The biggest brew-fest in the land |

The biggest brew-fest in the land

Erik Vienneau

If there is a perfect place to host a beer festival, it has to be Colorado. The state consistently ranks top in the nation in beer production per capita and second in the number of breweries. There are more than 100 breweries statewide, each with its own style and flare, while Denver currently brews more beer than any other city in America.Any Colorado brewery worth its weight in hops and barley is bringing their beer to Beaver Creek’s 10th annual Blues, Brews and BBQ Festival this weekend (May 29-30). It’s the biggest beer-only fest in the state, and guests can talk with more than 40 Colorado brewers who pour more than 100 ales, lagers and stouts on Saturday 1 – 5 p.m., at the Park Hyatt to the sounds of Little Hercules. The action on Beaver Creek Plaza continues throughout the weekend as the flavors of southern BBQ, free food demos from Bon Appetit Magazine and the blues tunes of Cephas & Wiggins, Joe Bonamassa and Duke Robillard fill the air.Most Colorado beer drinkers have added a craft beer from festival presenters including Easy Street Wheat, 90 Shilling or Avalanche to classic options like Coors to their drinking menu in the past few years. It seems, those who believed the micro-brew trend, which popped onto the scene in the early 90s, was a fad seem to have been proven wrong.While the nation has seen the alcho-pop trend, including products like Smirnoff Ice and clear malt-brews like Zima go the way of Milli Vanilli, interest in micro-brews (a.k.a. craft beers) has continued to rise. Overall national beer sales may have dropped a half-percent last year, but the strong craft brewing segment rose by 3.4 percent.Colorado craft brewers may make hundreds of great tasting beers that are enjoying major-market success, but don’t have the deep advertising pockets found at the beer industry’s mass producers like Bud and Coors. For regional brewers like Odell, Breckenridge and Left Hand, which are all offering tastes at the festival this weekend, the cheapest way to advertise their beer is to give it away at festivals like Blues & Brews.”There is no way we can match dollars per case on advertising like a Budweiser spends so we innovate by going to festivals to meet with consumers one on one,” says Elis Owens, Director of quality control for Flying Dog Brewery, who is bringing samples of their new summer brew “Heller Hound” to this weekend’s party. “The real advantage of these festivals is the chance for consumers to taste many well-crafted beers, from all over the state in one location.”Besides a chance to get a relatively cheap buzz within the four-hour Saturday tasting event (Saturday’s tasting ticket goes for $40), Blues & Brews is an opportunity to get an education on Colorado’s finest micro brew beers.”Brewers are the most passionate group of people around,” says Cindy Jones, director of the Association of Brewers. “They are the best spokespeople for what they make, you just can’t do any better than to have the guy who makes the beer there pouring it and able to explain it you.”Unlike the Taste of Vail, which requires wine companies to send the wine-makers, not a sales rep to the event, the Blues and Brews committee doesn’t force breweries to send the brewer. Luckily, they simply can’t resist coming.”As brewers, this festival is one of the best organized we’ve seen,” says Odell Brewery’s owner and brew master Doug Odell, who will be pouring tastes of the company’s hard to find barley wine “Curmudgeon’s Nip,” along with classics including 90 Shilling and Easy Street Wheat. He hasn’t missed many Blues and Brews Festivals through the last ten years, but he says craft brewers like himself are aging, having families and having to pick and choose which of the dozens of beer festivals they can attend in person.”In the beginning brewers wanted to go to every festival,” Odell says regarding the booming early 90s when micro brews and their festivals were in their infancy. “Now there are so many events, we have to more select.” he attributes the popularity of the Beaver Creek festival, which attracts the most Colorado brewers of any event in the state, to the type of festival goers the event attracts. “These people have a higher appreciation for the craft,” he says.Breckenridge Brewery’s Todd Usry, who is bringing both, Hefe Proper, and Summer Bright Ale to the festival, says the Beaver Creek festival is his favorite in the state. “The accommodations aren’t too shabby,” he laughs explaining that this is his annual chance to catch up with the finest brewers in Colorado in a beautiful mountain setting. “I know a lot of brewers who bring their whole family to this event. It just seems to attract a much more sophisticated drinker and has a relaxed, accessible vibe.”The level of sophistication of many Colorado micro-brew drinkers has been on a steady increase since the early 90s according to Odell. “Before craft brews took off, people weren’t saying ‘what food should I pair my Pabst Blue Ribbon or Coors with,'” he laughs. “Now, with such a huge variety of beers, there is so much opportunity for pairing.” One of Odell’s favorite match ups is his Cut Throat Porter with chocolate desserts or Creme Brulle.Opportunities for mixing beer and food abound in Beaver Creek both Saturday and Sunday as Bon Appetit presents three free culinary demonstrations, while some of the finest barbecue chefs from Kansas City and local chefs offer mouth-watering BBQ treats for purchase. Individual tickets for the Micro Brewery Beer Tasting are priced at $35 per person in advance and $40 on the day of the event. For a schedule of events, call (970) 845-9090 or visit For tickets call the Park Hyatt at 949-1234.

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