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.
In Part 1 of our Wisconsin beer trek, we hit up New Glarus Brewing. Read all about it HERE. From there, we headed to Lake Mills, WI, to visit Tyranena (pronounced tie-rah-nee-nah) Brewing. I’ve gotten a few bottles to try over the years and had liked their beers quite a bit. Everything I had read, made it sound like they do quite a bit of barrel aging and experimentation. Two things I love.
As we walked up to the bar, I glanced over the beer menu and knew we were in for a treat. I don’t usually go for a sampler tray, but there were just too many new and interesting beers to try. The sampler was the only practical way to get them all in.
For $10, you can walk through the whole lineup: Three Beaches Honey Blonde, Headless Man Amber Alt, Stone Tepee Pale Ale, Bitter Woman IPA, Rocky’s Revenge Bourbon Aged Brown, Chief Blackhawk Porter, Cherry Barrel Aged Kinda Lambic, Scurvy IPA w/ Orange peel, Down ‘n’ Dirty Chocolate Oatmeal Stout and Dirty Old Man Imperial Rye Porter aged in Rye Whiskey Barrels. Some really, really, reeeaaaalllly nice beers. I hate to pick one, but my fav’s were the Scurvy IPA and Down ‘n’ Dirty Chocolate Oatmeal Stout.
Our bartender, Benji, was a former brewer for Tyranena, but these days, he’s a stay at home Dad. He occasionally helps out at the brewery in his spare time. Benji was very knowledgeable as we picked his brain and took his recommendations on places to visit during our trip.
We checked out the brew house, finished our sampler and took a stroll through the adjacent beer garden and hop garden around the corner.
Tyranena Brewing is located at: 1025 Owen St, Lake Mills, WI 53551. 920-648-8699.
After Tyranena’s it was time to make the trip back to Milwaukee, which would be home for the night. Before hitting the hotel, we had time for one last stop at Romans’ Pub. If you’re looking for trendy and cute, head to Rock Bottom. But, if you’re looking for
good great beer, a knowledgeable bartender and proper glassware, hit up Romans’.
It’s a pretty simple place, with a dozen or so seats at the bar, a few tables and a beer garden out back. The walls are covered with posters and artwork from great breweries like Dogfish Head, Three Floyds and Goose Island.
We’ve all heard the saying “No Crap On Tap” and Romans’ lives up to it. Just look at the draft list.
A solid beer menu, that’s always changing. Fortunately for me, the menu is heavy on the hops right now. It was Double IPA time for me. First up, was Three Floyds Arctic Panzer Wolf (on draft). A big ol’ 9% DIPA, that packs 100+ IBU’s and is loaded with citrus and tropical fruit notes. Amazing beer.
After that, it was time for…. Three Floyds (3F’s) Arctic Panzer Wolf. AGAIN! I don’t normally order the same beer twice when I’m at a beer bar, especially when I’m at an out-of-town beer bar, but the 3F’s Panzer Wolf was amazing. I tried samples of the Great Lakes Lake Erie Monster DIPA and Black Husky Pale Ale, but for me, Panzer Wolf took the crown.
Patti went for the Goose Island Imperial IPA.
It didn’t take us long to get a conversation going with our bartender, who turned out to be owner, Mike Romans. Once he figured out that we were true beer nerds, he opened up like a book. We swapped stories about breweries, GABF and he helped us plan out the rest of our trip in Wisconsin.
If you ever find yourself in Milwaukee, I highly recommend a visit to Romans’ Pub. Mike, who has been in the biz since 1978, is pretty much a 1-man show and he works his tail off to get his customers the best beer he can find. Mike, if you’re reading this, thanks again and there’s a couple of bombers heading your way soon.
Romans’ Pub is located at: 3475 S Kinnickinnic Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53207. 414-481-3396.
Next up on our Beercation in Wisconsin is… sleep… and Miller! I know, I know, but you might be surprised. MillerCoors had a fun tour and lots of history. Come on back for the next entry. And if Miller’s left a foul taste in your mouth, have no fear, we ended our trip with a visit to a popular microbrewery in Milwaukee. More details, pics and reviews to come.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve introduced you to beer trading and walked you through a simple trade. Just in case you missed something, in Part One, we talked about how to set up a trade. In Part Two, we picked a trader and agreed on beers to trade. In Part Three, we packed and shipped our beers. We’ve waited patiently for our package to be delivered and it’s finally here!
Yep, this is my favorite part, opening the big box of goodies. When I open a box of beer, I feel like a little kid on Christmas morning. Even when I know what’s inside, it’s still exciting to dig in and unwrap all the beers.
Our New Glarus loot in all its’ glory! Yeah, we pulled a ton of tasty brews from Wisconsin. If you’ve never had the Belgian Red or Raspberry Tart, make sure you move them to the top of your list. Big, fruity flavors that are appreciated even by non-beer lovers. Drink it straight or get crafty and pour it over vanilla bean ice cream or mix it with some Oskar Blues Ten Fidy Imperial Stout. Fun, tasty beers.
At this point, I’ll e-mail our trader to thank them and let them know that I got everything in one piece. I’ll also ask if they got the package I sent. If something breaks, it’s typically the responsibility of the shipper to replace the beer(s) or do something to make up for the loss. Just another good reason to take the extra time to pack things up safely the first time.
After checking with our trader, Kody, he told me that our package arrived safely with no issues. At this point, the trade is done. Now all that’s left to do is sit back and enjoy your beers.
I keep a list of people I’ve traded with and will generally trade with the same people over and over again. For example, after trading with Kody, I know that in addition to New Glarus, he’s got pretty good access to beers from Goose Island and Three Floyds among others. We’re already working on setting up our next trade. It doesn’t take long to develop a network of contacts and beer traders around the country. It’s that easy.
Hope this little trading guide answered some questions and encouraged you to take the plunge. If anything’s unclear or you’ve got questions, by all means, let me know. It’s a great hobby. Hope you enjoy it!
Big shout out to all of the brewers that won awards over the weekend at the World Beer Cup in San Diego, CA! The complete list of winners can be found HERE. I’m really excited to see so many Colorado brewers bring home medals, including Oskar Blues, Dry Dock, Rockyard, Odell and many more. Bull & Bush brought home a whopping 4 awards! Congrats to all the breweries!
The next World Beer Cup is scheduled for Denver in 2014! Yeah, it’s two years away, but it’s coming. It’s almost like Denver was picked to host the Olympics. Brewers from all over the world will be in town for a long weekend of seminars, tastings, beer dinners and more. They couldn’t have picked a better location.
Don’t look now, but Colorado Beer Week is right around the corner. More details to come later this week. Stay tuned and check the Facebook page for all the latest info.