Friday, January 09, 2009

Preview: Big Beers Festival

If the Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival does not necessarily resemble the Great American Beer Festival, in which you could trip, fall over and find yourself at a place to try yet another new beer, it's only because it can't match it in sheer size.

But if the ninth annual festival, which began last night in Vail and will go tonight and all day tomorrow, has an advantage, it is this: Everything you try here is going to be fantastic. And some of it may redefine your perceptions of beer.

Last year, the event featured 73 beers from throughout Colorado, America and Europe. The ones that define big beers are there, of course: Dogfish Head, Avery, The Lost Abbey. But there aren't many festivals that give you a chance also to sip a Thomas Hardy Ale, choose between several Urthel selections and get that can't-find-it-anywhere-in-Colorado guest star (which this year is Flying Fish Brewery of New Jersey).

A few tips if you go:
*The main session runs from 1 to 7 p.m. Saturday, but if you miss the 10 a.m. experimental brewers seminar, you've missed the heart of the show. First of all, what would you rather be doing than drinking big beer at 10 a.m. on a Saturday? Second, it gives you a chance to peer inside the minds of the men and women who crafted the product in the glass in front of you, something you can't do at more sterile festivals where you wait in lines to have volunteers pour for you.
*Engage the brewers or distributors at the booths. Not only is it interesting, but you just might find a gem they don't have on display. Last year, we tried a 23-year-old Foghorn barleywine from Anchor Brewing (fascinating, though slightly beyond its prime) and a yet-to-be-released Flanders Red from a brewery that will remain unnamed but knows how much it's appreciated.
*Julia Herz of the Brewers Association does an excellent food-beer pairing seminar in mid-day Saturday (this year it's on cheese). Not only is this a chance to develop your beer palate, trust me when I say that you'll need to step away from six hours of big beers at some point to eat.

And say hello to me if you see me up there. I can't wait.


Take some good notes and report what you saw. I'll be missing out on this once again. Too many things going on including brewing this weekend.
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