Monday, February 23, 2015

The PC: Happy Gravity Head!

The PC: Happy Gravity Head!

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

For the uninitiated, Gravity Head is a month-long celebration of potent beers held each year since 1999 at NABC’s Pizzeria & Public House location in New Albany, Indiana. The program, which provides far greater details, can be found here.

When Gravity Head comes calling, familiar space and time continuums often are found to be briefly altered. Normal routines are rendered Byzantine by comparison. Life’s infinite horizons narrow, and one reverts to existence by the hour, minute by minute. The act of passing through the looking glass inspires boredom by comparison.

Mind you, I’m not speaking of the fest’s actual commencement, because once the opening bell sounds on Friday morning at 7:00 a.m., we all collectively observe the Sidney Freedman dictum from television’s M*A*S*H – in 2015, perhaps literally:

“Ladies and gentlemen, take my advice - pull down your pants and slide on the ice.”

Actually it’s the preparation for Gravity Head that saps working days and requires attention to detail during the run-up to the event’s attendant bacchanalia. We might choose to do it differently, but when it comes to what has unexpectedly become a venerable tradition, an array of minor points adds up to a greater sum. It’s just a beer festival, but it’s more, and different from the rest.

Gravity Head is hard to explain, and I’m proud of the obscurity.

In my view, the fundamental difference between Gravity Head and other beer festivals is that from the very start, when we decided to have a second Gravity Head in 2000, we had no idea as to what the “proper” organization of a beer festival entailed. Conventional wisdom utterly eluded us, for which I remain eternally grateful.

Since then, I’ve become increasingly dismissive of the notion that there are “right” and “wrong” beer fest templates. Buying into black or white norms merely reinforces the predictability of the status quo, and focusing on single day fest events doesn’t necessarily translate into a daily undertow, without which we cannot exist as a business.

If Oktoberfest in Munich can last for 16 days, then Gravity Head surely can run for 30 … or more.

Our aim has been to contextualize Gravity Head within a larger framework of emphasis on localization. Understanding that we’ll be doing something different from the pub’s daily norm by stocking so many steroidal beers all at once, we’ve sought to provide our regular customers and locally-based friends with as many opportunities as possible to taste special beers over a longer period of time, during cooler weather, each year.

That’s it in a nutshell. Of course, the fest doesn’t exclude visitors, who are more than welcome to join the fun, and yet it remains a feast designed for those denizens of the longer haul seated at the Stammtisch.

The listed beers never have been served all at once at Gravity Head. They unfold steadily in waves and appear over a period of weeks. We don’t do flights, because flights imply a vague “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, because they’re strong.

Of course, Gravity Head’s opening day has become somewhat of a scrum, and possesses a singular tradition all its own. I’m content with the interior logic occurring therein, but while the revelry usually claims me, it isn’t what I look forward to experiencing each year.

Rather, there’ll inevitably be a quiet Tuesday night during the second or third week, with a handful of friends, and the leisurely, contemplative sipping of one or two quality libations, spiced with conversation.

These are the precious times that lead to feelings of timelessness, and timelessness is why I like beer – among other reasons.


And so it’s that time again: the 17th edition of Gravity Head begins on Friday, February 27. As noted previously, nowadays the festival kicks off at 7:00 a.m. at NABC’s Pizzeria & Public House.

That’s because way back in 2008, we convened at 4:00 a.m. for a gravity “breakfast” with Terry Meiners of WHAS television in Louisville. It was tiring, and yet the occasion offered the germ of an idea. In the years since, the concept has been tweaked, and so now breakfast starts at 7:00 a.m., when it’s actually legal to drink beer in Hoosierland.

For several years, NABC’s ever helpful employee Sarah Small cooked breakfast frittatas for the early arrivals, but eventually the throngs became too large, so last year the Pizzeria & Public House’s kitchen was opened early, with the full menu available, including special breakfast pizzas masterminded by the kitchen crew. We’ll do it again in 2015.

There’ll also be locally-baked Honey Creme doughnuts, which I’ll fetch on my way to work; Ed Needham's kickass home-roasted coffee; and the complete opening day roster of Gravity Head selections.

From there on out, your guess is as good as mine.

Also for 2015, we continue to experiment with a Sunday afternoon extension of Gravity Head at Bank Street Brewhouse. This Sunday concept isn’t intended to exactly mimic Gravity Head, but to provide a way of gently descending to reentry and the rigors of the workaday world following opening weekend’s excess.

It’s called the 2nd Annual Gravity Head Hangover Hoedown at BSB, and here’s the itinerary (NABC’s Bank Street Brewhouse’s Sunday hours are 12 noon until 9:00 p.m.)

• Special guest beers from Starlight Distribution
• Unique vegan pop-up kitchen with V-Grits
• Debut of NABC Oaktimus in bomber bottles
• Return of BSB’s Build Your Own Bloody Mary bar
• NABC’s customary beers of proven merit
• Live music TBA
• Benefiting a great cause: Uplands Peak Sanctuary


While writing and arranging today’s column, it suddenly occurred to me that by virtue of Gravity Head being a draft-only party, it is quite possibly doomed to irrelevance. After all, in today’s selfie-driven world of social media one-upmanship, where’s the value in a photo of a beer in a glass, sans bottle, label and bragging rights?

I’m even prouder now.


Recent PC columns:

The PC: On barrelage, Dean Smith and diversity studies.

The PC: The Weekly Wad was a modest start.

The PC: Budweiser explains the Doctrine of Trojan Geese Transubstantiation.

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