Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival
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Vail Daily
Scott N. Miller

A Decade of Big Beers in Vail

beer tasting
Brewers from all over the United States
and several European countries will bring
some of their “biggest” beers to the 10th
annual Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines
festival Jan. 9 at the Vail Cascade
Resort & Spa.
Daily file photo

beer enthusiasts

In this file photo from the 2007 event,
beer enthusiasts Kevin Murphy, left,
and Gary Brown, both from Colorado Springs,
sport beer-bottle costumes while sampling
beers during the Big Beers, Belgians &
Barleywines Festival in Vail. This year's
event will feature the annual homebrew competition, of course, but several
brewers have cooked up special beers
just for the festival's 10th birthday.
Daily file photo

Don't drive!
• If you buy a ticket to the Big Beers festival,
you can get a voucher for a free ride on
the ECO Transit bus system. Vouchers to
the festival are available at any American
National Bank location in the valley,
and vouchers for your ride home are
available at the event.

• High Mountain Taxi will provide half off
rides home from 4 to 8 p.m.

VAIL, Colorado — Brian Dunn made an easy decision 10 years ago. It's worked out well for him.

Dunn, the owner of Denver's Great Divide brewery, was one of the first brewers invited to the very first Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines festival in 1999. He had a business relationship with High Point Brewing owners Bill and Laura Lodge, and knew about their dedication to big, interesting beer. Dunn is also an avid skier, and comes to Vail nearly every winter weekend.

So supporting the brand-new festival — then at the old 8150 bar — was easy.

Dunn has been to every Big Beers festival since, and has followed the event from 8150 to the Tap Room to the Vail Marriott, Manor Vail, and now, the Vail Cascade Resort & Spa.

Dunn said he isn't particularly surprised that the event has become such a hit — craft-beer festivals nationwide have become popular over the last decade. What Dunn finds interesting, though, is that this successful festival caters to a relatively small audience, people interested in beers with more oomph than most.

It's also become a popular stop for some European brewers, Laura Lodge said, coming the week before a barleywine festival in Alaska.

And, while the festival draws locals and Front Range residents, Lodge said she fields calls from all around the country asking for information.

Setting up seminars

Lodge also gets calls from brewers who ask to hold seminars at the festival.

Those seminars have become increasingly popular over the years. Sometimes, it gives Colorado residents a unique chance to sample beers that aren't sold here. For instance, Bell's Brewery of Kalamazoo, Mich., will send a representative to speak at the experimental brewing seminar.

“To have people come to seminars and special events when they have no marketing reason to be here is pretty exciting,” Lodge said.

Avery Brewing Co. owner Adam Avery said people interested in the technical side of brewing can learn a lot in the seminars.

“There's a lot more to it than how beers taste,” Avery said. “And typically you'll taste beers in the seminars that aren't at the commercial tasting.”

Dunn said he's hosted and attended seminars at previous events, and said they're a good chance for both home brewers and professionals to talk shop.

So is the tasting. In past years, a lot of the brewery owners were pouring all afternoon, Dunn said. Now, many of them have a chance to mix and mingle.

Brewing something special

People mingling at the tasting will be able to sample some unique brews, too.

Great Divide is one of several breweries bringing a beer brewed especially for the event — “Hades,” a Belgian-style strong ale aged in oak barrels.

Great Divide is among several breweries that have started aging specialty beers in oak barrels, some of which once held wine or whiskey.

Avery Brewing Co. of Boulder is bringing a handful of event-specific beers, too, including “Sui Generis,” a unique blend of beers aged in 10 different barrels, as well as a Flemish-style beer called “Brabant,” for the world's biggest draft horses.

Avery is another one of the breweries that have been at every Big Beers event — New Belgium of Fort Collins and Left Hand of Longmont are the others — and Avery said he plans to keep his company coming.

“They want to get people behind big beers, and so do we,” Avery said.

And, Dunn said, the interest in bigger beers is growing.

“I think tastes are evolving from wheats and ambers to more challenging and different styles,” he said. “People are looking for new things.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or


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