What’s particularly cool about the craft beer industry are its hidden gems (like this post I just found hidden in the drafts folder!) that are rare and distinctive, those unique experiences which are so far removed from the tried and true comfortable local or favorite beer. This job allows me the opportunity to chase down some of these crazy ideas, like the Big Beers, Belgians & Barley Wine Fest in Vail, Colorado.
Weeks later I’m still remembering and thinking about this event. Celebrating its 10th year, the Big Beers has a lot of serious upside to it. First, it is in Vail and the snow was perfect. Having hung up the boards a few decades ago, self-preservation was the rationale, I looked on with envy as brewer and attendee hit the slopes for a few runs. Beyond the skiing, wandering through the frozen, streetlight painted Vail village after a raucous dinner with brewers and enthusiasts just can’t be replicated in many places around the country.
However, the second feature transforms the event. The Colorado Front Range throws it’s full support behind Big Beers. Virtually the whole Brewers Association, the trade organization for craft brewers, attended this gathering as spectators, enjoying the bounty without the stress of running it. (They do put on the Craft Brewers Conference, the Great American Beer Festival, Savor, not to mention all their publications.) John Carlson, the head of the Colorado Guild was there, as were virtually every brewer in the state. For a serious beer lover, this was rubbing elbows with the greats of one of the leading beer scenes in the country.
This precipitated a nostaglic moment for me. I had a wonderful opportunity to judge at the homebrew competition with a couple of serious homebrewers. Funny thing was, looking around the room, I knew more people in that room than I had at any of the Southeast judgings I’d been in on lately. Nearly twenty years after leaving, I still miss the Colorado beer scene.
Back to the Big Beers, what Bill and Laura Lodge, of High Point Brewery, have put together is a complete beer experience for those who are serious about their beer. A couple of beer dinners, some seminars featuring major brewing talent from the States and Europe, a Cicerone seminar and test hosted by Ray Daniels, the already mentioned homebrew competition, and then the beer festival itself where a couple dozen breweries showcased their spectacular big beers.
I attended one of the two beer dinners where Adam Avery, Avery Brewing, and Sam Caligione, Dogfishhead Brewing paired off with Chef Adam Votow acting as the ringleader. Imagine double pairing two beers with one dish. The show stopper was the Dugana IPA from Avery and the Chicory Stout from Dogfish Head paired with a rubbed pork loin, an exciting triangulation.