By Steve Graham
The brewery and beer lineup for the Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines fest will warm up a person like a giant fireplace at the base of Breck’s Peak 9.
The festival, which is crazy popular among brewers and beer aficionados, is set for Jan. 4-6 at Beaver Run Resort in Breckenridge.
Tickets were still available this week.
Considered one of the nation’s best winter festivals, even Colorado’s biggest brewers are apt to be humbled by the beers, breweries and surroundings – especially since some snow started falling on the Rockies.
Expect to see breweries such as Fremont Brewing, WeldWerks Brewing, The Rare Barrel and Jester King pouring sought-after beers that are sometimes hard to find.
The complete pour list can be found here -->>.
“Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines is an incredible gathering of some of the country's most celebrated craft brewers,” said Alex Kayne of Odell Brewing Co. “Odell is proud to be among such great company. With a backdrop like Breckenridge in January, and a top-notch beer lineup, it really captures the Colorado spirit.”
Big Beers founder Laura Lodge is proud the festival can maintain such intimacy while also drawing international A-listers of the brewing world.
“It’s still very small compared to any other beer festival that I know of,” said Lodge, who has organized the festival for each of its 18 years. “We want to plan an event that brewers are really happy to come to.”
Even after expanding and moving from Vail to Breckenridge, the festival is still intentionally small — perhaps frustratingly so for some brewers. There was a waiting list of 40 breweries for last year’s event.
The result is an experience very different from the Great American Beer Fest or other larger events.
“It’s so tiny but the fact that it is that tiny gives each of the attendees a different kind of opportunity to interact with the brewers,” she said. “This is a chance for them to really find their favorite brewers and ask them all the questions they want to ask.”
As its alliterative name suggests, Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines focuses on full-flavored and high-octane beers. To be considered for the commercial tasting or homebrew contests, beers must be Belgian, experimental or pack at least 7 percent ABV — or, ideally, some combination of the above.
“The brewers are really digging into their cellars and their specialty supply to show off to other brewers,” Lodge said.
She started the festival 18 years ago as a trade show for his brother’s beer distribution business. At the time, craft beer wasn’t even a common phrase, and Fat Tire was about the most exotic offering at many fine bars.
“People had no idea beer could be sold like wine,” said Lodge. She said even high-end restaurants and liquor stores were unfamiliar with specialty beer styles and imported brews.
She decided to open the trade show to the public and focus on those big beers that were in their own world of flavor. The first show had only one seminar — Adam Avery hosted a vertical tasting of his namesake brewery’s Hog Heaven imperial red IPA.
Eighteen years later, it has grown to several competitions and 13 seminars, including a yoga session, a cigar pairing and sensory beer-tasting workshops.
The festival also attracts dozens of affiliate events all weekend throughout Breckenridge.
The owners of Dry Dock Brewing in Aurora have been involved since before they owned a brewery. Their sister company, the Brew Hut homebrewing shop, is a longtime sponsor of the homebrew competition.
Dry Dock co-owner Michelle Reding said she is looking forward to heading up to Breckenridge again this January.
“Big Beers is one of our favorite festivals of the year,” she said. “Personally, it is a festival full of my favorite styles of beer, especially the barrel aged beers.”