Summit Suds: Having a blast at Big Beers
Last weekend’s Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival commercial tasting was certainly one to remember. Organizers and participants went all out for the 20th anniversary of the event that has the most selective and exclusive tap list I’ve ever seen. As the name implies, to be served, a beer has to be a barleywine, brewed in a Belgian style or have at least 7% alcohol by volume. Trendy, experimental beers are usually accepted, as well.
These restrictions mean guests can be swimming in barrel-aged beers that climb toward 15% ABV throughout the two conference room floors of Beaver Run Resort.
With more than 160 breweries and a program booklet 46 pages long listing the 600-some beers, it’s impossible to try every single one without wasting the beer in dump containers. And trust me, some of these are extremely valuable. Because of this festival, I’ve been able to have the two rare Boston Beer Co.’s Utopias and Goose Island Beer Co.’s Bourbon County.
Utopias is a unique beer that’s only released once every two years in a custom decanter that sells for over $200. This year’s batch featured blended beers aged in Buffalo Trace Distillery, aquavit, cognac, Madeira and other barrels. Some of the base beers were aged for 24 years, and it tasted like a smooth port wine that clocks in at 28% ABV.
Goose Island Beer Co. actually brought four versions of Bourbon County. I went with Café De Olla, a 13.5% ABV stout made with coffee, cassia bark, orange peel, panela sugar and aged in bourbon barrels.
Yet arguably the greatest part of the commercial tasting is how many brewers and owners themselves come to pour their sweet nectar — an uncommon sight at festivals. It was fun to reconnect with fine folks from Fort Collin’s Horse & Dragon Brewing Co. and the Cody family of the Colorado Farm Brewery from Alamosa. Arguably the first brewery in Colorado to grow and malt the ingredients they brew on-site, the Farm Brewery poured a rauchbier smoked with cottonwood and its Batch No. 2 estate beer pleasantly blended with berries.
A few tables over, you could have Adam Avery of Avery Brewing Co. pour you either a Leopold Bros whiskey barrel-aged beer made exclusively for the event or Imperial Stoutwork Orange, a delicious, Earl Grey-like brew of orange peel, cacao nibs and cardamom. Then, if you needed something a smidge lighter, former New Belgian Brewing Co. brewmaster Peter Bouckaert would give you a refreshing glass of his double Pilsner Floofed Up from Purpose Brewing & Cellars.
When the doors for the tasting opened this year, I made a beeline for Casey Brewing & Blending, since it ran out before I could sample last time. I had its barrel-aged sours Leaner, made with peaches, and Vanilla Jammy, made with blueberries. Both were brewed in collaboration with Side Project Brewing, which had the longest line by far due to its popular and smooth Beer : Barrel : Time, along with other stouts and wild ales.
My favorite sour of the evening, however, was from Dry Dock Brewing Co. It brought the same amateur homebrewed beer that won Best of Show in Big Beer’s homebrewing competition last year and was entered into the Great American Beer Festival’s competition. The gueuze had some peppery notes in addition to a white wine flavor imparted from its barrel.
Dry Dock also had a fabulous coconut barleywine called Coconut Bligh’s. Surprisingly, it had more of the earthy flavor of the seed itself and not the off-putting syrupy cream of coconut.
I had other delightful dark beers from Mikerphone Brewing, Ecliptic Brewing, Fremont Brewing and WeldWerks Brewing Co., but the one that stayed with me the most was Zembla S’mores from Denver’s Fiction Beer Co. It was the first s’mores beer I had that captured the essence of marshmallow instead of just the chocolate and graham cracker.
If you plan on going to the tasting next year, I have some handy tips for you. First, download the DigitalPour app. The program has a useful map telling you where each brewery is and what they’re pouring, along with giving the option to save favorites and write tasting notes.
Take food breaks. Carbohydrates like bread are freely available at tables, and your tasting ticket comes with a free meal like a bratwurst or pulled pork. However, be sure to grab the dish before you’re hungry or else it’ll be slim pickings.
Along those same lines, drink plenty of water. You’re at altitude and these beers are, well, big. Water coolers dot the area, usually near the bread, and you can fill up a disposable cup or use it as an opportunity to dump a beer and clean a glass while simultaneously rehydrating.
Most importantly, use public transportation. The Breckenridge Fee Ride and Summit Stage make it easy to head to Beaver Run Resort. After last call, you can use the hotel shuttle to take you wherever you need to go. Don’t drink and drive.
Jefferson Geiger is the arts and entertainment editor for the Summit Daily News and managing editor for Everything Summit. Have a question about beer? Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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