Going Big In Vail With Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines
I Love me a good beer fest and here in Colorado, there’s no shortage of good beer fests. We’ve got plenty to choose from throughout the year. But, it’s the Great Ones that keep me up at night. The Great Ones that get me excited like a kid on Christmas morning. The Great Ones that I’d jump on a flight to attend if I ever moved out-of-state. (Gasp!) The annual Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines in Vail is a Great Beer Fest.
Big Beers (or BBB or #Bigbeers for you twitterers / hash tag types), is a world-class event that educates beer lovers, brings us closer together with tastings and bottle shares and when all’s said and done, leaves us thirsting for more. How the hell have I not been back to this event for the past 6 years!?!? No clue, but I guarantee it won’t happen again.
On The Road Again
Our adventure began on Friday morning with a trip up old I-70. No trip through the mountains is complete without a stop at Backcountry Brewery in Frisco.
Within a few minutes of arriving, our group had secured spots at the bar and I had a glass of Old Beer Wagon Barleywine sitting in front of me, courtesy of Backcountry’s Head Brewer Alan Simons. The perfect beer to warm up with from the sub-freezing temperatures and blowing snow outside. We enjoyed lunch and I got my fill of Alan’s amazing Barleywine and hearty Breakfast Stout.
Just as we were preparing to press on to Vail, Alan re-appeared and offered us a tour and the chance to check out Backcountry’s recent expansion.
In addition to the new family of fermenters, Backcountry has a new bottling line that should be rolling out 6-packs down the mountain shortly. Alan was kind enough to share some special treats with us like his GABF award-winning Imperial Saison, Imperial Saison w/ Brett and Tart SaiZin, which was aged in Zinfandel barrels. Another great visit to Backcountry. Their great beers and hospitality can’t be beat. Be sure to pay Backcountry a visit on your next trip up that way.
Warming Up With A Bottle Share
We pressed on and in no time, found ourselves pulling into Vail. We hadn’t even checked into our condo yet, when I realized Gary V from American Craft Beer Radio was trying to catch up with us for a beer. With not much else planned for the day and bone chilling, sub-zero temperatures outside, we decided to coordinate a bottle share for the night.
We had a solid group of craft beer enthusiasts including Dave from Fermentedly Challenged, John from Backcountry Pizza, Lauren from Napa of Beer, plus several homebrewers and our host Gary from American Craft Beer Radio. It was a lot of fun just to sit around, taste and share a variety of beers from Cigar City to Jester King. Surly Five is such a tasty, barrel-aged Brett beer. Three Floyds Dark Lord seems to show up at every tasting we attend and I can’t get enough of the rich, inky stout. And Cantillon continues to be my favorite Belgian Brewery.
We talked and tasted into the wee hours. Thanks to everyone involved for a great time!
The Main Event
On Saturday, with no kids to wake me up at 5 AM, I managed to sleep in until all of 7 AM. A quick check on the phone revealed a lovely temperature of -15 F.
Yeah, -15 F is pretty special. No reason to fight it. We just got the gang together, got the fire going, started a pot of coffee and whipped up pancakes, sausage and eggs. Who forgot the bacon???
Before I knew it, we were off to the Commercial Tasting Session.
Starting things off right with some Rochefort and Orval.
I finally had the opportunity to sample the variety of sours from Colorado’s Three Barrel Brewing. They are hoping to get bombers into the Denver market later this year. I really enjoyed all of their beers and if you’re a sour fan, I’d definitely keep an eye on them.
Brewtally Best of Show
With so many amazing beers, covering a wide variety of styles, it was nearly impossible to narrow down a favorite. But here are three that stuck with me.
Big Beer: Bell’s Brewery – Raspberry Wild One. With the ridiculous amount of stellar beers pouring, I could easily list 10 as my “Favorite Big Beer”, but I’ve done my best and narrowed it down to this one. The Wild One. The tartness, mixed with the sweet fruit, was what made me enjoy this one so much. It’s got complexity and depth with the oak presence, acidity and sour notes. Raspberry Wild One was just a great beer that really stuck out in my mind from the weekend. Great job Bell’s!
Belgian: Brasserie d’Orval – Orval. This is the Trappist that goes against the grain. While the other Trappist monasteries brew some of the finest Dubbels and Quads around, Orval takes a different approach with their dry, slightly hoppy and funky Brettanomyces brewed beer. I could drink Orval all day. Drink it fresh for the hops, or age it for a little more Bretty funk. Orval is a delicious beer and the only one the brewery puts into bottles.
Barleywine: Strange Brewing – Dr. Strangelove. This is an American Barleywine with tons of sweet, caramel malt, balanced by a generous does of hops. Head Brewer Tim Myers, said he hopes to bottle Dr. Strangelove later this month and sell bottles at the brewery shortly thereafter. Job well done. Beer hunters, snag some if you can.
With 200+ beers pouring this past weekend, it’s downright unfair to pick just 3, so here are a few others that definitely deserve a mention: Wynkoop – The Chancellor Barleywine, AC Golden – Peach Sour, Mission Brewing – Double IPA, Hair of the Dog – Adam, Three Barrel – Penitente Chimayo, Surly – Abrasive, Rockyard – Buddha Nuvo, Trappistes Rochefort – 10, Renegade – Black Gold (Peanut Butter Cup Stout), Oskar Blues / Ska – OSKAr the G’Rauch, Goose Island – Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout, Elevation – Oil Man Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout, Boston Beer Company – Utopias 10th Anniversary, Crooked Stave – L’Brett d’Or, Backcountry – Imperial Saison with Brett, Grimm Brothers – Wee Heavy Bourbon Barrel Brett and on and on and on. As you can see, the list was phenomenal!
Here’s some links to last week’s radio shows, both of which were live from Vail:
Vail Big Beers gives beer lovers a rare chance to sample some of the finest beers on the planet AND talk to the brewers that create them. Such a great weekend and a BIG Thank You to all involved. We can’t wait to go back next year.