Marlo found herself with a few hours to kill at Denver International Airport last Friday afternoon. She'd flown in from Washington, D.C. and planned to meet up with her cousin before they drove into Denver, but his flight was late. She was heading toward the USO Center -- which, for military families, is ordinarily just about the best place to spend time in the airport -- when she stumbled on Beer Flights, a pop-up beer garden in the center of the Jeppesen Terminal.
A few minutes later, she was sitting at a picnic table, sipping Great Divide's Heyday white ale and talking to a pair of women in town from Salt Lake City. "It's wonderful. It's great," she says of Beer Flights. "People will go back to wherever they're from and talk about the beer festival at the airport."
There is nothing special about the pairing of booze and airports; there are ordinarily 21 places to buy beer at DIA alone, and all but two of the ten breweries featured in the Beer Flights garden have products available there already. Still, the temporary tasting enclosure, which opened in mid-September and will run through October 4, does feel genuinely exciting. Ostensibly in place to celebrate Oktoberfest, Denver Beer Fest and the Great American Beer Festival, the garden features a pair of beers each from Avery, Breckenridge, Bristol, Dry Dock, Great Divide, Left Hand, New Belgium, Odell Brewing, Ska, Pug Ryan's and Telluride.
For $10, you get a commemorative tasting glass and a "passport" good for ten two-ounce samples from a handful of Colorado breweries. Packets of pretzels from Southwest Airlines are scattered on eight picnic tables, which were each painted by local artists, and musicians perform most afternoons. When Marlo was there, it was guitarist Steve Manshel, formerly of the Boulder-based rock band Firefall, which had a few hits in the late '70s. Manshel was playing classic covers alongside his own songs and breezily cracking jokes, clearly enjoying the looks of surprise on the faces of people walking off the escalators around him.
That afternoon, Beer Flights was equally packed with travelers coming and going. The garden even attracted a few airport employees coming off their shifts. Before last month, one of them had his routine: He went to a nearby bar in the main terminal and drank three beers while he waited for his bus home. Now he goes to Beer Flights instead. The drink selection is more interesting, of course, but he says the real reason he likes the spot is the friendly atmosphere.
Listening to music and drinking beer aren't the only ways to occupy your time at Beer Flights. The garden is presented by the Colorado Lottery, and its booth in the corner was doing a robust business in scratch games. Marlo's new friends from Salt Lake City, Brandee and Leslie, were working their way through ten tickets each. They hit a couple of small prizes. "This is a blast," said Leslie, who wishes her home town would try something similar -- but Brandee doesn't see it happening. "We don't have any kind of culture like this," she said, laughing.
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According to one of the Beer Flights employees, the garden has been successful enough that DIA is considering re-creating it in the future, possibly adding a much larger version to the new plaza separating the terminal from the hotel and transit station set to open next year. Denver certainly has the culture for it.