Tuesday, January 02, 2018

7 New Things Coming This Year to Big Beers Festival

No change that Laura and Bill Lodge will make to the Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Festival will be bigger than last year's move of the event from Vail to Breckenridge after 17 years in its original home city. But that doesn't mean the resettled festival will stop trying to find new ways to entertain its crowds during its second year in its new home.

With one of Colorado's best celebrations of yeast and hops just two days away (the first events begin on Jan. 4, while the commercial tasting is set for Jan. 6), it's worth taking a look at what will be different about the festival this year. And it's worth reiterating that if this all sounds good, tickets for the main event remain available.

1) The Falling Rock Lounge
One of the biggest aspects that was missing from the event last year was the central gathering spot, a role that the Fireside Lounge in the old Vail Cascade Resort filled for years. Festival organizers, in conjunction with Denver's oldest beer bar, are changing that in 2018.

The "Pop-Up Falling Rock" will be a temporary bar with a Chris Black-curated beer list that will occupy the open space near the arcade and the hot tubs on the second floor of the host Beaver Run Resort & Conference Center. Hotel officials will pile soft furniture in that space and signs around the resort will direct people there, making it likely this will be the spot to relax when seminars and the main tasting are not in progress.

2) Bigger Seminars
Last year, afternoon seminars were held in adjoining spaces that held just 35 people each, leaving some people unable even to sniff topics like how to brew with exotic fruit and vegetables.

This year, the Lodges will combine those two rooms into one seminar area and double the space, while moving some of the other talks to the Base 9 Bar on the bottom floor. There will be four seminars at 12:05 p.m. and another four at 1:15 p.m. And one of the defining characteristics of the event - being able to learn more about beer throughout the day in talks that feature a fair amount of tasting as well - will be open to more attendees.

3) A Wider Range of Seminars
Saturday morning's schedule begins at 9:30 a.m. with a talk on the timely and controversial topic of New England IPAs from a panel that includes Colorado's best makers of the style, including Neil Fisher of Weldwerks and Lee Cleghorn of Outer Range Brewing. But while that's sure to attract beer geeks by the kettle-ful, Laura Lodge promises other choices that will welcome people of all interests.

If you want to learn to pair beer with spicy foods, there's a seminar for that. If you want to enjoy a beer while doing yoga on Saturday morning, there's an opportunity for that. And if you really want to work with random strangers to try to pair four beers and four foods, there's a different break-out session that features that too.

"I think sometimes people think Big Beers is for people who are just in the industry or super-savvy," she said. "I think the novice can learn as well."

4) An App for Festival Planning
Festival organizers are working with Digital Pout, which has created an app to help people find where breweries are on the floor plan, what they're pouring - and when a beer runs out. Thus, if you're one of those folks who wants to spend much of your 3-1/2-hour tasting looking for rare and aged beers, you can map out beforehand where they are and know when you should redirect your adventures in mid-festival.

5) A New Entry for Attendees
One of the bugs of the first year at Beaver Run was the bottleneck of VIP and regular-ticket attendees backed up at the same entrance point on the third floor, leading to a slowdown getting in and to complaints from brewers on the first floor that it took a long time for many attendees to find them. This year, the early crowd will go in at 2 on the first floor and the later crowd goes in at 2:30 on the third floor, leading to less congestion and more spreading of entrants across the tasting space.

6) New Breweries ...
Laura Lodge recalls getting a call from experimental brewer Cellarmaker Brewing of San Francisco last year asking if they could come and pour their beer at the 2018 festival. Within 15 minutes, she got a follow-up call The Rare Barrel, an equally sought-after Berkeley brewery, inquiring whether it too could come and pour.

"We're starting to see some really cool, innovative folks who may not have experienced Big Beers before but want to be here now," she said. Expect this trend to continue and grow.

7) ... And More Breweries
After opening the festival to 140 breweries last year, Big Beers will welcome around 150 this year. The increase isn't terribly impressive, but the way that number is growing is.

With a waiting list of dozens of participants, Lodge told brewers they were welcome to share their table if they wanted with some of those breweries waiting in the wings. She expects at least 10 to do so, creating both a growth in the number of breweries on the floor and the partnerships between those beer makers.

"I believe it's the true spirit of craft beer," she said.

And that's one more reason this festival can't be missed.

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