2005 | REGIONAL | ROCKIES
Big Beer Fest Delivers Big Thrills
By Marty Jones
Five years ago, Bill Lodge sought a way to hip folks in
the Vail, Colo., area to the high-strength beers his company
(High Point Brewing Corporation) carried there. His teaching
tool? The Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Festival.
Five years later, the fest is a choice little event for folks
craving big brews, and it's a bash that continues to tout
the joys of strong beer to Colorado’s high-country residents.
This year’s Big event took place on January 7–8
at the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort in Vail. It drew about
400 attendees willing to face the challenge of sampling about
125 beers (all over 7% abv) at 8,000 feet above sea level.
Granted, such hefty beer at such an altitude meant beer nuts
had to consume with care, but the payoff was as lofty as the
festival’s mountain setting.
Things got under way on the afternoon of the 7th with an
AHA-sanctioned homebrew judging of strong and Belgian-style
beers. Local homebrewer Matt Hardesty took home Best of Show
honors in the competition. Later that evening, about 50 judges,
brewers and beer fiends gathered at Montauk Seafood Grill
for a Brewmasters’ Dinner. The hosts were boundary-pushing
cult hero Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head Brewery) and his Colorado
counterpart, Adam Avery (Avery Brewing Company).
The extreme-beer dinner featured 14 muscular, genre-bending
beers from Dogfish Head and Avery, along
with elevated cuisine from Dimitri Souvorin, Montauk’s
chef. Souvorin — conducting his first beer dinner —
faced the daunting task of pairing his food with high-gravity
beers. Dinner patrons faced the equally daunting task of squaring
off with the night’s highly alcoholic beers.
The affair started with guest-mingling and appetizers of
calamari, crab cakes and smoked salmon crostinis. These choice
nibbles were paired with snifters of Avery’s hop hammer,
Hog Heaven, and the company’s winter beer, Old Jubilation.
There were also servings of Dogfish’s dreamily aromatic
60 Minute IPA and its heartier sibling, 90 Minute IPA.
The sit-down portion of the meal matched expertly prepared
food items with a pair of large beers from Avery and Dogfish
Head. A bowl of mussels and clams steamed in saffron-infused
cream was partnered with Dogfish’s Raison d’Etre
and Avery’s Salvation. A toothy Black Angus filet was
served alongside Dogfish’s deceptively strong Olde School
barley wine and Avery’s Belgian-inspired heavyweight,
The meal ended with a gooey chocolate lava cake and assorted
cheeses matched with Dogfish’s portlike elixir, World
Wide Stout, and Avery’s imposing Czar Imperial Stout.
By dinner’s end, guests had enjoyed their fill, with
some passing on finishing their beer portions. The over-the-top
beer, fine food and fellowship benefited from tasty repartee
from Calagione and Avery, who shared gonzo beer info and beer-blessed
anecdotes with their smiling fans.
The following afternoon, the fest’s public tasting
event got under way in a conference room beneath the Marriott.
The crowd included a few fresh-off-the-slopes guests (and
brewers) still in their ski bibs and snowboarding britches.
A few of Vail’s European visitors added a hint of international
flair to the crowd.
Attendees enjoyed their taster portions from a cute mini-snifter.
The beer list included high-strength offerings from Avery,
Dogfish Head, Stone Brewing, North Coast, Fuller’s,
La Chouffe and about 25 other U.S., U.K. and Belgian brewers.
Some of the surprises were served by Colorado brewers: Breckenridge
Brewery poured a double IPA (part of its new “471”
small-batch series) that gave hop-heads a reason to consider
Breckenridge’s beers again.
Various vintages of Lee’s Harvest Ale gave sippers
a chance to do vertical tastings of the brewery’s strong
ales, a heavenly selection that included a version aged in
Calvados barrels. During the tasting session, Calagione presented
an educational seminar on “Hops and Randalling,”
and Adam Avery schooled guests on the details of high-alcohol
Other pluses of the festival included a Friday night snowfall
that delivered fresh powder for those aiming to enjoy a few
runs down Vail’s mountains prior to the fest.
Unfortunately, the snowfall kept a few fest-goers at home
and led to a turnout smaller than Lodge and his skilled staff
expected. But there was nothing undersized about the quality
of the fest or its beers. Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines
delivered full-sized thrills for those who get their kicks
from the outer limits of craft beer. The fest returns next
year. For details, visit bigbeersfestival.com.
Marty Jones is a Denver freelance writer
and leader of Marty Jones & the Pork Boilin’ Poor
Boys, Colorado’s kings of bash-grass and drunky-tonk.
Got beer news from the Rocky Mountain region? Contact him