Held every winter high up in the Rockies, the Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival is one of the year’s premier beer events.
“It’s largely a brewers’ festival,” Laura Lodge, cofounder of Big Beers, says. “And they like to show off … and discuss innovation and new ideas with each other.”
Spanning three days (Jan. 9-11, 2020), Big Beers features brewmasters leading dinners calibrated to their ales and lagers, panels on the science and history of beer styles, a homebrewing competition, and the best commercial beer tastings you’ll ever attend inside a ski resort.
And though much has been added in the past 20 years, little of the festival’s core ethos has changed.
“The idea was to educate,” Lodge says. “Not only educate the buyers but to educate the public.”
Big Beers debuted in Vail in 2001. At the time, Lodge’s brother and festival cofounder, Bill, owned High Point Brewing Corp., a distributor for various microbreweries — to use the parlance of the early aughts — as well as an importer of Belgian ales.
Though Bill’s portfolio was enviable, knowledge of imports and microbrews in the late-’90s/early-’00s was limited. So too were Front Range brewers’ access to the mountain ski towns. They wanted their beers in restaurants and bars, but to do that, they needed to create demand. They needed beer drinkers to know what was out there, and how good it tasted.
“So the whole idea of Big Beers, Belgians, and Barleywines started with the idea of having a trade show,” Lodge says.
The trade show quickly became Big Beers’ commercial tasting, a chance for brewers, buyers and the public to try the most boundary-pushing brews on the market.
It didn’t take long for Big Beers to turn heads. Adam Avery of Avery Brewing Co. was an early supporter, as was Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head Brewery), and the two teamed up for a Brewmasters’ Dinner in 2005 — a staple ever since with two new brewmasters leading the dinner every year. This year features Neil Fisher of WeldWerks Brewing Co. and Troy Casey (no relation) of Casey Brewing & Blending.
Another staple that’s been with Big Beers since year two is the Homebrew Competition, an integral component of any beer festival.
“The homebrew clubs are so passionate and so driven to make things happen,” Lodge says. “They will come up and make the world move for you.”
And from those humble roots, Big Beers grew from one day to three, relocated from Vail to Breckenridge’s Beaver Run Resort in 2017, and continues to incorporate more dinners, more educational seminars and more beer.
Lodge is still trying to make Big Beers bigger, and this year’s festival will feature a first: the Box of Big Beers Raffle. Ten mystery 12-packs filled with bottles from the commercial tasting will be raffled off on the final day. Raffle tickets are $10 (or three for $25), and you need not be present to win.
Raffle tickets, as well as passes to the commercial tasting and certain seminars, are still available. Visit bigbeersfestival.com for more.