Further definition of ‘big beers’
VAIL – When beer grows too big for its mug, the beverage must be released – into a snifter.At the fifth annual Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines festival, instead of mugs as in years past, attendees will taste the more than 125 beers on tap out of a 6-ounce snifter.”A snifter allows your nose to get up, close and personal to the beer and really enjoy the aromatics of these beers. Some of them are quite extraordinary. You’re going to taste malt, coffee, toffee, rum and things of that nature. If you were to drink these out of a plastic cup, it just wouldn’t do it justice,” said John Carlson, executive director of Colorado Brewers Guild.The change in glassware is not only a nod to the big beers, which in Belgium each style of beer receives its own glass, but it’s symbolic of the festival’s growth and expanding notoriety. Representatives from over 30 breweries are attending in person to pour their big beers. “We are coming into our own, and the festival is taking off in a specialty direction that everyone is recognizing and that is awesome,” said Laura Lodge, festival coordinator. She and her brother Bill, founder of the festival, own and operate High Point Brewing, a beer distribution company out of Gypsum.The festival pushes beer education and introduction, and pouring beers into the appropriate glassware is just the frothy head on the top of the learning beer. No “daily” beers, like Budweiser or Corona, will be poured at this festival. The Lodges intent is to steer people toward styles of beer that, unless you’re a “beer geek,” you’ve probably never tasted or even heard about.
“One of the problems we have in this country is the American public is a product of consumer marketing. Unless they know or understand something, they tend to be very close-minded, and they go with what they know,” said Bill Lodge. “The reason why we think this festival is so important is because there are so many styles of beer out there that people have never heard of, so they’re not going to go to the store and look for it. We want to push people to learn about all these different styles of beer.”For the first two hours of the commercial pouring Saturday, attendees can only taste each beer once. Beer mugs in the margin of the festival’s program, one of the educational elements of the event, will be checked as you drink. So instead of just standing at the Sam Adams table tasting Utopias all day, attendees are urged to walk around and learn a little bit.”It forces people not to settle into the beers they know and love. They have to try some other beers,” said Bill Lodge.Laura Lodge spent a lot of time creating the comprehensive program to give festival-goers a learning tool they can take home with them to help recall the beers they tasted and liked or didn’t like. The program lists each beer at the festival with a brief description of the beer’s flavor profiles.Two industry trendsettersSam Calagione, founder and president of Dogfish Head brewery in Milton, Delaware, and Adam Avery, owner and founder of Avery Brewing Company in Boulder, are the special guest brewers conducting seminars during the commercial tasting. The beer pioneers will speak on two of the biggest trends sweeping the specialty beer world: randaling and high alcohol brewing. Seminars are on a first-come, first-serve basis, and with only 35 seats, availability goes quickly. Festival-goers can sign up to attend seminars as they enter the festival.
“The most exciting breweries in the world right now are the small breweries in America. Events like this allow us to show off what we’re good at, which is pushing the envelope on diversity, pushing the envelope on nontraditional ingredients and pushing the envelope on alcohol content,” said Calagione, who’s past batches of World Wide Stout have hovered between 18 and 23 percent alcohol. Dogfish and Sam Adams have gone back and forth in the last seven years of taking the honor of brewing the world’s strongest beer.At 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Calagione and Avery will host a seminar discussing the nuances of high alcohol brewing. High alcohol brewing is difficult because yeast strains die as you hit higher levels of alcohol. And because there is no distilling in beer brewing, like there is when making gin or vodka, brewers must reintroduce yeast multiple times during the brewing process.”This festival is about teaching people that beers don’t have to be 4 to 5 percent alcohol. There are tons of different flavors with a lot more alcohol, beers more like wine, more like port and more like bourbon or whiskey,” said Avery. “A lot of people who drink micro beers think they are drinking big when they are drinking Fat Tire or Sierra Nevada. This festival is taking it to the next step because those micro beer drinkers didn’t know that beer could taste so good with a 10 percent alcohol.”Cellaring not just for wine anymoreMove over wine, some beers taste better with age, too. Beers with more alcohol have bolder flavor, but they are also conducive to cellaring – which is why many breweries are attempting to produce beers with more alcohol. One of the festival’s education focal points will be tasting beers that have matured in the bottle.”Some of the beers we’ll serve at the festival will have multiple vintages so you can try different ages side by side. You’ll be able to see how the characteristics of the beer change between vintages,” said Bill Lodge. He said as the beer ages you’ll notice sweeter characteristics, like oak, raison and plum flavors. Flavors that might remind you of cognac or sherry.
Calagione said beers between 7 and 10 percent will age for at least a year, but might start going downhill from there, but beer over 12 percent alcohol will age better with each year .”If you brew a hoppy beer and lay it down for a year, the hops will mellow out and basically in time, the flavor components of the beer will mesh together,” said Calagione.For those who love hopsWithin the last year or so, brewers have invented a way to dry hop beer right from the keg on the way to the tap, giving the beer a floral fresh taste. The process is called randaling, and at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Avery and Calagione will discuss it in full detail.”It’s a phenomena sweeping the nation. Basically we at Dogfish devised a machine, “Randal the Enamel Animal,” that we fill with whole-leaf hops and as the beer leaves the keg and goes to the tap, the beer flows through the whole leaf hops and the alcohol in the beer acts as a solvent and strips the oils off of the hop leaves,” said Calagione.Calagione calls the machine the Enamel Animal because when you have hop beers, he said it feels like the enamel is being scraped off your teeth a little bit.
“It’s hopping on the spot,” said Bill Lodge. “Falling Rock Tap House in Denver has a randal that they use. We wanted to feature it and hear about it from the pioneers in the industry that are doing it.””Randaling is adding a bit more fun to the beer drinking experience,” said Avery.There’s more to learn about beer than wine connoisseurs can shake a stick at. The people at Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines festival plan to reveal some of the beverage’s mystique Saturday from 2-7 p.m. at the Marriott Mountain Resort in Lionshead for the commercial tasting. The Home-brew Competition is Friday, which is open to the public, but it’s not an interactive event. Over 40 amateurs have submitted entries. Tickets for the tasting are $22 in advance (sold at the Vail Valley’s major liquor stores) and $25 at the door. For more information, log on to the festival Web site at http://www.BigBeersFestival.com.Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 618, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado