I'll have to admit that as we walked up to the back of the long line that snaked its way out of the convention center, I was feeling a bit nervous about the event. Did we just waste $80 on tickets to an event that would fail to even approach expectations? Would we get inside only to discover long lines and little beer? Perhaps this feeling was due to the fiasco at the Foam Fest back in August. After lining up for the $10 entry into the fair, and then shelling out another $25 for the festival, we were met with the sad sight of only 8 breweries selling beer. What had once been fun and something to look forward to, had turned into a rip-off. Absolutely pathetic and perhaps signaling the end of the Foam Fest (at least for me anyway). Fortunately, the Big Bear Brew Fest was the complete opposite of all this.
|Little beer mug!|
The entire convention center floor had been opened up for this event and the represented breweries spanned from one end to the other. Each of the corners also had representation from a distillery including some homemade moonshine and the Breckenridge
|Plenty of Beer!|
Best Pour- The friendliest tent at the event was definitely the combination tent of Bristol Brewing and Boulder Beer. They were happy to have us try each of their offerings and their pours were the most generous. And this was at the beginning of the event mind you, not at the end where everyone starts to fill those glasses a little fuller. Our little group probably spent 10-15 minutes at the Bristol tent given this generosity and friendliness of the pourers.
Best Tent- Shamrock Brewery had the absolute best set up. A couch, television, music, and a chandelier created a nice ambiance when sampling their beer. Shamrock wasn't really offering up anything different than what they have at the restaurant (we did wind up there later that night), but their set up is always entertaining, and I appreciate the effort they put in (more on their beer later).
Saddest Moment- Discovering that Eddyline Brewing from Buena Vista, didn't make it to the party. It's one of my favorite breweries and I always find a number of styles that I enjoy. Sorry that they weren't there as I would have spent a good hour at their tent!
But, what makes a beer memorable?- Considering that I tried somewhere in the neighborhood of about 30 different beers that night, remembering them all can be a little difficult. That said, there were a few that stood out in my mind for a number of reasons. In some instances, it was their unique flavor. They brought something different to the table. I always appreciate when this happens. It's easier I suppose for a brewery to bring their "flagship" beers to an event, but when they bring something unique or unusual as well, it just demonstrates their true understanding and passion for "craft beer." At the same time, a beer can stand out because the brewer has done an excellent job or "representing" the style of a beer. By correctly combining the elements of an IPA for example, there doesn't really have to be any kind of "gimmick." If I discover one of these beers at an event, I'm most likely to go out and buy some more as soon as I can find it. The third thing that makes a beer stand out at a beer fest is the experience with the brewery. I'm by no means a beer expert, but I do take some time to learn about different styles of beer and what to expect from them. Still, it's helpful when I'm served a beer, and the person pouring the beer takes the time to tell me a little bit about what I'm drinking. If a unique brewing technique or ingredient is used, tell me about it. If there is something special about the taste or style of the beer, I'd like to know. To me this is what makes a brew fest special. It's an occasion where the brewer and the drinker get to interact directly.
Beers of the night- In no particular order, here are the beers that really stood out for me on this particular evening.
Shamrock Brewing, 3rd Street Coffee Stout- This is a collaboration (of sorts) with the Solar Roast Coffee Shop down the block, and it is an excellent beer that probably should be part of their year round variety. A very well-balanced flavor (the coffee and chocolate flavors are present, but not overwhelming) and a medium-bodied mouth-feel that is perfect for the taste. Some stouts will be disappointingly thin or overly "chewy," but not the 3rd Street Stout. I've written about this beer before (it was on my list of top beers in 2012), and even wandering around with hundreds of beers available, I found myself craving one of these.
Epic Brewing, Imperial Pumpkin Porter- Porter style beers were definitely underrepresented at the festival, but this beer stood out for other reasons. I've never been a huge fan of the pumpkin beers (I don't dislike them), but this one was quite good. The porter style was well presented, and the spiced flavor of the beer was appropriate. No one spice dominated the beer, and it didn't try too hard to be "pumpkiny." And while it was sweet, it wasn't sugary. The finish was bold, not bitter or overwhelming. Originally founded in Salt Lake City, Epic also has a brewery in Denver.
Boulder Beer, Slope Style Winter IPA- No, this isn't a white IPA (a variety I'm not very fond of). It's a Winter IPA. Boulder Beer may do the absolute best job of naming its beers to match the flavor therein (I'm looking at you Chocolate Shake Porter). With a rich, amber color and a piney aroma, this beer is perfectly at home in the mountains . . . in a ski lodge . . . on a winter afternoon. If I make a beer run today, this is probably the one I'll go looking for. I'm a hop-head, and this IPA really represents the style well. This will definitely be on my list of top 2014 beers.
Three Barrell Brewing, Hermano Sour Style Ale- This was by far the most unique beer of the event. The brewery is located on the western edge of the San Luis Valley town of Del Norte (not to be confused with the now defunct Del Norte Brewery in Denver, sigh). They have a variety of Sour Style Ales that all have a "Dia de los Muertos" vibe (see label below). The closest thing I could compare this to would be "shandy" style beer, but that doesn't really do it justice. There is definitely a lemon-like quality, but the flavor is much more complex than beer and lemonade mixed together. The mouth-feel of this ale is definitely more medium-bodied, and it isn't a "hot summer day" type of drinker. I think most people probably either love or hate sour beers, but if you are of the former persuasion, then Three Barrel is a place to check out.
Paradox Beer Company, Whiskey Barrel Hell for Stout- Paradox is the most creative brewery in the state of Colorado as far as I'm concerned. They don't "do" a quirky beer every now and then, it's their core business. Taking a traditional recipe or style, they'll start riffing on it and come up with something unique and delicious. As it happened, I was craving something "aged in a whiskey barrel" on Saturday night, and the Hell for Stout was perfect. Paradox are true "craft" brewers and the attention to detail is evident in their beers. The Hell for stout has complex flavors and is worth savoring slowly If beer was jazz, Paradox would be Miles Davis. I'll be keeping my eyes open for a bottle of this to put into storage for a special occasion.
Walters Brewing, Pilsner- I'm maybe being a bit of a "homer" here, but I really do like this brewery. To say it's unpretentious is an understatement. As a "new" brewery (they've acquired the name and recipe from the Goliath brewery of day's past), they are still finding their way a bit, but their flagship pilsner is a great demonstration of the style and quite quenchable. The festival offered up an opportunity to do a bit of comparison as well. Right across the aisle from Walters was the Coors tent. I grew up on Coors in a way. The commercials (cue John Denver style music in the background), the brewery in Golden, all part of the growing up in Colorado experience. There's no denying that Coors was really the original "Colorado" brewery. Back in the day, a case of Coors was coveted nationally. You just couldn't get it anywhere, so it was something special. In a weird way, the popularity of Colorado Craft Brewing on a national level probably has something to do in part with the "mystique" that was created by Coors, brewed with that "Rocky Mountain Spring Water" all those years ago. But I'm digressing into nostalgia here, and this section is really about Walters. So I tried Walters, and then I sampled some Coors. Walter's was better. Way better. The flavor was more complex, and it had a nice finish. This would be a beer that I could drink all afternoon on a hot summer afternoon, and it would be a great addition to any barbecue. Just like the brewers, it's an unpretentious beer. Very drinkable while grilling up some brats and burgers, you know the type of beer I'm talking about. The Coors, well, it was disappointing. Little flavor and an unpleasant finish. Guess it's best left to the memories!
Lost Highway Brewing Company, Grave Robber Fraud Quad- In addition to having the coolest logo at the brew fest, this up and comer had a couple of great beers, including their Belgian-style Quadruple. This is not a style of beer that I often drink, so it's always a treat to find one that is so well-done. This is a fairly new brewery up on East Colfax in Denver. Next time I make it up that way, I may need to go and check it out.
|Bonus- Best Logo!|
The beer fest was an awesome event and a truly legitimate experience for enthusiasts of good beer. We had a great time and I would expect that it will return again next year, bigger and better than ever. I wouldn't be surprised if the event sells out early next year, and I wouldn't be surprised to see even more breweries represented next year. Hats off to Big Bear. They've only been on the scene a couple of years now, but they have done an excellent job of providing a quality beer experience in Pueblo!