This past weekend, we were able to immerse ourselves in all things beer at the annual Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Festival. Despite an unavoidable venue change and making the jump up I-70 from Vail to Breckenridge, this celebration of world-class craft beer didn’t miss a beat.
We began our Big Beers weekend with a long overdue visit to Westbound & Down Brewing Company in Idaho Springs. These guys are serving up some killer beers, ranging from a Pale Ale to Belgian-style Tripel. There was even a damn good collaboration Double IPA with Comrade Brewing called Nuclear Football. The food was good, the beer was on point and it’s definitely a place we’ll revisit on future trips to the high country.
Shortly after arriving in Breckenridge, we had to make our standard visit to Broken Compass Brewing. The tasting room was wall-to-wall people (and dogs), but that couldn’t keep us away from their heavenly Coconut Porter. These guys have been firing on all cylinders since day one and beer lovers continue to support what they’re doing.
Eventually we made our way to Beaver Run Resort, settled into our rooms and got ready for a long weekend of stellar beer, shared with even better friends. Some of our team headed to the Small Plates & Craft Beer Pairing, while others prepared for a relaxing bottle share.
At the end of the day, we all met up at the Cigar Pairing Experience. While I don’t smoke, I still wanted to take a peek at what beers were available to sample. From Crooked Stave’s Sours to Weldwerk’s Stouts, there was something for everyone and it was the perfect way to wrap up Day 1.
The following day offered up multiple seminars, all building up to the Commercial Tasting. Somehow I got roped into Beer & Yoga. Fortunately, it was sponsored by Dry Dock Brewing, so my not so nimble limbs were rewarded with pours of Dry Dock’s Signature Series Double Hazelnut Brown at 10 AM. I was a yoga virgin, but the instructors were excellent and I enjoyed the experience. Although, for next year, it might be nice to have a dedicated room, away from foot traffic. There’s nothing like being heckled by your friends while you’re leading into that Downward Dog. Hopefully no pictures exist of these shenanigans.
A shower, followed by a tasty cup of coffee that I sipped from our balcony put me in such a relaxed state that I decided to skip the remaining Saturday seminars. It gave my liver a chance to prep for the afternoon’s tasting.
The Commercial Tasting fired up at 2:30 with a long line of eager beer drinkers weaving down the halls that led into the ballrooms. This year’s main attraction was split between two levels with breweries spilling into the hallways and walkways. Everywhere I turned I was greeted with another great beer.
There were plenty of delicious options to sample, with obvious standouts coming from local favorites like Casey, Black Project, Station 26, Avery, Dry Dock and many others. But the real beauty of Big Beers is discovering so many great new beers throughout the day. I’m not talking about the ones you stand in line for or tick off your “must try” list as you go, but the ones you accidentally stumble upon or hear about from a friend. The beers that really open up your eyes and surprise you with something totally new.
This year, there were several that really demanded our attention, with standouts coming from Barrels & Bottles, Weldwerks, American Solera, Wiley Roots, Our Mutual Friend, and Mad Fritz. There were many more and I could go on and on, but my point is Big Beers still rocks and is a true showcase of some of the industry’s finest offerings.
Thank you to Laura Lodge and her awesome staff and volunteers for all of their hard work this year. I know moving the festival hasn’t been an easy task. We’re lucky to have such a great group dedicated to making this festival come together year after year.
Here’s just a few more sights from the Commercial Tasting. We’ll see you next year.
By: Mark Robinson
Photography: Patti Robinson and Greg Nelson