Big Room, Plentiful Wine - The Calgary Co-op Grape Escape

The Grape Escape has made yet another visit to the city of Calgary, where a $50 dollar ticket gets you access to two halls in the BMO Centre full of liquor distributors all trying to win mind share through free drink samples.

“Free samples?,” you’re thinking. “Why would you pay $50 to get free samples?” It’s a matter of scale - over 100 tables, all with several kinds of alcohol to give away. Even with stingy samples, simple multiplication will tell you that you will be staggering home after a full evening.

Sample tables of cheeses and spicy meats are mixed in with the drink tables through the halls. The police roam the room keeping an eye on the mob, aware of the fact that if things got truly out of hand, they could do nothing but call for backup - a hall of 2,000 people, each person full of beer, wine, and whiskey, is a powder keg.

Though the wine merchants rarely give a wine goblet that is an eighth-full, the beer vendors are happy to full goblets to the top while giving pitches - this event is where new drinker loyalties can be forged with nothing more than a quick pour.

Given the warm weather, women were in their shortest skirts while their douchebag boyfriends wore light tailored suits. There was also the array of college kids wearing baseball hats, behaving as though it was their first drink of alcohol ever (for some, it may have been). As the evening progresses, more people are wandering around with shiny gewgaws, free beer glasses, and mouse pads with beer logos.

The event starts at 5, and by 8 people are bumping into each other, and the room is becoming deafening with a drunken drone. By 8:15, the animals have been loosed, the crowd looking more festive and getting more demanding of alcohol. It has stopped being about ‘tasting’, and more about filling your stomach with as much booze as you can get out of the vendors. Chunks of broken glass from the wine goblets and toothpicks are all over the floor. Were it not for the free water brought in by organizers by the pallet, the evening would have gone sinister, and glassings likely.

Was this evening of groveling for alcohol worth fifty dollars? If you are willing to leave your inhibitions and a bit of your dignity at home, absolutely.