A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.
Before the drinking starts, let’s return to the analogy of a ship leaving the dock and making for open water.
This was something we experienced first-hand just last year aboard a big Baltic ferry, first leaving Tallinn for Helsinki, then again on the trip back later the same day.
At night, the specific sensation might be described as lights fading, but by day it is the gradual disappearance of land as the ship moves farther away from shore. Depending on the weather and the strength of one’s eyesight, there comes a split second when land no longer is visible. It’s a melancholy feeling, like the place itself has ceased to exist apart from the imagination.
From this point forward, until the next port of call begins slowly to materialize past the bow, the journey becomes synonymous with the undulating rhythm of the sea. In 2016, our trip was a loop, as we returned to Tallinn after a lovely day in the Finnish capital. In 1985, when the ferry to Italy finally left Corfu and the Albanian coastline well behind, my 24-year-old self was pondering exactly when I’d visit Greece next.
It hasn’t happened yet. Maybe soon. If possible, I’d really like to do it the same way, by sea, from Italy … and close the circle.
Similarly, most aspects of business ownership that consumed my daily existence for a quarter-century – the good, the bad, the drunk and the sublime – finally have dissolved into distant invisible headlands. Now it’s just the rocking of the waves, and one really important question.
Where’s this damned boat going, anyway?
I’ll let you know when something comes into focus on the horizon. Only then will the chorus erupt with a sturdy “Land ho!” Will the anchor be dropped, or not?
Comes that ancestral imperative time again.
When Gravity Head calls, familiar space and time continuums are briefly altered. Normal routines appear Byzantine by comparison. Life’s infinite horizons narrow. On reverts to existence by the hour, or minute by minute. Passing through the looking glass is boring by comparison.
As for the fest’s actual commencement on Friday morning, once the opening bell sounds there is a collective observance of Sidney Freedman’s immortal dictum from television’s M*A*S*H:
“Ladies and gentlemen, take my advice - pull down your pants and slide on the ice.”
Gravity Head might be staged differently, but as they pertain to what unexpectedly has become a bona fide tradition, an array of minor and often weirdly eccentric points adds up to a greater sum.
It’s just another beer fest, and yet it’s more, and decidedly unique. From the very start, when it was decided to have a second Gravity Head in 2000, no one had any idea what the “proper” way of running a beer festival was supposed to be. Conventional wisdom completely eluded us, for which I remain grateful.
The aim was, and remains, to provide regular pub customers and locally-based friends with as many opportunities as possible to taste an array of special beers over a period of time – at least a month, and usually longer.
That’s the sum of it.
The beers never have been served all at once. They unfold in waves over a period of weeks. There are no flights, because flights imply a “right” to taste them all. Rather, the desired end is for folks to taste a few, and then return another time and taste a few more. Not too many at once, of course, because they’re strong.
Gravity Head’s opening day has become somewhat of a scrum, and a singular tradition all its own. Folks seem content with the interior logic occurring at the fest’s beginning, but this isn’t what every celebrant looks forward to experiencing each year.
Rather, there’ll inevitably be a quiet Tuesday night on the second or third week, with a handful of friends, and leisurely, contemplative sipping of one or two quality libations, spiced with conversation. These are the precious moments that lead to feelings of timelessness.
And without timelessness, beer is far less interesting to me.
The 19th edition of Gravity Head begins tomorrow at 7:00 a.m. at NABC’s Pizzeria & Public House. The brewery partner for the opening day tap takeover in 2017 is Dark Horse Brewing Company from Michigan, of whom I know too little, though the starting lineup looks as solid as ever.
