BEAVER CREEK — The unofficial start of summer in the mountains, Memorial Day weekend is a time to gather with friends and enjoy the warmer weather — when it decides to make an appearance. Even if a bit of snow makes an appearance (it has been known to happen), there’s plenty to do in Vail and Beaver Creek with two food-focused festivals taking place during the long weekend. While Feast! Vail focuses on a wide variety of culinary experiences featuring local and guest chefs and experts, Blues, Brews & BBQ at Beaver Creek highlights three things fundamental to an idyllic mountain weekend: music, beer and meat.
The hills around Beaver Creek will be alive with the sound of the blues on Saturday and Sunday with free, live performances by Chicago blues, swing and boogie specialists Erik Boas and the Constrictors, New Orleans star Mia Borders and Grammy Award winner Charlie Musselwhite. While the origin of the blues is unknown, the music is evocative and almost primal, much like barbecuing.
“When I think of the blues, I think of laid back and, at the same time, aggressive,” said Mia Borders, a New Orleans native who is known for her soulful voice and richly emotional songwriting. “You could look at barbecue that way as well. If it’s done properly, it should be both laid back and aggressive.”
“You can let the people know I want my barbecue with a little kick,” she added.
There will be live music throughout both days, starting at noon and ending around 6 p.m.
No barbecue event (or event of any kind, for that matter) is complete without beer. On Saturday, May 24, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., guests can sample more than 80 special concoctions from 30 Colorado-based breweries during the Microbrew Festival, one of the largest Colorado-exclusive tastings in the state.
“When we think of both beer and barbecue, good times and great friends come to mind. Both things symbolize people getting together, so the two naturally fit with one another,” said Katie Hill, marketing manager at Boulder-based Upslope Brewing Co. “Barbecue done right also takes a lot of time — people pass that time by hanging out and enjoying their favorite beers. Besides, you have to wash delicious barbecue down with something, so why not an ice cold, refreshing brew?”
There will be plenty of refreshing brews being poured during the weekend, both at the tasting event and from vendors in Beaver Creek Village. During the tasting event, Upslope will be pouring its barbecue favorites — Brown Ale (great for using in barbecue as well as drinking with barbecue) and Craft Lager — as well as the smoky and robust Foreign Stout.
Of course, one of the main draws of the weekend is the barbecue. With smokers and grills wafting a siren’s call to your sense of smell, there’s no mistaking what’s cooking in Beaver Creek during the weekend. Barbecue masters from around the state and around the country set up in the village, offering up samples and competing for $10,000 in cash prizes. Attendees have the opportunity to text in their vote for the People’s Choice Best Barbecue Vendor on Saturday and Sunday.
When it comes to crowning the best of the barbecue, judges look for three things.
“I look for appearance — does it look good?” explained BBQ Brad, also known as Brad Austin, who is a certified barbecue judge. “But I’ve tasted some ugly looking barbecue that tastes really good.”
First impressions do matter, he says. But if a sample is less than ideal on his first impression, then he’ll turn to the next two elements of judging: taste and texture.
“As for texture, ask yourself after the first bite: Was it tender, was it moist? Was there particulate matter from the cooker?” BBQ Brad continued.
After that, it’s a matter of taste, and sometimes first impressions can be deceiving.
“I’ve had some great-looking barbecue that tastes terrible,” he admitted.
In the end, finding great barbecue can take a few samples because just like dating, not everyone is going to like every sample they try.
“Go in with an open mind,” suggested BBQ Brad. “You have an opportunity to taste a lot of barbecue. If you find a good one, stay there and pig out, but you should really go around and graze.”
Other events during the Blues, Brews & BBQ Festival include barbecue culinary demonstrations, an amateur barbecue competition sponsored by Big Green Egg and the Cut and Slice Golf Event, which benefits Can Do Multiple Sclerosis.
It’s a packed weekend in the Vail Valley, so make a strategic plan to experience as much as humanly possible. Start the weekend in Vail with Small Plates, Big Valley Flavors, the kick-off event for Feast! Vail, which takes place Friday, May 23, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at The Sebastian in Vail Village. Pick and choose your events during the weekend, as both locales will be buzzing. Then work off the weekend’s indulgences by running in the Vail Valor Races or participating in the Cut and Slice Golf event in Beaver Creek.
It’s sure to be a memorable Memorial Day weekend in the mountains.