How the Big Beers Festival Kicked My Ass

 As ashamed as I am to admit it, this was my first visit to Vail despite being a Colorado native.  This picturesque mountain town offered the perfect getaway after a hectic work week.   We arrived on Friday night with plenty of time to spare before the Cigar Pairing event at 10pm, so we took in the town for a while.  With six inches of (much needed) fresh powder falling, the mountain air lulled me into believing that it would be a peaceful night leading up to the Big Beers Festival tasting Saturday afternoon.  I could not have been more wrong.

The night began when we headed down to the Fireside Lounge in the Vail Cascade where they had five taps running and live music.  A quick glance around at any point during the festival would yield a who’s who of the craft beer world.  We also ran into Andy Causey of Downslope Distilling.  This fine gentleman, who happened to be dressed in a t-shirt and overalls, led us up to his room for a tasting of their Double-Diamond Whiskey and Wine Barrel Aged Rum.  Upon returning to the Fireside Lounge we had a few more pints of aptly named Big Beers.  Yes, the bartender was pouring full pints of such beers as Firestone Walker Parabola, Alaskan Barley Wine, Bristol Old No. 23, Boulevard Harvest Dance, and more.  As if this already wasn’t enough to completely wreck my liver, we had one more thing on the agenda that night – a Beer & Cigar Pairing on the Cascade patio.

Now I will not claim to know anything at all about cigars, but Paul Gatza (Director of the Brewers Association) and the representative from Altadis had me salivating at their descriptions of the ideal cigar and beer pairing.   Now this is about the time that my night started to get a little fuzzy… but I do remember three things from their talk.

  1. Cigars pair well with beer; they do not pair well with wine
  2. When drinking a bigger beer choose a more robust cigar
  3. Moderna cigars are robust

I know, I know none of those are revolutionary concepts, but they proved true throughout the night.  Under the advice of Jess Hunter I chose a Romeo y Julieta Moderna and headed straight for the Left Hand Widdershins, given my love for barleywines.  I may have also grabbed a Courage Russian Imperial Stout and a Great Divide Claymore, but who’s counting?  After wasting upwards of 10 matches to light my cigar on account of the wind (I swear it was the wind), we were off and running.  The next few hours were spent drinking, smoking, and conversing with the rest of the Wagon crew and the guys from FreshCraft (who are awesome).  Just about the time I was ready to dump my cigar into the ash tray I heard from Jim that they were pouring 2005 Beast Grand Cru in the tasting room.  In hindsight, I can’t say that drinking half a bottle of this 14.9% ABV beer was a good idea… but that beer is fucking fantastic.

{Large blank period in my memory}

The next thing I distinctly remember is PJ asking Ryan Conklin of Euclid Hall if he was sleeping naked.  The next realization that occurred was that Conk’s possibly naked body was no more than 12 inches from me (we Wagon writers are poor and needed to double up on beds).  My immediate response before Conk muttered a word was “I hope not!”.  Turns out it was a false alarm and he was not, in fact, naked.  Supposedly this happened at about 7am (when I should have been getting up since I was supposed to help with set-up at 8am).  I won’t go into detail about the rest of the morning, but let me just say that I didn’t leave the hotel room until 2pm.  When I finally arrived at the Big Beers Festival tasting I was greeted by a well-deserved slow clap.  Slowly, and surely, I was able to rally with the help of my Wagon friends.

I learned one very important lesson from this trip… one that I hope the rest of you will heed:

RESPECT THE BIG BEERS!

About Sean Buchan


Sean is a Physical Therapist and Photographer living in (and loving) Denver, Colorado. He enjoys shooting just about anything but his true passion is capturing the craft beer culture here in Denver. If you enjoy his photographs check out Beertographer.