19 Feb Gravity Head Opening Day – The Start of Three Weeks Of Big Beers In New Albany
The typical craft beer festival lasts a few hours. If they have two sessions, it might last a couple of days total. The rare festival is a weekend in length with camping, like North Vernon’s Fermentation Celebration or GnawBrew near Nashville.
But there is an old, venerated festival that lasts nearly three whole weeks! And surprisingly, I hadn’t heard of it before last month. I was writing at Seymour Brewing a couple of weeks back when a bar mate asked if I had been down his way before, ie. New Albany. I explained that we had visited New Albanian Brewing, Donum Dei, Red Foot and Flat12 in Jeffersonville, and that we particularly enjoyed Floyd County Brewing.
He agreed that the beer in the southeast is good, and then asked of we had ever been to Gravity Head. What? What the heck is Gravity Head? He said that opening day was a full Friday of high ABV beers on tap at New Albanian’s Pizzeria and Taproom. He said it was a decades old festival and should be checked out.
I have to admit, even after his explanation that 50-60 high gravity beers would be on tap, I still didn’t really understand what he was talking about. Why is it called Opening Day and why is it held on a Friday? How do they run through 60 high gravity beer kegs in a day? How did it come to be called Gravity Head? This was intriguing enough for me to look at the internet and call down to New Albanian. I learned a lot.
Gravity Head is a 20 year old festival of strong beers from around the country that are put on tap, about 13-15 at a time, at the original New Albanian Brewing Company location (3312 Plaza Dr.). The festival starts on Friday, Feb. 23rd this year at 7:00 am, and when one keg kicks, the next is put on. This continues until all the kegs are gone – it usually takes about three weeks. The first version of the festival, held in 1999, was a celebration of hoppy beers. They were harder to get back then; heck, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale arrived in Indiana just months before the first festival – denoted Hop Head.
The second festival (in 2000) included five barleywines, and gradually it converted to more and more high ABV beers. Accordingly, the name morphed into Gravity Head. In the years since, the number of beers has increased, as has the rarity of the beers on the list. In 2009, a whopping 71 beers were on the list; 55 are anticipated for this year’s edition.
New Albanian Brewing started serving their own beers in the 2002, and slowly their own beers have been added to the Gravity Head tappings. But not just any New Albanian beers; they bring out some of the best big beers of the last year, including the 2017 Hard Core Gore and the 2017 Tunnel Vision. These will go well with high ABV beers that New Albanian brings in from across the country, many of which are coming out of the cooler for the first time in many years. I’m particularly looking forward to the Samichlaus Classic Dopplebock from Germany. Brewed only one day each year (December 6th), this 14% bier is one of the rarest in the world.
Each year there is a brewery featured on Opening Day, and often there is another featured late in the festival. For 2018, Great Divide is the Opening Day feature, although the exact starting lineup won’t be released until Valentine’s Day. There are six different Great Divide beers on the lineup, including the 2014 Hibernation and Oaked Aged Yeti, and the 2016 Old Ruffian, so whatever they put on first, it will include great beer.
The third weekend of the festival this year is the time to break out the Founders beers, including the Backwoods Bastard, Old Curmudgeon, KBS, and others. In between, high ABV beers from places as near and far as Upland, Three Floyds, Stone, Dogfish Head, The Bruery, Lakefront, North Coast, Prairie Artisan and others will dominate the tap list. But don’t worry, several lighter beers will be on the tap list during the festival as well for those people who need a break or aren’t fans of the biggest beers.
And it all starts early on a Friday morning at 7:00 (because that’s when it’s legal to start selling beer in Indiana) – go ahead and just plan on calling in sick that day. New Albanian will be putting together a special breakfast menu since this is the only day of the year they open this early. As one keg kicks, the next in line will be hooked up and poured. Opening weekend usually accounts for about 17 of the festivals kegs, so make sure to get down there early and often.
Many of the folks in the local brewing community stop by on Opening Day, including the folks from New Albanian and Against the Grain. Look for industry people hanging out on the couches in back, as well as folks from the FOSSILS and Lagers homebrew clubs.
I plan on arriving before 7:00 am, setting up my computer and just hanging out all day long. I will let you know what happens, posting a couple of times during the day and taking notes for a nice summary (written after I recovery sufficiently). If you don’t trust me to make the experience real enough for you, then ditch your responsibilities and be at New Albanian for a whole lotta gravity on Friday the 23rd of February.