A decade of big beers in Vail
VAIL, Colorado – Brian Dunn made an easy decision 10 years ago. It’s worked out well for him.Dunn, the owner of Denver’s Great Divide brewery, was one of the first brewers invited to the very first Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines festival in 1999. He had a business relationship with High Point Brewing owners Bill and Laura Lodge, and knew about their dedication to big, interesting beer. Dunn is also an avid skier, and comes to Vail nearly every winter weekend.So supporting the brand-new festival – then at the old 8150 bar – was easy.Dunn has been to every Big Beers festival since, and has followed the event from 8150 to the Tap Room to the Vail Marriott, Manor Vail, and now, the Vail Cascade Resort & Spa.Dunn said he isn’t particularly surprised that the event has become such a hit – craft-beer festivals nationwide have become popular over the last decade. What Dunn finds interesting, though, is that this successful festival caters to a relatively small audience, people interested in beers with more oomph than most.It’s also become a popular stop for some European brewers, Laura Lodge said, coming the week before a barleywine festival in Alaska.And, while the festival draws locals and Front Range residents, Lodge said she fields calls from all around the country asking for information.Setting up seminarsLodge also gets calls from brewers who ask to hold seminars at the festival.Those seminars have become increasingly popular over the years. Sometimes, it gives Colorado residents a unique chance to sample beers that aren’t sold here. For instance, Bell’s Brewery of Kalamazoo, Mich., will send a representative to speak at the experimental brewing seminar.”To have people come to seminars and special events when they have no marketing reason to be here is pretty exciting,” Lodge said.Avery Brewing Co. owner Adam Avery said people interested in the technical side of brewing can learn a lot in the seminars.”There’s a lot more to it than how beers taste,” Avery said. “And typically you’ll taste beers in the seminars that aren’t at the commercial tasting.”Dunn said he’s hosted and attended seminars at previous events, and said they’re a good chance for both home brewers and professionals to talk shop. So is the tasting. In past years, a lot of the brewery owners were pouring all afternoon, Dunn said. Now, many of them have a chance to mix and mingle.Brewing something specialPeople mingling at the tasting will be able to sample some unique brews, too. Great Divide is one of several breweries bringing a beer brewed especially for the event – “Hades,” a Belgian-style strong ale aged in oak barrels.Great Divide is among several breweries that have started aging specialty beers in oak barrels, some of which once held wine or whiskey.Avery Brewing Co. of Boulder is bringing a handful of event-specific beers, too, including “Sui Generis,” a unique blend of beers aged in 10 different barrels, as well as a Flemish-style beer called “Brabant,” for the world’s biggest draft horses.Avery is another one of the breweries that have been at every Big Beers event – New Belgium of Fort Collins and Left Hand of Longmont are the others – and Avery said he plans to keep his company coming.”They want to get people behind big beers, and so do we,” Avery said.And, Dunn said, the interest in bigger beers is growing.”I think tastes are evolving from wheats and ambers to more challenging and different styles,” he said. “People are looking for new things.”Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or email@example.com.