Bigger But - More Importantly - Bolder
When 83 breweries show up to a festival bringing the biggest beers they make, you expect a lot of bourbon barrel-aged stouts, double IPAs and Belgian-style tripels. And, yes, there were plenty of each of those at Saturday's ninth annual Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines festival
But what really stuck out this year was not just how outrageously hoppy or malty the beverages gathered in the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort were, but how creative brewers have become in making beers of at least 7 percent alcohol by volume. And thus, the event served as a peek at what the future of beer might be.
"I think 20 years from now, we'll look back and recognize now as the point where the gloves came off and consumers really recognized what beer had to offer," said Dogfish Head maestro Sam Calagione, whose recent New Yorker profile
only helped to raise the visibility of big beers.
Standing out among all the giant American experimenters and ageless Belgian masters, for example, was Altitude Chophouse and Brewery
of Laramie, Wyo., a brewpub so small that it considered bottling but had to nix the idea because of cost concerns. Yet, it grabbed a lot of the talk at the festival with a Cayenne Cocoa Bock that creatively combined inky, chocolaty darkness with a late-breaking fleck of heat that served as a defibrillator for the tongue.
If it wasn't a peppery bock grabbing attention, then it was one of several Belgian pale ales that brewers were rolling out. Stone Brewing led the way with a Cali-Belgique IPA
, first released in August, that artfully blended hoppy floralness with Belgian esters to create something shockingly smooth. But Utah-based Uinta Brewing
and Belgium's La Chouffe
were among the others who also put their own versions on display, with the Belgian-made entry having significantly less of a hop characteristic.
Big, gutsy saisons also are making their imprint on a style that hasn't been as bold in the past. Several were on display in Vail, including a very sweet and drinkable Saison Rue from California-based The Bruery
, a beer that could become the boldest beer of the spring and summer seasons.
That said, it's not like the traditional big beers are going away. There were no less than 21 barleywines, 15 tripels, 11 double or imperial IPAs and six bourbon-barrel-aged beers on display. Tasting a hopped masterpiece like Flying Dog's Double Dog Double Pale Ale
reassures you the extreme beers that have been the focus of the past 10 years are still evolving art forms.
But now there are tastes for everyone, and more is still to come. At talks over the course of the day, apple and pear beers, huge coffee porters and new experiments with Brettanomyces were all mentioned and may not be far away.
Yes, there truly is a big beer for everyone at this point. Now the trick is finding the time to drink them all.
Labels: Altitude Chophouse and Brewery, Big Beers, Cambridge Brewing, Deschutes Brewing, Flying Dog, Russian River, Stone Brewing, The Bruery, Uinta Brewing