Beer Man

At the High-ABV Big Beers Fest, This Low-ABV Brew May Save the Day

The Great Divide and Ska breweries are all about high-fives and hanging out.
The Great Divide and Ska breweries are all about high-fives and hanging out. Great Divide Brewing
Brian Dunn and Dave Thibodeau have been attending the Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival for many years, and over that time the two brewery owners have learned that it's "a silly idea" to spend a full three days drinking high-alcohol beers at high altitudes.

The three-day fest, which kicks off Thursday, January 9, in Breckenridge, specializes in beers with an ABV of 8 percent or higher.

"I actually have the battle scars to prove it," jokes Thibodeau, co-owner of Ska Brewing. Since the fest is celebrating its twentieth anniversary, he and Dunn, who owns Great Divide Brewing, thought that a better idea would be to make a low-ABV "brewers'" beer this time around — "something that we, as professionals, could get away with drinking for three days straight...breakfast, lunch and dinner."

So last month they got together in Denver at Great Divide to brew a 3 percent ABV Belgian-style table beer using Chateau malts and Great Divide's Orabelle yeast.

"We need the stamina to make it through the festival and still be strong enough to lead the troops into the evening," Thibodeau explains. "Our rest time is essentially the day, so 3 percent beers in the afternoon are like cross-training: They keep us warm and limber without overuse injuries.”

The beer, called High Fives and Hanging Out, will be served at the Big Beers 20th Anniversary event on Friday, January 10, and at the festival's main event, the Commercial Tasting (tickets are still on sale), on Saturday, January 11. It will also be available at both breweries next week or the week after.

Dave Thibodeau (left) and Brian Dunn made a beer-drinking professional's beer. - GREAT DIVIDE BREWING
Dave Thibodeau (left) and Brian Dunn made a beer-drinking professional's beer.
Great Divide Brewing
Although lower-alcohol beers aren't usually associated with Big Beers, festival co-founder Laura Lodge points out that there are several Belgian styles, like lambics and table beers, that can range widely in alcohol level, and that they will always be welcome at the festival — and can usually be found there.

"I love that Dave and Brian got together and made this beer," she says. "They will be busy pouring, since people will most definitely need a break between sours and enormous stouts."

“It made all the sense in the world…have a drinkable Belgian Table Beer for those working the fest. It was Dave’s idea and I loved it," adds Dunn, who has been friends with Thibodeau for more than twenty years; the two have spent a lot of time cycling together in the mountains and talking about brewery operations.

Which leads to the name of the beer. High Fives and Hanging Out was taken from a quote in another Westword story about a different collaboration two months ago. In that piece, New Belgium Brewing's Andrew Emerton said that many brewery collaborations are only about "high-fives and hanging out," and that New Belgium and TRVE Brewing wanted to go beyond that for their mixed-culture sour.

"While we completely respect their approach, we asked ourselves, 'What’s wrong with high-fives and hanging out?" Thibodeau says. "So that’s what it’s called. It's a beer we hoped our fellow brewers would appreciate."

The 20th annual Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival takes place at the Beaver Run Resort in Breckenridge January 9 through January 11. This year celebrates the return of more than twenty previously highlighted brewmasters, including Dunn, 2007, and Thibodeau, 2019. Go to for information.
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes