How Big Beers, Belgians, and Barleywines kicked all of our asses

I like ‘em big, hairy, hot, bold, and boozy–my beers, at least.  (One could hypothesize a correlation between my taste in men and beer—no comment.)  Since dipping my toe–and subsequent rabbit-hole-plunging–into the craft beer world, I’ve always lusted after a ticket to Big Beers, Belgians, and Barleywines.  Thanks to the lovely folks at Denver off the Wagon and our good friend Jesse Doerffel of Ritz-Carlton Denver, I was afforded the opportunity.  And I got my ass kicked. In a good way (see Sean’s post on example of a bad way of ass-kickage).

Friday night, we all piled into our vehicles after a pit stop at Star Bar (surprising, I know).  I’d been looking forward to this all week, and it didn’t help my excitement when I got the text from my good friend Ryan Conklin of Euclid Hall saying “Everyone’s waiting for DOTW.” I knew it was destined to be a great weekend with fine beers and even finer friends.

After quickly dropping our bags in the hotel room, we rushed over to Vail Cascade where the festivities commenced.  Pints of Firestone Walker ParabolaAlaskan Barley WineBristol Old No. 23Boulevard Harvest Dance, and more.  It was great to see Aaron, Adam and Jon of FreshCraft.  And they hung out with us goofballs. Read the description of our Friday night festivities up until Saturday morning at 1:12am (when Sean Buchan’s blackout began).  Past 1:12am, there were glasses of Shmaltz’s HeBrew 15:15 being passed around, other barleywines, and other random drunken conversations. Bedtime at 4:00am. Girls stayed in the girls’ room and the boys separated to the boys’ room.

Alarm goes off at 7:00am.  We have set-up at 8:00am.  Dear God, where is the bacon?  We hear Conk’s laugh from the other side of the wall (again, see Sean’s description of Conk’s nakedness).  The beer cobwebs were too heavy for us to form a constructive thought, so we pulled on clothes and headed down to Vail Cascade, yet again, to help set up for the festival.  (I want to send a quiet thanks to my egg and bacon breakfast sandwich, 2 bottles of Gatorade, my double shot of espresso, and seeing the lovely Ellen from Hellie Mae’s Caramels for adding loveliness to the morning.)

Set-up went as hung-over set-ups do: carrying around stuff, meticulously twisting wires, and all with Hall & Oates Pandora station blaring in the back pocket.  And another bottle of Gatorade.  Once it came to noon, it was time to grab some quick food, and settle into the Pairing Palate Trips pairing session, led by the illustrious Steven Pauwels, Brewmaster of Boulevard Brewing Company, and Julia Herz, Publisher of CraftBeer.com and the Brewers Association Craft Beer Program Director.  Allagash White, Boulevard Brewing’s Double Wide IPA, Boulevard Long Strange Tripel, Avery Brewing’s Kaiser, Odell Brewing’s Friek lined our placemats.  Cheese curds, bread, strawberries, peppers, and blue cheese lined our plates.  And our taste buds danced between the pH spectrum of food and beer.  While Julia Herz might have been concerned about the quiet group of 40 (albeit, hungover 40), we had a blast.

And onto the commercial tasting.  If you’ve been to the beer fest, then you know the feeling.  Awesome people, awesome beers, funny stories, and everyone bathes in the hot, smelly stench that is a beer hall.  It’s all part of it.  This is also one of the only brewfests where the servers are the brewers/owners.  Here are some of my favorite beers:

  • Bell’s Black Note Stout (fuck yes.)
  • Lost Abbey’s Cuvee de Tomme
  • Grimm Brother’s Brett-Aged Bock
  • Sierra Nevada’s 2003 Bigfoot (and 2004. And 2005. And 2006. And 2007—you get the picture)
  • Crooked Stave’s Chardonnay Barrel-Aged Good Glory and WWBG
  • The Bruery’s Partridge in a Pear Tree
  • Surly Brewing’s Five and Darkness
  • Firestone Walker’s Fourteenth and Fifteenth Anniversary side by side
  • Crazy Mountain’s Lawyers, Guns, and Money
  • Three Barrel Brewing’s Chimayo
  • Bristol’s 2009 Barleywine
  • Avery’s sour series (obviously) and having Meph Addict and Rumpkin on tap, side-by-side
  • Dogfish Head’s 120 Minute
  • Redstone Meadery’s Hoppy the Terroir

New use of the French Press. Hoppy time.

And so many more.

See what else we liked below.  And promise yourself to make it up to Big Beers, Belgians, and Barleywines.  And don’t follow in Sean Buchan’s shoes.

Sean Buchan

Here’s my Top 5 beers from Big Beers Festival:

  1. Surly 5 – Easily, the most unique beer I tasted throughout the entire festival.  Plus, the head brewer has a bad-ass tattoo of their logo on his forearm.
  2. Firestone Walker Sacuba – I don’t keep it a secret that barleywines are my favorite style, and this was the best of the bunch.
  3. Bells Brewery Cherry Stout – This could be an example of that whole “I can’t get it here” thing, but I absolutely loved this beer.
  4. Crooked Stave Chardonnay Barrel Good Glory – Crisp, light, and got me past my post-hangover alcohol aversion (Thanks PJ!)
  5. Three Barrel Sours – Yes, all of them.  Bringing 6 sours to a beer fest is an ambitious move, but when they’re this good I say hell yeah.

Bess Dougherty

So it is safe to say that Big beers Belgians & Barleywines was stupid fun. This festival seriously rivals GABF as my favorite. It is so small and intimate [insert your mom joke here]. The people pouring your beer are actually employees of the breweries who know about the beer and can tell you about it.  How cool is that?   As with most festivals my favorite part is all of the lovely people I get to see.  Don’t get me wrong the beers were superb but I love seeing some homies.

To be quite honest I think my favorite part of the weekend was getting to experience snowfall in the mountains which was a first for me. Good golly it was gorgeous! The Epic giggle fest of Saturday morning was magical.  Also the Saturday afternoon cuddle puddle in the hotel bar while watching the snow fall was just special.  I feel that there was just to much splendindness! Cigars, beer, whiskey & amazing people = fucking win. My advice for the folks, if you have not gone to Big Beers in the past make sure you put it high on your priorities for next year because boy howdy it was a hoot!  Also Chuck T’s are NOT appropriate foot wear for late night sledding.

Josh Rapp

This was my first time at the Vail Big Beers, Belgians, and Barleywines Festival but it is already one of my favorites.  The crowd there was not too large but still busy and everyone was a big beer nerd.  Most of the brewers showed up to represent their breweries and they brought out all of the weirdest stuff they had to offer.  The highlights of the festival for me were the Brettanomyces Boch from Grimm Brothers Brewhouse and the Partridge in a Pear Tree from The Bruery.  Grimm Brothers always impresses me and if any of the personnel from there are reading this: please, please, please come to Denver!!  I had never had the first beer from The Bruery’s Christmas vertical lineup but it still had an amazing pear flavor and aroma and a nice heavy bodacious body that I really wish I had in my cellar.  Vail is a fun town to hang out in even though good beer is non-existent outside the festival.  Pizza, Karaoke and sledding mostly make up for it though so don’t miss next year’s festival!

About Jess Hunter


Jess is a lady and a scholar. If she's not mulling over the various names of famous mustaches and their respective bitter cocktails, she's nibbling on American Craft Singles and Cantillon. Connect with her by email at jesshunter@denveroffthewagon.com.