Cheers to Beers

A "big beer" is not defined by the size of the mug or bottle, according to the experimental brewers and beer lovers behind the Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Festival that kicks off tonight in Vail. The "big" is for the alcohol content — a minimum of 7 percent by volume. In its eighth year, this big beer festival will be bigger than ever, with more than seventy of the biggest names in brewing offering their goods and sharing their secrets.

"It's all about education," explains festival coordinator Laura Lodge. "It started out as a way to inform buyers and restaurants, to give them an opportunity to taste beers, and it's expanded from there to the general public." The festival starts tonight with a dinner hosted by Sam Calagione and Adam Avery, founders of Dogfish Head and Avery Brewing, respectively. Friday brings more beer and food pairings at the Brewmaster's Dinner. Saturday morning is the tell-all, with a panel of experimental brewers — including Calagione, whose Midas Touch Golden Elixir was inspired by the ingredients found in the drinking vessels of Midas's tomb — as well as Avery and New Belgium's Peter Bouckaert. "Experimental brewing is often considered to be proprietary information, and they all agreed to talk about an aspect of their process," Lodge says. "But brewers don't like to get up in the morning, so we'll see how everybody does at that."

Saturday afternoon brings the main event: a tasting from 1 to 7 p.m. that aims to educate rather than inebriate. Consumption is limited to one sample each of the 150 beers for the first two hours. And for anyone who needs a break, there's plenty to learn at additional seminars, which are all included with the price of Saturday's admission ($35 in advance or $39 at the door).

For information and tickets, visit www.bigbeersfestival.com.
Jan. 10-12, 2008

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Jessica Centers