“As a whole, brewers are people who are interested in the finer things in life, whether it be food or travel or something else,” said John Carlson, Director of the Colorado Brewers Guild. “They’re flavorful folks.”
The festival is the baby of Bill Lodge, owner of High Point Brewing and beer aficionado. With the blessings of beer lovers across the state, the fledgling festival has turned into a gem of an event, drawing people from near and far. The event features more than 75 “weird beers” made by hoppy artisans from around the world – self professed beer geeks and proud of it.
“Many brewers are coming with their beers, if they can,” said Lodge. “But since so many of them are brewed internationally, they might be brought by the brewery’s Colorado representative.”
What makes the festival successful is the caliber of beers that are poured during the four-hour tasting. Brewers don’t mind breaking out their secret stashes, as they consider the event’s attendees to be their beer peers.
“This festival is really special,” said Adam Avery of Avery Brewing in Boulder. “Other festivals like to promote the number one selling brand. … Even the people who show up just to drink a lot of beer are amazed at how much they learn about it. The people who participate – their passion is brewing.”
Word to the wise: go easy on the tasting. There’s culture and history to be learned about each brew, which can be lost in a drinking buzz. By definition, big beers have a higher specific gravity, which is how brewers measure the amount of alcohol in a beer. The minimum acceptable alcohol level in a big beer is 7.5 percent… and many brewers are over achievers. Last year the Boston Beer Company brought their Utopias, which weighs in at a hefty 24 percent.
Beer, beer and more beer
Avery is bringing four types of brews: Czar (a Russian Imperial Stout new this season), Salvation (a Belgian Golden new last February), Reverend (a Belgian Quadrupel) and Hog Heaven (a barleywine). He only sells cases of bombers, not measly 12-ouncers, taking to heart bigger is better. Avery made a batch of his Czar for the most profound of all reasons – he felt like it. A recent veteran of ACL surgery, he’s been drinking quite a bit of it for its higher alcohol content, the same reason it was popular in the Russian Court. The brew was made by the English for the Russians, and it had to be high in alcohol to withstand the arduous journey between the two lands. Avery’s Reverend is also a potent brew; he’s been known to offer the advice, “Enjoy the Reverend, but make sure he doesn’t preach you a sermon in the morning.”
Redstone Meadery is also coming; it’s one of two professional meaderies in Colorado, and the only one with a draft mead. Mead was the forerunner to beer, and is made with honey.
“Four or five thousand years back, men would drink honey wine, or mead, during the lunar cycle for good luck in trying to make a baby boy,” explained David Myers of Redstone. “If the baby wasn’t a boy, it was the mead-maker’s fault.”
Chimay, a Trappist monastery that produces beer, will be pouring dark brews, too. According to Carlson, there are only six Trappist monasteries that produce beers in the traditional way, and five of them are in Belgium.
“The tradition originated in the Middle Ages, and was revived in the mid-1800s, after the Napoleonic era,” he said.
In addition to the tasting, two seminars are offered. They fill up quickly, so consider your forewarned. The first will be more of a broad overview on the characteristics of Belgian brews. The second seminar will pair fine beers with fine cheeses.
“Some people believe that cheese goes with beer even better than some wines,” said Lodge. “We’ll put strong ales and Belgian goldens with a goat cheese, some roquefort, and other cheeses.”
Lodge and a handful of friends and family have been arduously researching the pairings during the past few months, coming up with the perfect combinations. Many brewery’s Web sites make recommendations about cheese pairings.
The homebrew competition takes place the night before the commercial tasting at the Marriott at 7:30 p.m. New last year, it’s American Homebrew Association-approved.
“This is the third year, so the buzz about it spreads,” said Carlson. “I think we’re probably going to see more interest in the homebrew competition – a kind of snowball effect.”
Carlson began brewing his own beer back when Belgians and meads weren’t commercially available. Since the 1990s, that’s been changing. But he still loves brewing, as does John Landreman.
Landreman took the Best of Show prize last year for his Kriek, a sub-category of Lambick, a Belgian beer originally made by spontaneous fermentation.
“In one area of Belgium, they open up the windows and let the wild yeast come in and blow over the brew,” he explained. “I had some beer with the same yeast and bacteria, and started from there.”
That yeast is similar to a sourdough starter, in that as long as you feed it, it continues to grow. You don’t just use it all up. He began brewing 20 years ago, after he’d been a drinker of beer for quite some time.
“In the beginning it was easy, because I didn’t know what I was doing,” he said, laughing. “Then as I learned more, it got more complicated.”
He says the more you learn, the more you can appreciate it. Some of the beers he’s bringing have taken a couple of years to ferment. He says for most beers you can simply test the specific gravity and know when it’s ready to be bottled. For Lambicks, there’s a little more guess work involved.
“You just wait a long time, and hope for the best,” he said.
Those uninterested in waiting a year or more to taste their own brew can attend Saturday’s tasting at The Tap Room and Sanctuary in Vail Village. Tickets are $20, and the proceeds will benefit the Vail Valley Charitable Fund. Each attendee will receive a tasting glass and booklet describing the multitude of beers. For more information call High Point Brewing at
Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.