VAIL — Aside from the educational seminars, Brewmasters’ Dinners, food and beer pairings, and the charitable cause, there’s a really compelling reason to attend the commercial tasting at the Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines festival on Jan. 11 at the Vail Cascade: to sample that which you cannot have. Among the 375-plus big, Belgian-style and experimental beers that will be showcased, many are not distributed in Colorado, and this is a fantastic opportunity to taste the best of those out-of-reach products.
For the past few years, the most popular beers that you can’t find on Colorado shelves have been those poured at the Bell’s Brewery table. John Mallet, director of brewing and operations, will be on hand once again in 2014 pouring Hop Slam (Double IPA) and Bull in a China Shop (English Barleywine) among others. The ever popular Bell’s Two Hearted Ale will be poured in the Cascade lounge, for those needing a Two Hearted fix from Michigan.
Back to Big Beers after being on hiatus, Cambridge Brewing Co. is bringing special treats such as Cerise Cassee (Solera Aged American Sour) and Sgt. Pepper (Saison with Peppercorns) from Cambridge, Mass. Will Meyers, brewmaster for Cambridge, is also featured at the welcome reception with his Red God Imperial Red Ale.
New this year
New to the Big Beers Festival, Scott Vaccaro, founder-brewmaster of Captain Lawrence Brewing Co. in Elmsford, N.Y., is bringing a lot of unique barrel aged beers to the table, such as Golden Delicious, an Apple Brandy Barrel Aged American Tripel. Coming in as featured brewmaster for 2014 with Cam O’Connor from Deschutes, Vaccaro will also participate in the CraftBeer.com “Winter Seasonals by the Brewers Who Brew Them” seminar on the Friday evening.
Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project and Mystic Brewery will also be bringing special products from Massachusetts that you can’t find in Colorado. You’ll have to meet Jack D’Or at the Pretty Things table, and Powderhouse Wheat Wine promises to be an interesting adventure led by Bryan Greenhagen, owner-founder of Mystic Brewery.
Lexington Brewing Co. is coming out to Colorado and bringing contraband Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout this year, and Atwater Brewing Co. is bringing the likes of Voodoo Vator (Doppelbock) and Hop-A-Peel American IPA from Detroit, Mich.
Another popular “can you believe it?” treat from last year was Surly Brewing Co., with its Abrasive Double IPA and Darkness Russian Imperial Stout. Omar Ansari is coming once again from Surly, and he will also be presenting in the CraftBeer.com seminar on Friday.
From the southwest, Marble Brewing Co. will bring its 111 Farmhouse Ale (Saison) and Double White Strong Wit Bier from Albuquerque, N.M., and Karbach Brewing Brewmaster, Eric Warner, will bring Bourbon Barrel Hellfighter Imperial Porter and Rodeo Clown DIPA (Double IPA) from Houston.
These are but to list a few, and others are just arriving in Colorado. Perennial Artisan Ales, Mission Brewing Co., and Papago Brewing Co. will be bringing specialty wares as well.
Don’t forget, though, that the Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines festival is a prime opportunity for some of your favorite Colorado brewers to bring amazing creations from their cellars, too. Avery always brings the best of its cellar beers, such as Rumpkin and Uncle Jacob’s Stout. Great Divide will be bringing its Peach Grand Cru and Barrel Aged Grand Cru Cuvee, Syrah #1. And Crooked Stave brings treats not otherwise available as well. Just when you think you know what these breweries are creating, think again — there’s cool stuff out there that’s just been bottled or even made especially for Big Beers weekend.
Laura Lodge has been the coordinator for the Big Beers Festival since its inception in 2001, and is an avid fan of all things (and people) affiliated with the industry. A Vail Valley local for 20-plus years, she also loves our mountain community and lifestyle. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.