Local breweries pouring something special at 19th annual Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Festival in Breckenridge
Special to the Daily
Can’t make it to the festival?
Bonfire Brewing will have its bourbon barrel-aged 10W-80 imperial stout, Pow Chicka Wow Wow hazy double IPA and Thunder Kitten sour available at its taproom in Eagle starting this weekend. Vail Brewing Company currently has its Face Shot white IPA and Empyreal Belgian strong pale ale on tap and will be releasing a limited run of 100 bottles of its Eden golden ale with Colorado blue sage on Friday, Jan. 18.
In the nearly two decades since its founding in Vail, the Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Festival has grown to include a homebrew competition, brewmasters’ dinners, workshops, seminars and a slew of affiliate events, but the most anticipated function of the weekend continues to be the Commercial Tasting.
The festival celebrates its third year in its new home at Beaver Run Resort & Conference Center in Breckenridge this weekend, and this year’s Commercial Tasting on Saturday will boast a lineup of more than 500 beers poured by more than 135 breweries and importers from around the world.
“There’s so many different things happening, so many different beers that are going on there, whether they are Belgians or blends or barrel aged or high strength,” said Garrett Scahill, owner and brewer at Vail Brewing Co. “It’s just fun because you don’t get that at a normal, run-of-the-mill beer festival.”
The rules for Big Beers are slightly more stringent than most festivals: A beer must be 7 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) or higher, be Belgian in style and/or be experimental in nature to be poured at the Commercial Tasting. Scahill chose a trio that fit the bill.
“We did a collaboration with Angry James over in Silverthorne, a Belgian golden strong ale, and it comes in about 10.5 percent (ABV),” Scahill said. “We decided to take the majority of our portion of the brew, and we barrel aged it in a red wine French oak barrel, with hand-picked Colorado blue sage from right here in Eagle County.”
The beer hung out in the barrel with the sage for about three months, soaking up wine notes and oak. The result was an almost wine hybrid, Scahill said, which VBC named Eden. Angry James will also be pouring the original collaboration beer, dubbed Two Monks and a Gnome, for those who want to compare the two.
VBC’s other two tasting options include Empyreal, an amber-hued, 9 percent ABV Belgian strong pale ale hopped with Eldorado, Mosaic and Southern Passion; and its Face Shot white IPA, which was brewed with a blend of two yeast strains, Pilsen malt and wheat, dry-hopped with Citra and Mosaic and comes in at 7 percent ABV.
“It’s got a nice, soft, pillowy mouthfeel that finishes dry and a light bitterness, with slight notes of that hefeweizen style,” Scahill said of the Face Shot.
Bonfire Brewing’s three selections will be featured at The Yoga of Brewing seminar on Saturday morning, as well as the Commercial Tasting on Saturday afternoon. The first, Pow Chicka Wow Wow, is an 8 percent ABV hazy New England-style double IPA.
“The hops make it more unique: a combination of Simcoe, Azacca and Motueka,” said Zack Kaplan, head brewer at Bonfire. “Azacca is very citrusy and can be tropical fruit forward. Those hops are grown in the Pacific Northwest and are newer in the last five years or so.”
“Motueka is from New Zealand, one of the more fruit forward hops, with cool notes like vanilla, green apple, tropical fruit. We wanted to showcase some different, slightly more exiting varietals and make a combination that I haven’t done before.”
Also on tap for Bonfire are its 10W-80 imperial stout aged in Breckenridge Bourbon barrels, with Color Coffee, cacao nibs and vanilla, coming in at around 9.5 percent ABV; and the 5.5 percent ABV Thunder Kitten, a golden sour aged in a combination of whiskey and wine barrels with blueberry and mango.
Meet the maker
The tasting notes for all of the options found at this year’s Big Beers Commercial Tasting fill more than 70 pages of the festival program, and unlike many beer festivals, which are staffed by brewery sales reps or volunteers, Big Beers draws the brewers, assistant brewers and production personnel who craft the beers that are being poured.
“You end up getting some of the coolest people in the industry … It’s more geek-centric, adventurous and unique,” Kaplan said. “You get face time with other brewers and brewery representatives, plus you get to go snowboarding before the festival and really enjoy Breckenridge and what it has to offer, as well.”
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