The Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival kicks off at the Beaver Run Resort in Breckenridge on Thursday, January 9, and this year’s three-day bacchanalia will be packed full of brewery royalty, as more than two dozen former featured brewmasters are returning to celebrate the festival’s twentieth anniversary.
They’ll be highlighted at a special twentieth-anniversary shindig on January 10, the second night of the festival, where they'll pour beer and hang out. The list of brewers includes Colorado beer makers Adam Avery of Avery Brewing, Doug Odell of Odell Brewing, Eric Wallace of Left Hand Brewing, Dave Thibodeau of Ska Brewing, Brian Dunn of Great Divide Brewing, Todd Usry of Breckenridge Brewery, Kevin DeLange of Dry Dock Brewing, Peter Bouckaert of Purpose Brewing (and formerly of New Belgium), and this year’s featured brewmasters, Troy Casey of Casey Brewing and Neil Fisher of WeldWerks Brewing.
But these luminaries will be doing more than just drinking. Many will also be participating in the wide variety of educational seminars for which the festival is known. In addition to Bouckaert, Odell, Wallace and DeLange, attendees can join seminars hosted by Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Jeffrey Stuffings of Jester King Brewery, John Mallett of Bell’s Brewery, Cory King of Side Project Brewing, Steven Pauwels of Boulevard Brewing, Geoff Larson of Alaskan Brewing, and Florian Kuplent of Urban Chestnut Brewing.
“It really means the world that so many of our alumni are returning. We are gratified and humbled to have them all back. I am looking forward to some classic photos and stories,” says festival co-founder Laura Lodge, adding that she dug up all of the previous programs, menus and posters for the brewers to show at their tables.
Adam Avery, a former featured brewmaster who also hosted the very first educational seminar in 2001 with a vertical tasting of Avery Hog Heaven Barleywine, and the brewery’s “chief barrel herder” Andy Parker, have also created a special twentieth anniversary beer, a version of Mephistopheles Imperial Stout aged in a Leopold Brothers barrel that formerly held a nine-year-old Tennessee-style whiskey.
It’s the “perfect full circle from year one,” Lodge says.
And while Avery's beers captured the mood of craft-beer drinkers in previous years, this year’s two featured brewmasters perfectly fit the zeitgeist of today.
Weldwerks's Fisher has led the charge in Colorado when it comes to hazy IPAs, as well as other styles, scooping up attention, medals and accolades over the past three years. His very first award, however, was as the gold medal winner of the festival’s homebrewing contest — way back in 2014, a year before he opened Weldwerks with Colin Jones.
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“It’s especially cool that Big Beers is part of his opening story. It is really a fantastic tribute to the role Big Beers has played over twenty years that we have one of our … gold medal winners featured for our 20th Anniversary as a professional brewer with many accolades under his belt,” Lodge says.
Casey, meanwhile, has been pouring at Big Beers since he opened his Glenwood Springs brewery and blendery in 2015, and also been speaker in some of the festival’s seminars. Casey is one of the preeminent sour beer makers in the state, so the lines at his booth are always long. He and Fisher have also worked together on collaborations, so it is a “no brainer” for Big Beers, Lodge adds.
Other new and returning highlights this year include: A Falling Rock Taphouse pop-up bar, a cicerone workshop, a beer and food "experience" with Julia Herz and Chef Adam Dulye of the Brewer Association, a homebrewing contest, multiple seminars, and a variety of events at bars and restaurants in Breckenridge.
Although tickets for the 20th Reunion event have sold out, there are still tickets left for the Brewmasters Dinner, the Commercial Tasting (which is the main event) and many of the seminars.