutte’s round 2, Stone round 2.

Eugene Porter, A Little Crazy, Anti-Hero, Deth’s Tar. I didn’t have a bad beer at Revolution. I think my tongue was just tired at this point. Not saying this brewery isn’t solid, because it is. But only so many extremities of flavor can pass through your mouth before your taste buds call it quits. I wasn’t drinking for taste, I was drinking to drink. And so it went.

I was still alone and this part of the night is a bit blurry. I drink a lot. Not a cool, ‘check out how much I drank guys’ amount. I drank a ton of beer. Luckily I had my priorities straight. I tagged everyone. Thundersnow, PsycHOPathy, Galaxy High, Lift, Great White, Secret Stache Stout, Oarsmen Ale, Head Trip. 

I do remember distinctly the interaction I had at North High. The rep claimed they had the best Three Floyd’s Zombie Dust Pale Ale clone called Faclon Punch. Which I thought was great, but why do that to yourself. How good can your beer be if your best offering is a clone? The rep grinded fresh hops onto my sample mug and then without any explanation slowly palmed a girl’s head, reeled her in and lays a soft kiss on top of it. He looked at me blankly and said “Blondes. I love it.”

We stand in a large group, My friend Matt spinning his spunky girlfriend around on the dance floor in front of some innocuous hippy jam band, her butt totally hanging out of her pants, just the right amount to make you miss summer. Everyone is too drunk to notice or care.

We gather everyone and snap a picture to memorialize, that at least we can all rest assure there’s documented proof that something happened here. It’s not until later we notice the large wizard-like hippy photo bombing us.

A booming voice comes over the loudspeaker. Everyone must leave. We file out into the streets. It’s freezing on the nose, but our blood is too warm for us to notice.

11:00 pm

We head into some bar across the street. It's wall to wall with bros and hipsters, all spinning out of control on tiny benders of their own. Panic. The gridlock encompassed me. It’s so packed. It is my nightmare. I grab Becca and we leave. A long cold walk is ahead of us.

12 am RJ's

I’m at a my college friend RJ’s place. There’s foosball and Bud Light. Thank god, I need to rehydrate. I drink a few of the metallic water tasting “beers” and get a call from my friend Nick to head back to the hotel attached to the convention center for a nightcap.

1:00 am

Another long cold walk. Failing to hail a cab. For a brief moment I think I’ve flagged one, it pulls over about a block up from me and I see a bunch of people rushing their pace to get in. I full on sprint past them and hop into the front see of the cab.

Even though I beat them to the punch, but they bitch at me about how they hailed it and need it more. I buckle. I just don’t care to argue.

We forge on up the road. We’re cold, and our socks are filling up with dirty salty water.

We walk in from the cold feeling victorious. The hotel bar is vacant, except for a few stragglers. I call Nick.

“Hey man we’re here”
“I’m in bed, don’t be so slow next time.”

He’s got to be kidding me, I just endured the god damned Columbus Iditarod to have a drink with him and he just passes out. I slam my phone on the bar with rage. And conjure up 2 shots of Jameson and a glass of Bulleit bourbon in what I assume has to be stammered and slurred english. I want vengeance, not ruin his life vengeance, but make him laugh and simultaneously feel shitty vengeance. I hate him, I hate the cold, I hate the cabs that wouldn’t stop for us, I hate that I didn’t spray my shoes with waterproofing like my mom said, I hate the hotel bar for taking off the tap handles so I can’t see what beers they have, I’m starting to hate this whole damn evening.

The only revenge I can muster at the moment is to sarcastically post to Facebook.

"Nick Machoukas is a sad example of masculinity. His legacy will forever be marred by not only his inability to hold his liquor but also his frightening neglect of his personal relationships. His ancestors will dwell eternally in the shame his actions have cast upon them."

We walk out of the hotel after shooting the breeze with some brewers from Bell’s and Breckenridge breweries. I can only assume I’ve made an ass of myself—nothing else can be certain. We grab a cab, and I can immediately tell that the driver hates us, because we’re headed way north, which doesn’t really make sense to me considering the further I go the more money he’ll make. But not to worry, I am a tried and true Buckeye. I know how to smooth this over. I know that the vast majority of cabbies in Cbus are from. I glance at my cab drive and know I can smooth things over.

“So how long you been in the states? I know Somalia is tough, I hope we’re treating you good here.” So smooth. I ease back in my seat and wink at Becca, I got this babe.

“I’m from Wisconsin.”

The remaining ride home is quiet.

When I came to, the general hotel-lobby ambience of the Brennan's guest bedroom was so pleasant, so incredibly comfortable. I didn't want to leave. How long had I been lying there? All these signs of mastication. What had happened? There was evidence in this room of excessive consumption of almost every type of snack known to civilized man since 2001 AD. What kind of glutton would need all these plates and crushed chip rinds? Could the presence of drunkards account for all these uneaten pizza crusts? These puddles of glazed marinara on the bureau? Maybe so. It was too savage. Too aggressive.

I check my UNTAPPD app on my phone. I logged 27 beers. I guess I should feel some sort of shame at the ridiculousness of my bender, or some miscalculated pride that I held my own with some legendary drunks in this particular instance. Granted just because I have the liver hardened to some Bukowski-like degree, this story should be evidence enough, I’ve still got some work to do…. on the writing part.

As I say my goodbyes and hop back behind the wheel, headed back up US-23 to reality, I wonder if there’s any real message here. If there’s anything, right or wrong, some maturity to be gained. And honestly, I’m drawing a blank and my head is starting to pound.