I met Dave at Redlight Redlight at 9:30 in the morning so that we could load the car up with beer and get to Deland by eleven. We were both exhausted because we had bartended until very late the night before, and neither of us were used to being up before noon on a Saturday. Nevertheless, the Deland Craft Beer Festival had usurped the role once occupied by The Great Orlando Beer Festival (before it went the way of the dodo) as the most diverse beer event in Central Florida, and I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to represent Redlight Redlight and participate in what had become a much anticipated February tradition.
An extra long wait for bagels and coffee had us on the road later than I would have liked, but as we sped unimpeded down the never congested stretch of road known as I-4, I took the extra time to warn Dave about the dangers of alcohol consumption. It isn’t just that my good friend has
been known to tie it on every now and then (haven’t we all), it’s that working these beer festivals gives one access to a nearly bottomless supply of beer, plenty of time to indulge, and a population of people who encourage that very behavior. As we drove circles around the quaint shops and restaurants of downtown Deland looking for parking, Dave promised me that his heart and liver
were in the right place. Fearing I’d appear hypocritical, I didn’t mention that over the last few years I habitually left Deland barely standing on my own two feet.
Despite our late start, we were among the first few vendors to arrive. Not only were we equipped with a case of Patte de Singe, a collaboration between Saint Somewhere in Tarpon Springs and Redlight Redlight’s very own Brent Hernandez, Cigar City brewing company had provided us with cans of their Maduro Brown Ale, Jai Alai IPA, Florida Cracker, and Hotter than Helles. As we sorted out our stock, we greeted Todd and Vinnie, the Deland Craft Beer Festival’s promoters, met up with other vendors, and settled into a long but enjoyable day of pouring and discussing Florida’s finest beer.
The festival had yet to open its gates when the appearance of my good friend (for the sake of anonymity we’ll call him Shmorgan) proved to make the day more eventful than I had anticipated.
Wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat, dark sunglasses, shorts, and flip-flops, he sauntered in looking like Kato Kaelin on the set of Beach Fever. Though it was well before noon, he was polishing off his second beer of the day and snatched a can of lukewarm Florida Cracker from our booth, cracking it open before it had even hit the ice bucket. Ever the lovable instigator, I’ve never
had a bad time when Shmorgan was around.
After a pep talk from the events coordinators explaining the festival’s rules and emphasizing education of craft beer over an excuse for binge drinking, the gates were opened and the patrons began to pour in. Dave and I emptied can after can of Cigar City beer while the Patte de Singe
proved even more popular than we anticipated. The farmhouse ale brewed with tamarind, sage, and Cantillon yeast was gone in under two hours, but don’t worry if you missed out; we still have plenty at Redlight Redlight.
Working at a beer festival is a little bit like bartending in overdrive. Dave and I filled and refilled tiny three ounce glasses without having to worry about the pesky business of exchanging money. While we tended to answer the same questions about beer over and over again, the repetition was broken up by visits from some of our favorite Redlight Redlight regulars and old friends in the beer
business who, already a generous crew, are always extra giving during craft beer festivals. With Chuck from Dogfish Head dropping off bottles of aged World Wide Stout and Raison D’Extra and Jason from Bell’s handing out gift bags of Hopslam and the brand new Smitten Rye Ale, Dave
and I found it difficult to retain sobriety with some of the best and most difficult to find beers tempting us. Meanwhile, Shmorgan would disappear for an hour at a time only to return with
his arms full of bottles he had pilfered from other booths, a perk of being in the Orlando beer scene as long as he has. Not that we were ungrateful when he showed up with a bottle of Terrapin’s ever-coveted peanut butter, chocolate porter known as Liquid Bliss.
By the the time we were rounding into four o’clock, I was looking forward to the home stretch and the end of another successful year when Dave swiped a glass of beer into Shmorgan’s lap and everything went downhill from there. Shmorgan attempted to rinse the dark beer out of what he claimed were his only pair of pants by dumping a glass of frigid, icy water onto his crotch. The now tipsy patrons scrambled to get their hands on any beer remaining as they saw their day of limitless drinking coming to an abrupt conclusion. We met their drunken revelry with equal enthusiasm shaking up cans of Hotter than Helles, which never seemed to explode the way we wanted them to. As I danced with middle-aged women to the Talking Heads, Dave was pouring beer down the open, eager throats of party goers who had probably had enough already, and Shmorgan explained unconvincingly to whomever would listen that he hadn’t actually peed in his pants.
“You guys are so wasted!” someone shouted at me.
“Not me,” I said looking around. I could only speak for myself. It’s noble of the Deland Craft Beer Festival to discourage binging, but the last hour of these things always seems to turn into an out and out Bacchanal. At least I, for once, was seeing it clear-eyed. Shmorgan had been indulging in a steady diet of Florida Cracker the entire day, and even Dave’s moderate but steady consumption had caught up with him. Drunkenly he accepted invitations to multiple after-parties he had no intention of attending offered to him by inebriated individuals whose clothes were stained various hues of gold, amber, and brown.
I let Dave sleep off his intoxication on the drive back to Orlando. Shmorgan had hitched a ride with some mutual friends. He’d bounce back like he always does, as easy-going and good-natured whether he’s sober, drunk, or red-eyed and hungover. It was nice to know that I could face the perils of the Deland Craft Beer Festival or any beer festival and still make it back to town in once piece. I felt good knowing I could practice a little self-control when I chose to. Perhaps next year I’ll
make Dave drive and try to match Shmorgan can for can, or have I outgrown such antics? Maybe I’ll get drunk this weekend. Maybe I’m drunk right now.
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