Little town, big beer festival |

Little town, big beer festival

Krista Driscollkdriscoll@vaildaily.comVAIL CO, Colorado
HL Gore Range brewmaster KA 1-2-12

VAIL – It’s coming.Whispers waft on the breeze like the pungent aroma of a hop flower crushed between fingers, murmurings of malted this and barley that, anticipation building as the day draws ever nearer.And then it’s here. The annual Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Festival alights in Vail on Thursday, bringing with it taste sensations from across the country, frothy, ambrosial gifts from breweries large and small.Forget Christmas – this is the most wonderful time of the year. And the Vail Valley’s three craft breweries are gearing up for the big event.Happy anniversaryTwo years ago, a little brewery called Crazy Mountain opened in Edwards. Now, in the midst of a $4 million expansion, owners Kevin and Marisa Selvy are celebrating the anniversary and success of their brainchild at the Big Beers Festival, the event that started it all two years ago.”It’s kind of a big deal for us because a couple of years ago, that’s where we introduced ourselves and first poured beer for the public,” said Kevin Selvy, Crazy Mountain’s brewer. Selvy said he would bring a handful of his brews to the Big Beers Festival, each special in its own right, starting with Lawyers, Guns and Money, Crazy Mountain’s anniversary barleywine.”We’re also bringing a beer that we brewed for my and Marisa’s wedding called Matrimony Ale,” Selvy said. “And we’re bringing Old Soul, which is a strong Belgian golden ale, which is a beer that we took there the first time we introduced ourselves.”Rounding out the list is Crazy Mountain’s Hookiebobb IPA, which Selvy said is a crowd-pleaser.”We do kind of a cool thing with a French press,” Selvy said. “We soak whole-leaf hops in with the IPA.”The result is an extra slap of hoppy goodness, which elevates the aroma and adds another layer to the beer. Selvy said the Big Beers Festival is a celebration for everyone involved in Crazy Mountain’s brewing process.”This is, in my mind, one of, if not the best beer festival in the country because everyone takes it really seriously,” Selvy said. “You have brewers and owners from across the country that actually show up. For this festival, they get people from the breweries themselves instead of just sales reps. “If you’re going to make it to one festival, definitely make it to this one.”New kids on the blockIn the past month, Bonfire Brewing’s Tebrew has become a media darling, but there’s much more to this beer than its clever handle. It was initially conceived specifically to fit the parameters of the Big Beers Festival. The ‘brew will be making a rare appearance outside of the brewery tasting room in Eagle as one of two styles of suds being poured by the local outfit at Saturday’s Commercial Tasting.Andy Jessen, of Bonfire Brewing, said Tebrew is the most expensive beer the brewery has attempted thus far. To start with, Jessen said Tebrew consumes 800 pounds of grain for a 175-gallon batch, and then it needs its beauty sleep.”You have to age it for a very long time,” Jessen said. “This one was aged almost three months before we put it on tap.”At the outset in September, a hop farm gave Bonfire fresh Chinook hops, which were used as a filter bed for the beer as it brewed. The final result is a ruby-red colored, 10 percent alcohol by volume American barleywine, very malty with a citrus taste to it, Jessen said.”It was a nerve-wracking beer to make because of the cost and we’ve never made one before, so it was rewarding to have it come out as good as it did,” Jessen said.Bonfire also will pour its Dark Dog India Black Ale.”Most people refer to it as black IPA,” Jessen said. “It’s a strong IPA that’s got some roasted malt in it that gives it a darker color; crystal, black, chocolate and victory malts, and it’s one of our hoppiest beers.”The 2012 Big Beers Festival will mark the inaugural appearance by Bonfire Brewing, which opened Nov. 16, 2010, thus missing the cutoff for registration for the 2011 festival.”We’re just happy that Vail has an event like this,” Jessen said. “(We’re) hoping to see more things in the area pop up like this. We’re looking forward to people coming to the area and stopping by the tap room and getting to talk to them.”Here we go againGore Range Brewery in Edwards isn’t new to the craft-beer scene – it’s just returned from a short hiatus. Under new ownership, the brewery started cranking on its new beer repertoire in October and was able to concoct a last-minute entry into the Big Beers Festival.”It’s a rye IPA, and it’s coming in about 8 percent ABV,” said Jeremy Pluck, brewer at Gore Range. “It’s kind of a complex beer.”Pluck said the rye malt gives the beer some spiciness and a reddish hue, coupled with a lot of hops.”I tried some rye beers and I kind of thought doing a strong IPA would be fun and interesting,” he said. “I did some experimentations with rye on a small scale to get an idea of what that grain contributes, playing around with ideas, and formulated this recipe.”The culmination of Pluck’s experiments is Ryetous, a rye IPA with a fair amount of complexity that’s fitting for the wintertime, Pluck said, and even he hasn’t gotten to try it yet.”I’m looking forward to seeing how it comes out, too,” he said.For Pluck, the Big Beers Festival offers a chance to see the creativity of the other brewers and what’s going on in the craft-brew industry.”This is kind of a great venue to concentrate on a lot of unusual styles and concepts that people are coming up with,” Pluck said. “It’s great to have that event so close to home and to see how it’s grown. … For beer geeks, it’s kind of like heaven.”

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