Just got back from a full weekend up in the mountains. Patti and I made the trip up to Breckenridge for their annual Spring Beer Festival. It was our first time attending, but we had heard good things from friends who had attended in the past. We headed up I-70 on Friday afternoon and took our time exploring some of the little mountain towns on the way. We hit a few breweries along the way, including some old favorites as well as a few places that were completely new to us. I’ll try to post some reviews later in the week.
We stayed in the quiet, resort town of Keystone, CO. Keystone is just a short, 15-minute drive from Breckenridge, CO and turned out to be the perfect place to call home for a few days. Hot tubs, no neighbors and no crowds. It was just what we needed. We’re not skiers, so we kind of prefer going up there in the off-season. In our 5-story building, there were only 3 other cars in the garage. Perfect!
We finished off our day with some bacon-wrapped filets and a bottle of Avery’s Uncle Jacob’s Stout. Beer was delicious. Bourbon, vanilla, chocolate, sweet – but not overly sweet, 17.4% ABV is well hidden. Surprisingly smooth at this point in its’ young life, but should age very well. If you missed the release at Avery last weekend, keep your eyes peeled for the remaining bottles to start showing up around town soon. Grab some while you can.
The Breckenridge area has a public transportation system that could rival New York City. I couldn’t believe how many busses they offer to get you around town. During the off-season, the Keystone area even has a bus that you can call to arrange pick up and drop off for personalized service. It’s convenient and free. To Breckenridge however, we caught the Swan Mountain Flyer. This bus runs once an hour from Keystone and makes the loop into downtown Breckenridge.
We caught the 11:30 bus to head to the festival, which opened at noon. We arrived in Breckenridge at around 12:10 and started our walk to Main Street Station. Along the way, we ran into Jason, the head brewer over at Lone Tree Brewing. Sadly, he wasn’t pouring any beers at the festival, but was just out enjoying a rare and well deserved day off with his girlfriend.
The festival offers both a standard tasting ticket, as well as a VIP ticket. The standard ticket sells for $25 and offers admission, unlimited tastings and music. The VIP ticket sells for $65 and comes with a commemorative stein, private buffet and lounge area, along with unlimited tastings and music. Patti had found a deal online for more than half off VIP tickets, so we snagged a pair. We got up to the festival entrance, traded our tickets for a map and stein and headed inside.
Once we got through the gate, the first table we came upon was Oskar Blues. I had to get the day started off on the right foot, so I reached for a pour of Deviant Dale’s. A great accompaniment to the band covering Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” in the background.
Main Street Station is surrounded by several buildings that are condo’s on top, with restaurants and stores on the main level. Between the buildings is a large, open space, that’s used for different events throughout the year. It’s a great area for a mid-sized beer festival.
Working around the outside edge of tables, were many out-of-state breweries, including Sierra Nevada, Widmer, Red Hook and Alaskan.
Towards the back were some of the smaller, local places. A few of which I had never even tried like Bonfire (remember the Tebrew beer from last year’s Tebow mania?), Crazy Mountain and Palisade. This was my favorite area of the festival. The tables were situated along the river, with a beautiful mountain view in the background. Lots of new beers to try, a great view and a whole row of bathrooms nearby. Hey, you gotta know where your bathrooms are at a beer fest. Good combination folks.
Back towards the middle of the festival were the big boys. Avery, Odell, Great Divide, Bristol and more. Great Divide tapped a keg of Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti at 2PM, which went well with the cooler, afternoon temperatures and the light snow that started coming down.
The VIP ticket also gave us access to a private buffet that was catered by Kenosha Steakhouse. They brought some tasty BBQ for the meat lovers, plus some lighter sandwiches, wraps, appetizers, salad and even desert. The lounge area had comfy couches and chairs, so festival attendees could sit down and enjoy their food. There was even a table full of beers donated by the breweries. I snagged a Dale’s Pale Ale to go with my plate of pulled pork. As someone who was kind of on the fence about spending the extra money for VIP tickets, I’d have to say it was worth it. Even if we had paid full price, the unlimited trips to the buffet, the quiet area to sit and eat, the big table full of beers and the private bathroom, made it all worthwhile.
25 breweries in total made the trip. It was well balanced between novice, gateway Wheat and Pale Ales, up to big Double IPA’s and Stouts for the true beer nerds in the crowd. I tried alot of new beers and discovered some new breweries that don’t distribute out my way. Towards the end of the festival, I snagged a nearly full stein of Great Divide’s Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti and went to listen to the live bands on stage.
The clouds eventually started to roll in and the sun gave way to snow, but it only added to our experience. You’ve got to expect snow in Breckenridge in Spring. We made the walk back to the bus station and caught our ride home.
As much as I love the Great American Beer Festival, these little beer fests around the country are a great way to get out and truly appreciate the beer scene, without feeling too overwhelmed. Nice and relaxing, not too big of a crowd, good music and plenty of good beer and food to go around. I’d definitely give it a thumb’s up.
Breckenridge also hosts a Festival in Summer, which is coming up on Saturday, July 14th. I would expect to see a much bigger crowd, but they run a good show. It might be worth checking out.
Random pics from the festival: