Finding my inner ale drinker | VailDaily.com

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Finding my inner ale drinker

Friends toast during the 15th annual Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines festival in Vail on Saturday. Requirements for the festival were that each beer must either be of a Belgian style or have an ABV level of 7 percent or above.

VAIL — Porters, stouts, lambic ales, wheatwine, double IPAs. To most people at the Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Festival in Vail last weekend, that list sounds like their dream beer-cation itinerary. To non-beer drinkers like me, it sounds like gibberish.

That's right. I don't like beer. I've met about two or three beers that I wanted more than one sip of. I even went to that beer paradise, the Czech Republic, and sampled all sorts of beer, including straight from the brewery at Pilsen, and the most memorable part for everyone was watching my face scrunch up every time I took a cautious sip.

I'm certainly not the only one who feels that way, but then again people who feel that way normally don't attend the biggest big beer festival in Vail and commit their afternoon to sampling brews from around the world.

The great experiment

In the end, I thought I gave everything a fair shake. I decided most sours tasted like I was drinking a liquid Warhead, although I did find a few more delicate ones that I liked.

I started out wandering the massive hall at the Commercial Tasting and giving things a try. My strategy was to be completely honest, instead of pretending to know what I was talking about, like journalists often do.

"Sacrebleu! An invader!" I'm sure they all thought as I admitted I was really more of a wine drinker.

Actually, the reactions were varied.

"So I don't like beer," I'd say emphatically when a brewery representative would ask me what I wanted to taste. "What do you recommend?"

I'd say about half of the brewers gave me a blank stare that bordered on baffled and slightly offended.

Others offered me the lightest brew they had, usually an amber ale. However, others would ask me what kind of flavors I liked and try to come up with something along those lines.

In this fashion, I actually found a few really cool beers that were very unlike anything I'd ever tried.

Avery Brewing from Boulder offered me a vanilla porter that was delicious, and I enjoyed sipping on another ale of theirs that tasted like hazelnuts, mocha and toffee (although at ABVs upwards of 18 percent, I didn't last more than a few sips).

Pretty soon, other attendees heard about the weirdo who didn't drink beer, and I got all sorts of recommendations from people of what I should try.

Perhaps the best part was that my honesty brought honesty back. Some beer representatives actually admitted they didn't like something they were pouring, and they'd also really go in-depth about why they did like a particular beer. It made me feel a little less uncouth for furrowing my brow over a sour that someone claimed, "tasted like balsamic vinegar." On the other hand, listening to their comments gave me a better appreciation for the beers they recommended.

In the end, I thought I gave everything a fair shake. I decided most sours tasted like I was drinking a liquid Warhead, although I did find a few more delicate ones that I liked. I wasn't too big of a fan of barleywines, which are aged in whiskey barrels, as the liquor-beer combination didn't sit well on my palate.

The winners

I still prefer a good glass of wine, but the day was a success in that I found a few beers I truly would drink.

The winners of the day included:

Atwater's vanilla porter: Smooth, creamy, pleasantly sweet. I found myself sipping on long after I'd walked away from the booth.

Dry Dock's Double Hazelnut Brown Ale: As the brewers said, this one is "aged in whiskey barrels with added hazelnut, which creates its earthy, nutty complexity and caramel, toffee-forward aroma." I thought it was yummy.

Lindemans Cuvee Rene: This Belgian beer was technically a sour, but I liked the cidery, bubbly quality of it.

Powder Keg's Lettre Rouge: This barrel-aged sour ale was infused with hibiscus and orange rind. Before you write this one off as a typical girly, non-beer-drinker beer, know that multiple other beer aficionados raved about this one.

Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and at mwong@vaildaily.com. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.