Big Beers Brings it Big Time

By The Thirst Colorado Team

Meeting the expectations of beer makers and drinkers from near and far, the Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Festival also brought snow to Breckenridge over the weekend.

Well, maybe the festival shouldn’t get all of the credit, but for a few minutes, the powder dropping from the sky actually overshadowed the incredible public tasting on Jan. 6.

The Jan. 4-6 festival was more than just a tasting event in which the public gets to try some of the best, most innovative beers in the nation. It gives Colorado brewers and owners a chance to attend seminars, food pairings and other events with industry leaders across the U.S. to learn about the latest techniques. 

The public tasting event is where grown men and women were seen running to specific breweries after being admitted to the tasting area. And don’t get in their way!

The primary reason for its popularity – other than it takes place high in the Rockies during ski season - is that most of the beers that are brought to the festival are more complex, rare brews that take longer to produce. Whereas some ales can be prepared in less than a month, Russian imperial stouts and barleywines might be aged for a year or more before drinking.

Producing great base beer is a start. But acquiring barrels, aging beer and shipping to the event is a true investment of time that the brewers take very seriously.

Certainly, industry folks such as Avery Brewing Co.’s chief barrel herder, Andy Parker, want to impress their peers with exquisite offerings. However, beer is big business and the barreling expert spends much of his time making sure that roughly 3,000 barrels of Avery beer are done properly to meet the taste profiles the public demands. 

Parker conducted one of the Big Beers seminars on barrel aging and offered participants samples of beers that came out tasty:  Apricot Sour and Ginger Sour. He also offered up a beer that in-house tasting experts tossed because the flavor profile was slightly off. And on the far end of the spectrum was a sour that one attendee described as tasting like apple cider vinegar. That beer was also dumped, Parker assured the crowd.

Another seminar, The Science of Paring with Spicy Foods, served as an informational treat. 

Dr. Nicole Garneau is a taste scientist who has founded several of her own food and tasting ventures, including DraughtLab. She was eager to point out that while many beer connoisseurs view IPAs and spicy food as an ideal pairing, they do not scientifically pair well together. She went on to explain that although the two do not scientifically pair on paper, there is no right or wrong way to pair food and beer. It’s all a matter of personal taste, she noted.

For chef Jensen Cummings, founder of Brewed Food in Denver, the goal is to “melt the lines between science and artistry.” 

Cummings served on a panel for a seminar titled Good Bugs, in which experts shared ideas on producing various forms of what are commonly referred to as sour beers. Yeast and brett (brettanomyces) are common ingredients used for flavoring sours. However, Troy Casey, of Casey Brewing and Blending in Glenwood Springs, pointed out that the barreling (large vs. shallow) and timing are also important.

Several brewery owners mentioned that they were working with Metro State University of Denver to test yeast and other ingredients. With any luck, the tests will help bring about the next great beer served at the Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Festival in 2019. And maybe it will bring snow again.