Another magical, beer-filled weekend at the 14th annual Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines in beautiful Vail, CO has come and gone. This year’s extravaganza spanned 3-days and was jam-packed with beer dinners, a homebrew competition and seminars, before being followed up by the main event commercial tasting, which featured nearly 400 beers from around the world.
With beer happenings in nearly every room of the Cascade Resort, it was easy to forget the snow-capped peaks and world-class skiing & snowboarding calling us outside to play. We came to Vail in search of great beer and like-minded people. Both proved to be easy to find throughout the weekend and as the scheduled events began to wind down each day, beer fans faded away behind closed doors to take part in private bottle shares, food pairings and blind tastings, many of which lasted into the wee hours.
Festival goers were treated to many improvements to this year’s event. One of which saw the Cascade Lounge get transformed into a craft beer bar with an excellent rotating selection of beer, featuring fun offerings like Surly’s Cacao Bender, Samuel Adams Utopias and Lagunitas Sucks. The Lounge had plenty of room to spread out, offered up outstanding views of the surrounding mountains and TV’s to keep up with the NFL playoffs.
American Craft Beer Radio host Gary V moved his show to the Cascade Lounge and allowed me to co-host with him during Saturday’s live broadcast. We talked beer with a variety of guests including Dustin LeMoine from Avery Brewing and John Turk from Epic Brewing during the broadcast.
After the show, we caught a break and a bite to eat, before getting the party started over at the Commercial Tasting. 140 breweries, 375 beers and almost 4 hours to get it done. There’s no way we could have covered everything, but here’s a handful of our personal favorites.
AC Golden Brewing Company – Colorambic. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: One of the best beers in the country. Colorambic’s an amazing, complex nod to the traditional Belgian Lambic. I could drink this beauty all day long. Hey AC Golden, Please, Please, Please sell in bottles. Please.
Backcountry Brewery – You’ve Probably Never Heard Of It. Backcountry took their Belgian Dubbel, left out the hops, used their house ale yeast, along with Brett and Lacto for fermentation and then aged it in Zinfandel Barrels. Well done friends. This one’s a keeper. Sweet meets sour makes delish.
Cambridge Brewing Company – Cerise Cassee. We may only stumble upon Cambridge once or twice a year at various beer festivals, but we’ve been reaching for Cerise for years and it never fails to impress. Sour cherries, French oak, spontaneous fermentation and long-term aging combine to make this delicious 9% ABV, Flanders Red Ale. Amazing beer.
Captain Lawrence – Golden Delicious. The Captain took their Belgian Tripel, aged it in Apple Brandy Barrels and out came this stunning, clean and refreshing 12% ABV brew.
Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project – Dealer’s Choice. WaelzBlood. No wait Wild Wild Brett Violet. Or maybe Bourbon Barrel Aged Cherry Origins. Oooh, how about L’Brett d’Blackberry? WTF?! They’re all f’n great. Crooked Stave dug deep into their personal stash and brought an array of top-notch brews. Try one, try ’em all.
Deschutes Brewery – 2010 Jubel. This “Once a decade ale” spent more than a year in Pinot Noir barrels, which helped contribute to the layers of dark fruit, booze and oak throughout. 2010’s drinking really well right now. Drink ’em if ya got ’em.
Firestone Walker Brewing Company – 2012 §ucaba. Smooth and warming, with flavors of vanilla, oak, molasses and raisins. Two years have treated this Barrel Aged Barleywine very well.
Goose Island Brewing Company – Bourbon County Brand Barleywine. A true masterpiece of a beer, brimming with oak, vanilla and heat, which comes from the third-run Kentucky bourbon barrels used to age the beer. A masterpiece. If you knew the secret handshake, you may have been rewarded with a pour of Backyard Rye Bourbon County Brand Stout, which is probably the next best thing to Unicorn marrow. * Festival Favorites.
Green Flash Brewing Company – Palate Wrecker. An onslaught of hops. Go ahead, wreck my palate. It’s cool. It’ll grow back. I think…
Lagunitas Brewing Company – Sucks. Not too thin, not too thick. Sucks is a tasty Double IPA that we could drink a LOT of. Welcome back friend. We’ve missed you.
Brasserie d’Orval Trappist – Orval. The crazy uncle of the Trappist Family that deviates from the standard Dubbels, Tripels and other candi sugar treats. Instead, Orval is bottled with Brett and offers up citrus fruit, hops and a long, dry finish. Perfection.
Oskar Blues Brewery – Appleton Estate Ten FIDY. OB took their decadent Ten FIDY Imperial Stout and locked it away for 6 months in a 30 Yr Appleton Estates Rum Barrel. The resulting beer is slightly fruity and sweet tasting, with a 13% ABV that flows like motor oil out of those sexy new Crowlers. Thank you Sir, may I have another?
Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project – Barbapapa Imperial Russian Stout. Try pronouncing this one with a buzz at 8,000+ ft. Super thick, rich and chocolaty, just like we like it. A great offering from a young East Coast brewery.
St. Bernardus – Abt 12. Westvletewho? This is a classic right here. Rich caramel, dark fruit and that trademark Belgian candi sugar. Heavenly and downright monkish.
Surly Brewing Company – Abrasive Ale. You probably know and love Surly’s popular Darkness Imperial Stout, but how familiar are you with their delicious IPA’s? Furious, Overrated West Coast IPA and Abrasive Double IPA were raining down during the festivities. Abrasive got our vote, weighing in at 120+ IBU’s and a 9% ABV.
Trinity Brewing Company – Old Growth. We’ve been singing praises for Red Swingline all year, so this round, we decided to go with Old Growth. It’s been too long since we’ve had a proper Old Growth fix. Intensely sour and acidic, we love this mouth puckering, (almost) over the top, wild ale.
That’s just a few of our favorites. Truthfully, we didn’t even come close to scratching the surface on all of the amazing beers that were available during Big Beers. We tried. Honestly, we did. The selections were outstanding, the crowd was great and Vail Big Beers continues to be one of the best fests in the nation. Here’s a few more sights.
Congratulations to all the winners in the Homebrew Competition.
Big Thanks to Mrs. Insane for some fine photography work throughout the weekend.