Big Beers fest enters 15th year of giving | VailDaily.com

Big Beers fest enters 15th year of giving

Melanie Wong
mwong@vaildaily.com

Volunteers pour one of the beers for an experimental brewing seminar attendees at the Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival. The 15th annual event benefits the Vail Valley Charitable Fund, which financially supports local community members struggling with a medical crisis.

VAIL — This weekend, beer aficionados have been guzzling craft brews from around the world for a good cause — and some of them might not even know it.

The 15th annual Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Festival, held at the Vail Cascade through Saturday night, serves two purposes — to display nearly 200 unique beers from craft brewers hailing from everywhere from Colorado to Belgium, and to benefit the event's home community through the Vail Valley Charitable Fund.

The beer festival has officially supported the Charitable Fund with its proceeds ever since the event began, said event coordinator Laura Lodge, even in the beginning years when the festival didn't turn a profit. At this year's event, the Cascade Room will feature donated kegs from participating breweries, selling for $5 per glass or $10 for a large bottle, with all the proceeds going to the Charitable Fund.

"The charitable element is very important to us," Lodge said. "We wanted an organization that was local. We have roots here and wanted to benefit the community that has been so good to us."

“The festival is a neat combination of our community, the craft beer community and a venue for people to talk about what they are passionate about.”
Laura Lodge
Event coordinator of Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Festival

Those proceeds all go toward the nonprofit Vail Valley Charitable Fund to help them give financial support to local families and individuals who are facing a medical crisis. The beer festival's contribution to the fund varies each year, but Lodge said in recent years, they've been pleased to be able to give more than $5,000 each year.

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In partnership, the Charitable Fund provides a number of volunteers to work the event. You'll see them at the retail table, or running the coat check.

"To have a 15-year partnership is extraordinary," said Vail Valley Charitable Fund Executive Director Michelle Maloney. "It's an event that is a great time and a good byproduct in that it does some good for the community."

Back to the community

When it comes to helping a local cause, it doesn't get much more local than the Charitable Fund. Annually, they give out 50 to 60 grants of up to $5,000 each. To date in its 17 years, the Charitable Fund has given out about $7 million in grants.

Brett Gagnon's family was one recent recipient of a Charitable Fund grant. Gagnon and his wife, Brooke, are longtime valley locals who were always involved in their community. Over the years, both have volunteered their time and services to a number of local causes, but last year they were the ones in need of help.

The family had their second child, a boy named Wells, on May 17, 2013. When Wells was born, he was diagnosed with a serious heart condition that required Flight for Life to Denver and emergency surgery. The family returned home with Wells, only to end up in the neonatal unit again a few weeks later. Wells had come down with a fever and a racing heart. They were rushed to Denver via ambulance, plane, helicopter and taxi, where doctors said Wells had contracted a viral infection.

He eventually returned home, but was on oxygen for six months. Meanwhile, their 3-year-old daughter, Sobrie, was diagnosed with an unrelated heart condition that would also require surgery. She's scheduled for her operation this summer.

Both children are expected to make full recoveries and return to health, but soon the medical expenses were catching up with the Gagnons.

"Financially, we ended up with several helicopter trips, five ambulance rides and 15 days of unexpected hotel stays," said Brett Gagnon, who is a golf pro and heads up the adaptive ski program at Beaver Creek. "On top of that, there were times we couldn't work. What got us was that completely unforeseen aspect."

Brett Gagnon said he plans to give back to the fund in the future.

"It was a special moment when we found that our application was granted with the VVCF," he said. "It took a big load off our family's shoulders when we received the benefit."

Beer for a cause

So while festival-goers will be coming for the beer, Lodge said the Charitable Fund's cause is an easy one to rally around.

"Craft breweries tend to be very connected with their community and often live in the community that the brewery is in, so they appreciate us supporting our roots and growing our community," Lodge said. "At the same time, they like to show their peers what they do and what they're proud of. The festival is a neat combination of our community, the craft beer community and a venue for people to talk about what they are passionate about."

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

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