Vail Big Beers Fest Continues To Impress

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The 2015 edition of the Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival in Vail celebrated 15th years this past weekend, and the festival continues to live up to its big name. The weekend was filled with seminars, events, friends, and a variety of beers from all around the world. The event has become one of our favorite beer festivals, hands down. Vail’s snowy backdrop combined with industry camaraderie, “celebrity” beer sightings, brewing seminars, food pairings, and numerous outstanding beers to create one of the most memorable weekends of the year. Read on for some of the highlights.

On Friday evening, we attended “Palate Trips and an Insider Tasting”, a seminar hosted by Julia Herz from the Brewer’s Association and Chef Adam Dulye from The Monk’s Kettle of San Francisco. In this seminar, attendees were seated to a plate consisting of terrine, pickled vegetables, locally baked bread and homemade mustard.

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The beers included Boulevard Collaboration #4, Great Divide Hoss, and Ballast Point Sculpin. The attendees were asked to sip each beer, take a bite, then take another sip. Each of the beers was paired with each of the elements on the plate while the hosts described what might be expected. At the end, Deschutes Abyss was brought out along with some special chocolates procured especially for the pairing. This was an exceptional event that allowed the attendee to get a hands-on experience with pairing food and beer.

On Saturday morning, we attended “The Yoga of Beer”. This one hour event included an instructor-led yoga class by Stephanie Long and beers to sip courtesy of Altitude Chophouse & Brewery out of Laramie, Wyoming. The beers included a chai beer and a coffee/biscotti infused porter. The beers were a perfect complement to the yoga class. I was surprised how much I enjoyed this event and would definitely attend it again.

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On Saturday afternoon, we attended “Vintage Beer: Identifying Cellar Worthy Beers” hosted by Patrick Dawson, the author of Vintage Beers. Representatives were also on-hand from Casey Brewing and Blending (Troy Casey) and Goose Island (Jared Jankoski and Eric Ponce). Patrick walked us through cellaring, including which types of beers are cellar-worthy, cellaring conditions and expectations from cellaring. He also told some interesting and at times funny stories about vintage beer tastings.

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Beers were served to show the effects of cellaring; 2013 Bourbon County Brand Barleywine, 2012 Bourbon County Brand Stout, Casey Saison First Blend and Casey Saison Fourth Blend.

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The most interesting aspect was seeing the difference between the Casey Saison blends. Just 7 months apart, the difference was very noticeable with the first blend becoming much more drier and having a thinner mouthfeel.

Commercial Tasting (aka, The Big Show)
The commercial tasting is “The Big Show”. First off, if you’re interested in meeting “beer celebrities”, this event is not to be missed. Tomme Arthur, Sam Calagione, Adam Avery, and Lauren Salazar (to name a few) were all present and ready to chat with the attendees. Plenty of photo opportunities were available.

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There were so many beers that it’s nearly impossible to choose favorites, so instead, I’ll mention a few of the highlights.

Probably the best-in-show for us was Goose Island. They brought Lolita, Sofie, Bourbon County Brand Barleywine and Templeton Rye. But they brought some goodies that seemed to flow endlessly. They brought out bottles of this year’s Proprietors as well as Bourbon County Rare, and they were glorious. The Rare seems to be aging phenomenally well as the heat’s nearly faded, while the flavors have blended and smoothed out. Proprietor’s seems to be much more cinnamon forward this year compared to last year’s.

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AC Golden’s Scotch Barrel Barleywine was very interesting and the Dark Kriek was an excellent funky and sweet sour (look for bottles soon).

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Casey Brewing and Blending brought a few Fruit Stands, including Peach, Blackberry and Grape. We tried the Grape and thought it was fantastic.

Former Future’s Black Project #2 – Jumpseat was a sour that made us look forward to more sour offerings from them. Great job!

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New Belgium’s Blackberry Barleywine was a tasty, sweet, fruity barleywine with undertones of blackberry. Although listed as an American Barleywine, this leaned toward English Barleywine.

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Sam Adams offered Utopias on tap. Sure, sure…at this point everyone has tried Utopias. But for us, it’s always a nice treat. Kosmic Mother Funk Grand Cru though…wow! One attendee described it to me as being just as good as La Folie.

By no means is this a complete list, but these were our standouts. The commercial tasting is one fine event that is the highlight of the weekend. Some of the people who came with me left the festival having discovered new favorite beers and styles. And that’s what it’s all about.

Overall, this year’s Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival killed it as always. We cannot wait until next year!

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Written By: Scott Steigerwald

Photography:  Aixa Roche

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