Laura Lodge needs a beer. A big beer. After several months of stress and of searching for a new location for one of Colorado’s marquis beer festivals, Lodge and her brother, Bill, have found a new home at the Beaver Run Resort and Conference Center in Breckenridge.
That means that the Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival will have to move after sixteen years in Vail, but also that it will be able to continue forward. “It’s a relief,” Laura says. “It will be an enormous challenge to move it, but it will also be exciting. We have had a lot of support, and it has been very gratifying.” The next version of the festival will take place January 5-7, 2017.
Founded in Vail in 2001, the festival has grown and moved several times, but it has always stayed in Vail. In January, though, a California real-estate investment firm called the Laurus Corporation announced that it had purchased the fest’s latest home, the Vail Cascade Resort and Spa, and would spend $35 million to completely redevelop and redesign it — including the demolition of Gore Range Hall, where the large, commercial-tasting portion of the Big Beers festival takes place.
Although the Cascade was already an upscale spot, the purchase meant that the resort would close for a while and reopen as a higher-end luxury resort with room rates that would be cost-prohibitive for most beer-industry employees and fans.
After sending out a questionnaire to the breweries and attendees, Lodge discovered that they’d be willing to change destinations in order for the festival to continue. So she investigated several other ski towns before deciding on Breckenridge.
“The immediate access to ski lifts outside the doors of Beaver Run was a significant contributing factor to the final decision,” Lodge wrote in a statement, pointing out that the fest serves as a ski vacation for many people. “In addition, the ability to have all of the core events at one location inside the host resort weighed heavily in favor of Beaver Run and Breckenridge. Finally, the 275-plus shops, bars, restaurants and the recently renovated arts district in the historic downtown area offer many diverse ways to integrate the 100-plus breweries and importers with the Breckenridge community throughout the week.”
She also credited the Town of Breckenridge and the Breckenridge Tourism Office for making the move possible. “So far, there has been a lot of excitement,” she says.
The new location will mean that the fest’s biggest event, the commercial tasting, will be split between two levels, but there will also be the potential to add other, smaller events.
Focused on beers with higher alcohol content, such as Belgian tripels and quadrupels, barrel-aged stouts and barleywines, the three-day festival includes brewing seminars, elegant pairing dinners, a home-brewing competition, ancillary tappings and a large, ticketed tasting event. But it has also managed to retain the intimate feel and beer-industry camaraderie that continues to attract major players in the craft-brewing scene from around the country.
Lodge says she will be happy to see all of those people again next year. "There is a beginning and an end to all things, but Bill and I would have missed all of the people and all of the friends we've made over the past sixteen years. To have ended it would have left a very big void."