Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Fest leaves Vail for Breckenridge |

Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Fest leaves Vail for Breckenridge

Andy Mitchell, of Fort Collins, right, and Nathan Niclas, of Denver, left, check for the clarity of a Scottish-style ale during the 2016 Big Beers Homebrew Competition at the Vail Cascade. Seeking the support of the home brewing community, organizers of the Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Festival added the competition at the second-annual event in 2002.
Justin Q. McCarty | Special to the Daily |

Evolution of Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Festival

2001 — Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Festival founded. Inaugural event is held at Hubcap Brewery and 8150 in the former Crossroads building in Vail Village.

2002 — Hubcap Brewery again hosts Big Beers. More help is needed to put on second event, so organizers recruit homebrewing community and add homebrew competition.

2003-2004 — Big Beers moves to Tap Room & Sanctuary at the top of Bridge Street in Vail Village to accommodate growth.

2004 — Tap Room & Sanctuary hosts Big Beers for a second year.

2005 — Big Beers moves to Vail Marriott Mountain Resort in Lionshead Village. Adam Avery, founder of Avery Brewing Co., and Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head Brewery, co-host first beer-pairing dinner in conjunction with the festival, expanding Big Beers from a one-day Saturday event to Friday and Saturday. White Lab Yeast Co. sponsors inaugural Experimental Brewing seminar.

2006-2007 — Big Beers moves to Manor Vail Lodge.

2008 — Festival returns to Vail Marriott Mountain Resort. Big Beers expands from a two-day event to three days, with Avery-Dogfish Head Calibration Dinner on Thursday, featured Brewmasters’ Dinner on Friday and Commercial Tasting on Saturday.

2009 — Vail Marriott Mountain Resort again hosts Big Beers.

2010 — Big Beers moves to Vail Cascade, enabling further expansion of the Commercial Tasting and the addition of more educational seminars.

2014 — Big Beers maxes out conference space at Vail Cascade and begins limiting applications for brewery participation.

2016 — Future of Big Beers comes into question as Vail Cascade changes ownership. An exhaustive search of alternate locations to host the event is completed at the end of March, determining Breckenridge as the optimal place to relocate.

2017 — Beaver Run Resort & Conference Center in Breckenridge to host 17th annual Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Festival

After 16 years of craft beer weekends in Vail, the Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Festival on Tuesday announced the 2017 event would move from its seven-year home at the Vail Cascade to Beaver Run Resort & Conference Center in Breckenridge.

“Vail Cascade was purchased by new owners in December, and the new ownership is investing $35 million-plus dollars in a full remodel and rebranding of the resort,” said Big Beers event coordinator Laura Lodge. “The rebranding will put both the lodging and the conference space out of reach for our event financially.”

An exhaustive search of alternate locations to host the event was completed at the end of March, determining Breckenridge as the optimal place to relocate based upon a variety of factors, Lodge said.

“I think the enthusiasm and support that was offered both by Beaver Run and the Breckenridge Tourism Office, paired with the operational feasibility of relocating the entire event in a way that’s consistent with our previous experiences, was what sealed the deal,” Lodge said.

Conducting the search

Knowing that the festival would need to find a new home, organizers launched the search immediately following this year’s event, beginning with a survey that was sent out to all 2016 Big Beers participants in January asking what they were willing to see change in order to continue the festival.

“We very definitely considered the feedback we were given from that post-event survey in considering what was important to transition,” Lodge said. “If nobody would have come if we couldn’t have it in Vail, that would have been the end of Big Beers. The feedback from the survey was ‘where you go, we will follow,’ which was awesome.”

Step 1 was determining what the Big Beers brand had become throughout the past 16 years, narrowing down the individual elements that defined the festival weekend and deciding what would carry forward.

“Some of the components that became evident in that process were the Rocky Mountain skiing destination, a host resort that encompasses a large percentage of the events for the weekend and the capacity to continue with both the educational seminars and Commercial Tasting as key elements of the weekend,” Lodge said.

The first goal was to stay in Vail, and Lodge said she worked with the town of Vail’s Commission on Special Events, Vail Resorts and many different hotels and resorts, both in Vail and Lionshead villages, attempting to find a good fit. Ultimately, the cost of event space and lodging rates eliminated Vail as an option.

“The room rates within Vail and Lionshead were not accessible for the demographics of our group,” Lodge said. “Effectively, we couldn’t find anything in Vail less than $500 a night for a location that would work as a host resort.”

Lodge then looked at Beaver Creek as the next potential option to keep Big Beers in the Vail Valley, but attempts to keep the festival local struck out.

Landing in Summit

Broadening the search, destinations such as Steamboat Springs and Aspen were eliminated because the long distance from Denver International Airport would make Big Beers inaccessible for many of the brewers and beer fans that travel from other states to attend. With Winter Park off the list due to a lack of conference space, Big Beers organizers landed on Summit County as the most logical choice.

Lodge said the Keystone Conference Center wouldn’t provide as consolidated of an experience for the festival, requiring shuttles to move amongst the lodging, conference and ski areas, and Copper Mountain Resort proved not to be financially workable. The final nail in both coffins: Neither Keystone nor Copper was able to offer the January weekend calendar dates traditionally occupied by Big Beers.

Breckenridge proved to be attractive, not only because of the support from Beaver Run and the Breckenridge Tourism Office, but also due to the town’s 275-plus shops, bars and restaurants and the recently renovated downtown Arts District. Collectively, these businesses and venues offered a variety of ways to integrate peripheral festival events, such as pairing dinners and tap takeovers, within the Breckenridge community.

“We have over 100 different breweries and importers that want to have a marketing and promoting presence during Big Beers, and the sheer volume of retail, liquor stores, bars and restaurants has already lent itself well to that,” Lodge said. “Keystone and Copper have significantly smaller opportunities to activate within the community, which would have been problematic for the sheer number of breweries that want to do something.”

The 17th annual Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Festival will land at Beaver Run Jan. 5-7, 2017. Organizers will soon launch a new website and revisit the weekend schedule to incorporate new activation options within the town of Breckenridge.

“We really appreciate the amazing support that we have been given in Vail and look forward to creating a new chapter of Big Beers working with the locals and business owners in Breck,” Lodge said.

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