I just spent a phenomenal weekend in Vail. Phenomenal for the picturesque vistas and accessible hot tubs. Phenomenal for the 20-30 degree difference in air temperature from Denver’s unusually warm fall. Most importantly, phenomenal for the company of craft beer lovers and brewers.
Vail Cascade Resorts has been hosting a series of unique beer events called “Sip, Savor, Brew” aimed at taking the craft beer experience and making it a far more intimate and meaningful affair. Between Friday evening and late Saturday night I had the opportunity to talk with, pick the brains of, and taste products from the brewmasters of three local breweries – West Flanders, Bootstrap Brewing, and Denver Beer Company. I have piles of notes and photos from the weekend which will be distilled and shared over the coming weeks, but I wanted to share how amazing this type of event was and why I think our local craft beer scene needs more of them.
Small and unique.
Craft beer is hot right now and money frequently follows attention. Every week there are enough beer-centric events in our fair state to make your head spin. Ask any brewery in town and they will tell you about how they are constantly hit up for keg donations for some event that they have never heard of – kegs that will ultimately be profited from by event organizers. So we have to ask: What is the point of a beer festival/event? To you and I, it may be as simple as “something to do” on a Saturday afternoon. Or maybe it is to raise cash for a cause or awareness to a celebration or anniversary. Even more broadly – an opportunity to get drunk at a somewhat discounted rate. Let’s not forget about the opportunity to taste brews that are not commonly available or to just have a huge selection of beer in one place. All good and fine, but it’s very easy to get burned out. What about those of us who are looking for something deeper?
Sip, Savor, Brew stripped most of that away and brought the focus of a craft beer event back to the craft beer. And, more importantly, the people behind it. Our event was only populated by maybe 12 people for most of the weekend, and that included the craft brewers who were present. This environment led to discussions about the beer and the brewing process, as well as the stories that make up the people behind the beers – from failed brews and festival disasters to raising kids or taking peyote.
Massive Information from those who made the information.
The event was attended by Charlie Berger of Denver Beer Company, Brian Lutz of West Flanders, Steve & Leslie Kaczeus of Bootstrap Brewing, and John Carlson of the Colorado Brewer’s Guild. When it comes to hosting discussions about beer, brewing, the craft beer industry, or the culture surrounding it, I’m not sure you could have asked for a better lineup. While the event did have seminars scheduled, they never quite had that feel. The small group meant questions could be fielded and answered in a number of ways by a number of people. Suddenly, you’re learning things that no book has been able to accurately capture, stuff that no blog writer could ever hope to put into words or video.
It will never get “too big.”
Every festival hits a peak – a certain point when it is more of a chore to attend, or the ticket prices are too much, or the crowds are too much to handle, or it gets partially sponsored by Samsung. Not here. According to Vail Cascade’s beer program coordinator Laura Lodge, this event will likely top out at 20-25 people. After a weekend with that many people, you remember everyone’s name. This was the kind of event that you want to keep secret so that there will always be space for when you go back, but at the same time it is so unique you can’t help but tell everyone about it.
A focused investment and attention.
I don’t mind frequenting Denver Beer Company in the non-peak hours (Tuesdays at 8 AM. Kidding, mostly). Now that I know more about their beer-making process, I’ll have a deeper understanding and appreciation of the beer I’m buying. I’m now really interested in visiting and supporting Bootstrap Brewing – a brewery that, until now, was only on the edges of the Wagon’s radar. Lutz showed us how massively various Belgians can be, making me even more curious about West Flanders and more emboldened to brave the Pearl Street Mall in order to visit it. All information and motivations I probably wouldn’t have developed in a traditional festival setting. As a result I’m more than just a committed customer – I’m a fan, I’m an acolyte, I’m a part of your community because you weren’t afraid to take the time to talk with me.
Large festivals are not going away anytime soon. Hell, we’ve got Oktoberfest right around the corner. We’ve got Great American Beer Festival right after that. Both are about getting a lot of people together to have a good time and support a culture and an industry that touches the livelihood and well-being of so many people. At the same time, it’s important to not get caught up in the wildly extroverted event and remember that there is something deeper at play here. Sip, Savor, Brew reveals that. I certainly hope that it serves as a model for future evolutions of beer events.