Tuesday, January 15, 2013

2013 Big Beers continued

2013 Big Beers FestivalThe first day was fun, but Saturday at the 2013 Big Beers Festival was great. After a sleepy morning, crawling out to the shuttle bus at -17°F was a frosty experience. After a short 5 minute ride to the Vail Cascade it was time for some seminars. There were around 6 different seminars scheduled between 10:00am and 5:00pm and those who got in line with reserved tickets were in luck. The rest of us had standing room only.

Experimental Brewing Seminar: Smoke

I managed to get into three seminars. The first being an Experimental Brewing Seminar entitled: "Smoke" which featured three speakers: "Ray Daniels (Cicerone Program), Ro Guenzel (Left Hand Brewing) and Geoff Larson (Alaskan Brewing). Those with seats were treated to 8 different smoked beers including a vertical tasting of Alaskan Smoked Porter (2000, 2008 & 2012), Left Hand's Fade to Black Volume II and Smokejumper Smoked Imperial Porter, as well as some imported German smoked beers from Bamberg - a Marzen and an Oak Smoked brew. There were also some smoked malts to smell and taste.

Big Beers Smoke Seminar Smoked Beer Tasting Smoked Beer Seminar

Some tidbits of info from this seminar: Smoked beers aged 3-4 years have some sherry, currant, raisin and toffee components. Smoked beers aged 5-7 years see a re-emergence of the smokey character to the fore front. And smoked beers aged 8-12 years realize a wonderful smoke and sherry character balance.

The process of how malts were smoked and how much smoked malts tend to get into the brewing recipes were discussed. The session was fascinating and made me want to seek out other smoked beers.

All About Barleywines

All About Barleywines SeminarThe next seminar I chose was entitled "All About Barleywines" and was hosted by Kevin DeLange of Dry Dock Brewing Company (Aurora, CO). Kevin brought out 5 different barleywines for attendees to try and discussed the issues with making such big beers and how they evolve with age. Featured brews included: Great Divide Old Ruffian, Dry Dock Bligh's Barleywine, Anchor Old Foghorn Barleywine, Firestone Walker's Sucaba and Avery Hog Heaven. Once again, this seminar was jam packed with people and I ended up standing up in the back. I wasn't able to taste these beers (dang it), but from the reaction of the crowd, these were some mighty fine examples of aged barleywine.

Creating Flavor: The Art of Blending Hops

By this time, my feet were killing me from standing for the last 3 hours and was lucky enough to get an actual seat at the next seminar entitled "Creating Flavor: The Art of Blending Hops". This session was moderated by Daniel Bradford from All About Beer Magazine and was included 3 brewers: Nick Ison from Sierra Nevada, Cam O'Connor from Deschutes Brewery, and Tomme Arthur of Port Brewing / The Lost Abbey. Attendees were immediately surrounded by the huge, wonderful aroma of hops! The room was full of cups filled with whole leaf hops and pelletized hops.

A beer and its hops Hop Blending Brewers The Hop Table

Each brewer discussed the fine are of blending different kinds of hops with a particular beer that they were showcasing. Sierra Nevada's Torpedo included Magnum, Crystal and Citra hops. Deschutes' Hop Henge included Cascade, Citra and Mosaic hops, and Port Brewing's Mongo IPA included Columbus, Cascade and Centennial hops. Each of these hop varieties could be smelled individually along with the beer that they were tasting. The room was a virtual hop garden of aromas. The beers tasted great and it was interesting to see how each hop added a certain level of fruitiness, spice, earthy tones and piney sensation. At the end of the seminar, attendees were invited to take small bags of hops home with them. (My suitcase now smells like Mosaic hops).

Commercial Tasting Session

At last, the main event - the Commercial Tasting Session. This was the thing most people were there for - to drink samples of some of the best beers out there. The tasting areas were split into four main areas. Upstairs, there was the main tasting room hall, outside in one of the side halls were several other brewers, primarily Colorado ones and the main outer hallway hosted some food vendors and a large screen TV where fans could watch the long double overtime Broncos/Ravens game. Downstairs was a smaller tasting room with many more brewery tables. There was also a souvenir stand with conference t-shirts and more.

It didn't take long to realize that all of these beers were BIG, as in ABVs. There was going to be no way to sample all of these beers so you were given a tasting guide with all of the beers and breweries listed. From there you simply had to pick out the ones you wanted to taste and go for it. Of the 200+ beers on hand, I had just time enough to taste perhaps 1/5th of them. And because of the huge selection of fine beers, no one person's tasting experience ended up being the same. Much like the GABF, the Big Beers Festival is like a big buffet with so many choices and so little time, only most of these beers were all 7% ABV and higher and were the more rare variety. This was a beer geek lovers dream session!

Here are some of my favorites from the fest: Avery Rumpkin, Boulevard Dark Truth Imperial Stout, Crooked Stave Bourbon Barrel Sentience, Elevation Oil Man Bourbon Barrel-aged Imperial Stout, Fate Brewing's Eisbock, Funkwerks Tropic King, Goose Island Bourbon Country Brand Coffee Stout, River North Whiskey Barrel Aged J. Marie (Barrel Series No. 1), Samuel Adams 1995 Triple Bock (18 years old), Samuel Adams 10th Anniversary Utopias, and Yak & Yeti's Yak's Russian Imperial Stout. My favorite? Samuel Adams 1995 Tripel Bock and River North's Whiskey Barrel Aged J Marie.

The sad thing was, after the tasting session was over and talking with other attendees and comparing notes - I realized that there were so many great beers I missed out on. I heard great things about Three Barrel Brewing from Del Norte, CO and their sour beers. There were pages of listed breweries and their beers that I didn't even get to. But that's half the fun of making your selections and knowing that at your next beer festival, wherever that may be, you can try all different ones. Variety is definitely the spice of the beer life!

The ride back to the hotel that evening was full of rowdy, but happy fest goers. I opted to crash and relax the rest of the night and regain my senses. I had to get up bright and early the next day for the long ride home. I ended up having a terrific time up at Vail. The organizers Laura & Bill Lodge did a great job putting together this festival. And big kudos go out to Kirsten Texler who helped make it possible to get me there to cover the event and aiding me with my hotel reservations. I'll definitely want to go back to this festival again. For beer fest goers - this should be one you put on your Bucket List to attend sometime in your lifetime.

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Related articles:
- Thursday Night at the 2012 GABF.
- Burning Can Beer Festival delivers hot fun.
- Mountain Sun prepares for darkness. (2013 Stout Month)

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