Can’t Miss Beers – 2016 Vail Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines


It’s safe to say we’re more than just a little excited for this weekend’s Big Beers Belgians & Barleywines Festival up in Vail. There are a handful of beer events around the country that should be on everyone’s radar. This is one of them.

Last night, I started flipping through the initial beer list and my heart started beating a little faster in anticipation of what lies ahead. And with that, here’s 16 great beers (to coincide with the 16th Anniversary of Big Beers) we recommend seeking out during Saturday’s Commercial Tasting.

The notes in italics come straight from this year’s program, which you’ll find right HERE, followed by a little insight on why these particular beers made their way onto our list this year. Leave us a note on Facebook to let us know what you’re most excited about tracking down this weekend.

  • Allagash Brewing, Portland, ME – Nancy: Nancy is a sour red ale fermented with Maine cherries and Brettanomyces in 100% stainless, for just shy of a year. The cherries were a blend of Balaton and Montmorency and added at a rate of 2lbs per gallon. Copper in color, Nancy has an aroma of cherries, bread crust, and a touch of cinnamon. The flavor is a medley of tart cherry, citrus, and pie spice. The finish is dry with a lingering tartness. ABV 6.3%

It’s not every day we get to drink Allagash and Nancy offers a harmonious balance of sweet / sour.

  • Atom Brewery, Erie, CO – Imperial Farmhouse Stout: This big stout is open fermented utilizing our house yeast strain. Heavy roast, chocolate and coffee notes are combined with an earthy character that lends a balanced dryness to what is usually a sweeter style beer. 40 IBUs, ABV 9.75%

We’ve been watching Atom Founders Jeff and Christina Porn plug away at their brewery for a number of years and we’re excited to see them(officially) pouring beer at Vail this year. Jeff says to stop by the booth and try all three beers they’re offering, but if you only reach for one, he recommends the roasty, chocolatey, earthy Imperial Farmhouse Stout.

  • Bell’s Brewery, Kalamazoo, MI Batch 9,000 Ale: Bell’s Batch 9,000 Ale offers up aromas ranging from the sweet caramel and molasses of dark rum to fruits such as raisins and plums. Brewed with the idea of pushing boundaries in mind, Bell’s Batch 9,000 Ale is a unique, one-time-only recipe. Well suited for vintage aging, the limited release will continue to develop in flavor and complexity over the years. ABV 12.5%


It’s not every day you get to sip on a 5+ year old beer, so don’t miss this rare opportunity to try the sweet, boozy, Barleywine-ish Batch 9,000.

  • Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales, Denver, CO – Mach Limit Tempranillo: Mach-Limit is a golden sour base that is heavily fruited. This version was done with Tempranillo wine must from Red Fox Vineyards in Palisade, CO. This beer blurs the lines between wine and beer – black cherry, currant, and herbal notes from the grape combines with the beer which has a dry tartness, wild-yeast “funk” and stone fruit from our house coolship microbes. ABV 8.8%

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Black Project will offer a preview of Mach Limit Tempranillo during Saturday’s Commercial Tasting. This one’s made with Colorado Tempranillo wine must and is set to release at the brewery on Saturday, January 17th.

  • Black Shirt Brewing Co., Denver, CO – Whiskey Barrel-Aged Red Quad w/ Huckleberry Coffee: Deep, dark, rich, and complex ale brewed in 2013, fermented in steel and then aged 21 months in freshly dumped whiskey barrels. Carefully blended with delicious coffee from our friends at Huckleberry Roasters after its long rest. Rich, full on the palate, and brimming with vanilla, English toffee, warm Whiskey characters, and soft, nutty coffee notes. 25 IBUs, ABV 9.5%

Black Shirt’s been killing it lately and this BA Coffee Quad has our name all over it. We’ve got coffee, whiskey & beer, all in one fine brew. Come inside. Warm up. Stay for a while.

  • The Bruery, Placentia, CA – Ukulele: Ukulele is a blend of a sour ale and a bourbon barrel aged ale to which passionfruit, ginger and ghost peppers have been added. 13% ABV

While the idea of drinking Grey Monday is a good one, let’s mix it up a bit with something completely different in the new Ukulele. Passionfruit and Ghost Peppers. Wat!?

  • Casey Brewing & Blending, Glenwood Springs, CO – Casey Family Preserve: Laredo Plum: The Casey Family Preserve series is our Saison base beer aged on whole, local fruit at twice the level of our Fruit Stand series. This version was aged on 2.3 pounds per gallon whole Laredo plums from Palisade, CO.

My favorite beer of 2015. Game over man. Game over. On second thought, don’t drink this beer. This isn’t the beer you’re looking for. Move along. Move along.

