Beer Man

Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Festival Returns to Breck With Changes

Big Beers kicks off this weekend.
Big Beers kicks off this weekend. Sarah Cowell
A year after moving away from its longtime home in Vail, the Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Festival is still adapting to new digs in Breckenridge. But the second iteration of the renewed festival, taking place January 4-6 at Beaver Run Resort, should reflect some of what the festival’s organizers have learned.

One of the biggest differences is how nearby bars and restaurants are getting in on the act to host more beer- and brewery-related events of their own, some of which will compete with the festival’s dinners and tastings. But that’s okay with Big Beers co-founder Laura Lodge. “I haven’t previously had that issue — of competing with my own people,” she says. “But there are fun and interesting things to do around town, and some people are tightening their wallets and opting for less expensive routes.”

The dinners hosted by Big Beers typically include guided beer pairings by brewing luminaries like Adam Avery of Avery Brewing, Sam Calagione or Bryan Selders of Dogfish Head, and Jeffery Stuffings of Jester King. This year, the two big dinners cost $125 each, and because Lodge released more tickets to the public, both are still available (as are tickets to the commercial tasting, which cost $75). In town, however there are at least fifteen  events not affiliated with the festival scheduled at bars and restaurants; most are being hosted by breweries or distributors.

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Sarah Cowell
As a result, Lodge is already thinking about 2019 — and what she can do to shake things up (think a cross-country ski trip and tasting led by a beloved brewery owner or beer maker).

In the meantime, though, this year’s festival looks like it will shine once again — based on the attending breweries and the massive, impressive beer list, the schedule of seminars, the location in Breck’s Beaver Run Resort, and some small but important changes that have been made.

One of the most intriguing additions is a “pop-up Falling Rock,” hosted by Denver’s granddaddy of craft-beer bars, Falling Rock Tap House, inside the Beaver Run Resort (near the hot tubs!), where the festival is based. The makeshift bar, which will serve ten different canned beer selections, will be a central gathering place for people who enjoyed hanging out at the Fireside Lounge, which had served a similar purpose when the festival was in Vail.

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Sarah Cowell
Then there’s the main event, the Commercial Tasting, which suffered last year from being spread out over two floors of mapless confusion. Although the tasting will still occupy the same space this time around, there will now be a map — and an app from Digital Pour, the company that supplies up-to-the-minute beer-menu screens for bars and breweries, which should help attendees easily find brewery tables.

In addition, there is the “good problem” of having more interest from out-of-state breweries that want to attend — like the Rare Barrel and Cellarmaker, which will both be on hand this year, Lodge says. While that means less space for other breweries, Lodge gave every participating brewery this year the option of sharing a table with another non-invited brewery of its choosing. Strange Craft in Denver, for instance, received an invite and then chose to go to the dance with fellow Denver brewer Black Sky Brewery, which wasn’t invited.

As usual, the beer list is a place where breweries showcase some of the best, rarest stuff they have — and it always sets an agenda for the year ahead.

To find out more about tickets, the beers list and the festival itself, go to the Big Beers website or its Facebook page.
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes