Thursday, January 15, 2015
It was hard - really hard - to find a bad beer at the Big Beers Belgians & Barleywines Festival in Vail last weekend. Whether it was the slew of barrel-aged stouts, the profusion of tart but not overdone sours or the exciting number of beers that were brewing extremely well with spices, experimentation was alive and well.
But with the advantage of a few days to simmer on the multitude of flavors, a few beers rose to the top of the well-sipped heap at this wonderful event. And these are beers that will be worth looking for all year long - if some of these rarities can even be found.
Altitude Chophouse's Your Royal Chai-Ness
Year in and year out, this small Wyoming brewery brings something that makes you look - and return to their booth - twice. But it exceeded all of its past performances this year with what may have been the best beer of the festival, a chai-infused dunkelweizen that was so mellow in body and so sharply spicy in taste that it resembled a beer-y ginger soda.
Dry Dock Whiskey-barrel Aged Double Hazelnut Brown Ale
No brewery made the statement that malty beers are back quite so well as these Aurora auteurs, who offered up four dark, double barrel-aged beers. Easily the best, however, was this one, presenting a taste that was sweet and creamy and also vanilla and nutty, with the barrel standing out more than the whiskey did.
Goose Island Proprietary Blend
Bourbon County Stout is an awfully well-made beer. But this take on it, which added coconut water and simple syrup, made it not only more complex but dangerously drinkable for something this big.
Casey Brewing & Blending Saison
Troy Casey (seen here pouring for some clever beer writer) brought a lot of impressively bold farmhouse ales re-fermented with fruit like grapes and peaches. But at a festival of big beers, nothing was so palate-catching as his "simple" Saison - a concoction that was oak-barrel aged and wickedly sharp without being acidic.
AC Golden Dark Kriek
It was good to see that Casey left his former brewery in good hands, however. This blend of a golden sour and burgundy sour featured sharp, sharp cherry and a slight grape taste.
Former Future Brewing Black Project #2 - Jumpseat
Completing the dream sour/tart trio was this spectacularly tart spontaneously fermented ale that offered a taste of green apple on top of what could only be described as a gose-like beer made in a Belgian, rather than German, tradition.
Papago Brewing Coconut Joe
The star of Friday night's excellent Papago/Brouwerij Van Steenberge traditional brewmasters' dinner was this surprisingly sessionable (5.5% ABV) but roasty-sweet coconut coffee stout that paired spectacularly well with spiced peanut caramel apples (as the Beer Geekette ably demonstrates here).
Copper Kettle Brewing Mexican Chocolate Stout
This beer is way too well-known to call it a find anymore. But the reason it makes this list is that in a festival where high-gravity, experimentally spiced stouts had a bigger presence than ever, none packed the spicy/cinnamon/taste-bud-jolting punch of this emerging Colorado classic.