  • Copper Kettle Brewing Co., Denver, CO – 2013 Snowed In: A bold imperial oatmeal stout brewed with locally sourced coffee from Pablo’s Coffee in Denver. Rich cacao nibs adding slight bitterness, and aged in bourbon barrels from High West Distillery in Utah. Brewed in 2013. 73 IBUs, ABV: 12.2%

Denver beer drinkers seemed to go bananas over Copper Kettle’s release of ’15 Snowed In and rightfully so. It’s fabulous. But, let’s try the ’13 batch and see what a few years can do to this already awesome beer. Maybe, just maybe, this will convince us to hang onto a bottle to enjoy a cold, snowy winter day down the road.

  • Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Milton, DE – 2012 Olde School Barleywine: Fermented with dates and figs, this smooth barleywine has a unique flavor. The concept for this beer came from an old cellerman’s manual Sam came across. At about 15% ABV, this beer is a great candidate for aging. Over time, the beer dries out and the pit fruit fl avors come forward and the hops recede. Our recommendation? Grab a few bottles when you find it — enjoy one now, and age the others for a bit. Let us know which you prefer! 85 IBUs, ABV 13-16%


You’ve probably had this and it’s been on the menu time and time again, but this is the beer that opened my eyes to cellaring. Our first Vail Big Beers experience was back in ’07 and I still remember Dogfish pouring a 3-year old keg of Olde School. As the kids these days say, it was amazeballs. Hmm, deja vu as they’re pouring 3-year old B’wines again this year. Try this on Saturday and thank me later.

  • Former Future Brewing Co., Denver, CO – Cat Sabbath: A massive Russian Imperial Stout that drinks like a liqueur. Fermented in a fresh bourbon barrel, and then transferred to a second fresh bourbon barrel and aged for nearly a year. Served at cellar temperature with low carbonation. ABV 20%

I’m told the beer lives up to this purrrfect name. It’s 20% ABV. Be sure to pack your big boy britches. Sounds like you’re going to need them in Vail.

  • Goose Island Beer Co., Chicago, IL – Bourbon County Proprietors 2015: Bourbon County Stout with Gaujillo peppers, toasted pecans and bourbon barrel aged maple syrup. 13.4% ABV

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I don’t remember loving Prop ’15 at Rare Day. It certainly wasn’t the Samoa cookie from ’13 or the Cinnamon Toast Crunch from ’14. On the other hand, I don’t see myself having the opportunity to sample Prop ’15 at any point in the near future. So best to give it another whirl. And when you’re done, wash it down with a splash of Rare.

  • Jackie O’s Brewery, Athens, CO – Dark ApparitionRussian Imperial Stout. Dark Apparition is a haun good brew rife with dark complexities. Seven malts are used to create deep flavors of coffee, chocolate, caramel, & molasses. A hint of bitterness & herbal character come from carefully selected European & American hops that help support the monolithic maltiness. A truly decadent brew that is intended to be poured into a snifter & given time to warm up from its dark & cool resting place. ABV 10.5%

Another rare treat comes to Vail, this time in the form of Jackie O’s. This year they’re bringing 4 big, warming brews. Dark Apparition is a double-digit ABV Imperial Stout that will only get better as it warms.

  • Liquid Mechanics Brewing Co., Lafayette, CO – Peanut Butter Porter: Luscious Imperial Porter with a big peanut nose and flavor profile. Loads of chocolate malt complement this after-dinner beer. ABV 8.6%

I love me some Peanut Butter and I rarely make it up to the Lafayette area. I must haz this.

  • Ninkasi Brewing Co., Eugene, OR – Ground Control Imperial Stout: Seven years after we started brewing in Oregon, we decided the sky was not the limit. One year, two rockets and countless lab hours later, we successfully launched a payload of brewer’s yeast into outer space with the help of rocket scientists. After a much awaited return to Earth, the mission of creating space beer is now complete. Ground Control boldly combines local and out-of-this-world ingredients. This rich, complex Imperial Stout is brewed with Oregon hazelnuts, star anise and cocoa nibs, and fermented with an Ale yeast that survived a trip to space and back. Mankind will enjoy the sweet finesse of this beer that only fares better with time. 80 IBUs, ABV 10%

A space beer. And it’s not even made by BrewDog. Seriously, this is a really good Imperial Stout, even if a bit gimmicky.

  • Renegade Brewing Co., Denver, CO – Depravity: What started as a post-Halloween experiment has become Renegade’s most coveted, limited brew. This beer is creamy like a milk shake with a roasty backbone and a peanut butter and chocolate finish. 57 IBUs, ABV 11%

Renegade’s popular New Year’s Brew will make an appearance this weekend. Each keg has 1lb of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and 1lb of peanut butter. I might need a glass of milk to go with this. Peanut Butter Imperial Stout for the win.

  • Wicked Weed, Asheville, CO – All of them: Seriously. All. Of. Them.


By: Mark Robinson

Photography: Patti Robinson and Aixa Roche

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