GRAVITY HEAD 2017 STARTING LINEUP
Cascade The Vine (2015) 9.73%
Dark Horse Barrel Aged Plead the Fifth 12.00%
Dark Horse Bourbon Barrel Scotty Karate 9.75%
Dark Horse Double Crooked Tree (2016) 12.00% * JUST ADDED*
Dark Horse Plead the Fifth (2015) 11.00%
Dark Horse Sapient Trip Ale (2016) 9.50%
Dark Horse Scotty Karate (2014) 9.75%
Dogfish Head Fort 18.00%
North Coast XIX Barrel Aged Old Rasputin 11.20%
Sierra Nevada Bigfoot (2011) 9.60%
Stone Xocoveza 8.10%
As an aside, last year’s Gravity Head honoree was Stone Brewing Company. I’ve always had a soft spot in my teeny-weeny, Grinch-sized heart for Stone, and especially its co-founder and CEO, Greg Koch, who visited the Pizzeria & Public House in 2007 while touring the Midwest.
For Gravity Head 2016, I’d already gotten the ball rolling with Stone’s then-regional sales representative Mark Kocher, but by the end of the year, Mark was gone from Stone, along with other longtime brewery personnel in an internal “rationalization” borne of an expensive international expansion effort. It was a harbinger of sorts.
Coincidentally or not, numerous other figures of note in “craft” brewing circles made similar professional exits last year, voluntary or otherwise, ranging from Mitch Steele (the brewer, from Stone) to Dan Kopman (the part-owner, from Schlafly). My seven years as a director on the board of the Brewers of Indiana Guild came to a necessary end, too, and I miss it.
Combined with the many “craft” breweries purchased in 2016 by multinational conglomerates, these various developments suggest to me that the original dynamism of the “craft” segment, while still intact in many artistic and creative ways, gradually is yielding to the deadening reshaping tendencies of capitalism as we tend to tolerate it.
As a revolutionary, I was hoping for better. As an exceedingly reluctant capitalist, it’s no longer a comfortable place for me.
I never got around to attending Gravity Head opening weekend in 2016, and my consecutive year streak of liver damage ended at 17. It didn’t faze me at the time, though in retrospect, I feel equal measures of annoyance and regret having missed the chance for what would have been a final Gravity Head toast with my friend Kevin Richards, who died unexpectedly last fall. Gravity Head 2017 simply cannot be the same without him.
Part of the reason for my absence last year was pique, pure and simple. At the time, it was starting to become clear that my payout for a quarter-century of business ownership likely would be calculated at pennies on the dollar, if even that.
However, now it is twelve months later, and I’ve done my best to make peace with the past, hence my advice to one and all: If given the choice between cash and infamy, choose the latter. Money comes and goes; notoriety is forever.
The buyout saga began in earnest in late 2015, and (finally) I believe a resolution is coming soon, as early as next month. I’ll be absorbing a vicious metaphorical beating, and a financial one as well, but true freedom isn’t ever free.
Meanwhile, by all accounts Gravity Head 2016 proceeded just as it had before, and I have every reason to believe it will perform in 2017 according to the same trajectory, exactly as it always has. In a tremendous exception to standard operating procedure, I managed to arrange the beer program succession quite intelligently, and my protégés at NABC constantly make me proud.
For those about to rock, I salute you.
At the precise moment of writing, I’m not sure whether I’ll make Gravity Head this coming weekend. As divulged yesterday, my mother’s health is uncertain, and it doesn’t strike me as the best time to debilitate myself with Imperial Stouts and Barley Wines. Besides, I’ve evolved into a session-strength advocate, intent on challenging the new orthodoxy.
It’s always something, or so I’m told.
Once upon a time Gravity Head was my idea, and now it’s no longer about me, assuming it ever was. Gravity’s the law, and it’s bigger than you and me. Feel free to go forth these next few gravity-laden weeks and propagate daddy’s scant pension fund – and while you’re at it, have one for … no, not me, but Kevin Richards.
He absolutely would have done the same for you. Cheers, mate. Of all the eras seemingly passing into mist beyond the stern as we navigated 2016, his loss still affects me the most.
(Variations of this column have appeared previously.)
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January 26: ON THE AVENUES: Jeff Gahan and Adam Dickey are Trumping the Donald when it comes to breathtaking moral turpitude. Have they no shame?