Discovering beer’s possibilities |

Discovering beer’s possibilities

Cassie Pence
Shane Macomber/Vail Daily Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware and one of the special guest brewers at the Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines festival, introduces "Randal the Enamel Animal," his invention that hops beer from the keg to the tap Saturday during the Hops and Randaling seminar.

LIONSHEAD – Hops, one of the main taste-altering ingredients in beer, is actually a cousin of cannabis, the plant whose buds are more commonly known as marijuana.At the Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines festival Saturday at the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort, varieties of hops were on display for attendees to touch and smell. The booth was one of many learning stations at the festival set up to expand people’s minds about the craft of beer brewing.”You’ll hear about hops, but no one has really seen them before,” said David Edgar, who was at the festival on behalf of the Hopunion to teach people about the ingredient. “Hops provide bitterness to beer and many other flavors, ranging from spicy, fruity, floral to herbal, depending on the hop variety.”

Hops also have a preservative quality and a slight sedative character, Edgar said. It used to be a popular remedy for insomnia. People would fill pillows full of hops.”This festival, and booths like this, open people’s eyes to the potential of what beers can be. If you are only drinking the major brands like Budweiser or Coors, you’re missing the rest of the picture,” said Edgar.Community of craftsmen

The beer brewing community is a friendly one. Every question about the trade is greeted with wide-eyed enthusiasm, especially at this festival, where the people pouring the beers are predominately the ones brewing it. They’re proud of their product and more than willing to gush about it.Even the most accomplished brewers were learning something new about beer-making, a craft that is definitely evolving.”I learned how to make a Randal, which I can do at home,” said Scott Jackson of Denver, who won the Braggot division in the Big Beers Homebrew Competition. Braggot is a style of beer fermented with raw honey.

Jackson attended the “Hops and Randaling” seminar, where Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware and one of the festival’s special-guest brewers, introduced his hop-infusing machine, “Randal the Enamel Animal.” Beer flows through the contraption, which is filled with whole leaf hops, from the keg and into the tap. The result is a stronger hop taste for hop heads. The device can be made with materials from stores like Home Depot.Tastes of the rainbowBrewers remind me of mad scientists, intense about experimentation and pushing the limits of beer. Beers featured at the festival ran the flavor gamut from fruity and floral to smooth and chocolatey to fire-breathing harsh, like Sam Adam’s Utopia at 48 proof. It tasted more like a cognac than beer.

“This isn’t your low-life beer festival. This is all your top of the line stuff,” said Steve DelGrosso of Fort Collins, who has been brewing beer at home for about 20 years. He was tasting the difference between vintages of J.W. Lees’ Harvest Ale.It was the sheer diversity in beer styles and flavors that was the biggest eye-opener of the festival. Who knew beer could have so many faces.”The U.S. used to be a laughing stock to the beer world, but now it is the greatest beer nation in the world. We’ve surpasses a lot of countries. We have way more variety of beers,” said Eric Wallace, president of Left Hand Brewing Company in Longmont.

Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 618, or, Colorado

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