This weekend’s Beaver Creek Wine & Spirits Festival is designed with connoisseurs of taste in mind. It won’t be hard to sip, savor and fill up your plate with a variety of flavors both familiar and unknown. Starting today and continuing until Sunday, the festival offers the best cuisine Beaver Creek has to offer, with plenty of events and opportunities to taste, try, learn, drink and eat. Cat Coughran, director of events and sponsorship for Beaver Creek Resort Company, said the festival is a chance to interact and mingle with some of the top local culinary masters.
“One of the things people like about (the festival) is that it’s very intimate,” Coughran said. “You have time to talk to the winemakers and the chefs and learn more about it.”
KICKING OFF WITH COCKTAILS
Just like the characters on “Mad Men,” the festival will start off today with a stiff drink. Held from 3 to 6 p.m. and sponsored by Maker’s Mark, Manhattans in the Mountains will focus on making and tasting the classic cocktail, which dates back to the 1870s. Behind the bar will be Ben Anderson, a world whisk(e)y specialist for Beam Suntory. Anderson said old-school cocktails like Manhattans are back in a big way, but achieving puckered perfection is harder than most people realize.
“Cocktails that might appear simple on paper with a limited amount of ingredients, there’s still an (art) to making them really well,” Anderson said.
Anderson said Manhattans in the Mountains is ideal for those who like the intensity and complexity of spirit-forward cocktails, which are more about enhancing the flavor of the liquor than hiding it. Although they can both be bitter and sour, just remember that like the places themselves, there’s quite a distance between a Manhattan and a Long Island Iced Tea.
UNEXPECTED FOOD AND WINE PAIRINGS
While many of today’s events are already sold out, some of Saturday’s events still have open slots, like Hooked on Sushi & Sake, which is a twist on your typical wine and food pairing. Riley Romanin, executive chef and owner of Hooked, will be showing people fresh ways to serve sushi with sake. Romanin said that like wine, sake has a diverse range. The more milled the grains of rice are, the higher quality of the sake. Sake can also range from sweet to dry.
“(The seminar) is a way to find out which type of sake you like and really see that there’s a whole other world out there when it comes to pairing food with sake,” Romanin said.
Another variation on the wine and food pairing tradition will be the Premium Port & Cheese Pairing, held by Premium Port’s Peter Scott and A Cheese Peddler’s Amy Combs. Combs said while all cheese has the same ingredients, it’s the bacteria and different cultures that distinguish one type of cheese from another. What’s interesting about cheese is how much environmental bacteria can affect the flavor.
“Cheese can be (made) the exact same way in two different places and taste completely different,” Combs said.
As the low-fat food trend fades away, cheese is crumbling for a comeback. Combs said like in other countries, she’s trying to get Americans to think of cheese as a dessert, hence the port pairing.
“Ports are very fruit forward and sweet so they complement cheese very well,” Combs said. “Port is a good challenge for cheese because they know how to stand up to each other well.”
PUTTING YOUR BEST FOOD FORWARD
Saturday’s main course will be the Walk Around Grand Tasting, held from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Restaurants in and around Beaver Creek will converge on the ice rink to showcase their delicious and daring creations. Romanin said the Grand Tasting is where chefs challenge themselves to come up with a dish others haven’t yet.
“For me, I like to compete against myself,” Romanin said. “I like to always test my skills and go out on a limb.”
David Gutowski, executive chef at Grouse Mountain Grill, said he’s focusing heavily on creating true Colorado cuisine.
“Food should have that sense of place,” Gutowski said. “If you’re in Colorado, you should be eating Colorado produce and Colorado proteins … The whole phrase ‘farm-to-table’ is pretty cliched now. We’re more interested in supporting people we believe in. We’re not getting a pig from (a local farm) just because it happens to be from here. We think it’s a really good pig.”
IDEAS FOR THE DINNER TABLE
Although one may not have decades of training in the kitchen, the Beaver Creek Wine & Spirits Festival can inspire even those who have trouble boiling water. Sheri Mintz is the executive director of the Bright Future Foundation, which the festival is benefiting this year. Mintz and her husband always attend the Grand Tasting, as well as other events during the festival.
“I don’t know if I would call myself a foodie, but I’m a passionate home cook,” Mintz said. “I always get inspired by going to these kind of events because the types of cuisine the chefs offer are so imaginative. I get so many ideas for my own cooking.”
Mintz said even if you dine out often, the chefs from local restaurants here always have a few surprises up their apron.
“(Some chefs) will put together ingredients that would never occur to me would blend so beautifully, but they always do,” Mintz said. “(The events) expose you to things you maybe wouldn’t normally choose on the menu, it just broadens your horizons. Then I go to the market on Saturday and try to re-create what I see myself. It’s a feeble attempt, but it’s fun trying.”
While Mintz is all about the food, her husband is more of a wine guy. Bonnie Vesey, wine buyer and manager of Market Wine & Spirits in Beaver Creek, has attended the festival since the very beginning. Vesey said this year, wine enthusiasts should keep their eye out for dry Provencal roses.
“I can’t think of anything better to drink in the summer than a dry rose from around the world, like France, Oregon, Spain, South Africa or Italy,” Vesey said.
If you like wine, spirits, entrees, desserts or hors d’oeuvres, the Beaver Creek Wine & Spirits Festival has them all, and even a few new types of food and drinks you’ve never tasted before. The difficult part might not be deciding what to try, but how to savor it all before your stomach forces you to stop.
“There’s going to be a lot of great food, so I would come hungry,” Coughran said.