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Event Recap | 2016 Vail Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines

2016 Vail Big Beers Belgians and Barleywines

This piece was written and composed by staff Tristan Chan, Cory Pelc, Kelissa Heiber, Kara Loo, Phil Joyce, Will Dozier, and Desiree Duzich with special contribution from Brittany Werges of 303 Magazine.

In a lot of ways, looking back on the 2016 Vail Big Beers Belgians and Barleywines festival is fairly cut and dry. Everything was amazing. It really is that simple. And yet, I’d be disappointing not only myself, but more importantly organizer Laura Lodge, by leaving you with merely a singular over-the-top statement about the fest. I dare not use the word hyperbole because while my descriptions may seem gratuitous, they are one hundred percent truthful.

So here it goes, the 2016 Vail Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines festival once again reestablished its place as the benchmark of what all other beer festivals strive to be. From the opening reception which featured a pairing of bacon wrapped scallops with The Bruery’s White Chocolate along with equally celebrated Strange Craft Beer’s Super Kriek and Deschutes’ 08 Abyss, to the Alaska Brewing and Surly Brewing Brewmasters’ dinner, which showcased one of the most impressive food and beer pairings to date, a Falafel Waffle and smoked pork belly topped with creamy gorgonzola, green tomato, mico arugula, and espresso maple glaze from The Vail Cascade’s Atwater on Gorecreek paired with Surly’s Smoke and Alaskan’s Heritage Coffee Brown forming a beer breakfast course to end all other beer breafasts, to the varying seminars and breakout sessions that featured beer celebrities like Jeff Stuffings, co-founder of Jester King, Jason Perkins of Allagash, Omar Ansari of Surly, and Troy Casey of Casey Brewing and Blending to name a few, all the way through to the main event, Saturday’s Commercial Tasting, attendees were treated to a world class experience, highlighted by world class beer.

2016 Vail Big Beers Belgians and Barleywines
Photo by: Desiree Duzich, Spoiled Beer Brat Productions

So while everything was truly of the highest calibre, there were a few that truly shined a bit brighter than all the rest. Our entire team weighed in to cover the breadth of the festival.

The Best of the Best

2016 Vail Big Beers Belgians and Barleywines
Wicked Weed Brewing Angel of Darkness. Photo Courtesy of: Brittany Werges, 303 Magazine

Wicked Weed – Angel of Darkness. We all knew Wicked Weed would impress, but I don’t think any of us truly expected Angel of Darkness to completely blow us away like it did. The 11% sour ale exuded its puckering prowess as it leapt from the tasting glass to the nose with overtones of sherry laced with boysenberry, cherry, blackberry and raspberry.  This beer was to my mouth what meteor showers are to the eye. Bursts of bright fortified wine followed by the darkness of each of the berries. Bursts of brightness and darkness, a flavor schism along my tongues’ taste buds. – Cory Pelc


Black Shirt Brewing – Bourbon Barrel Coffee Red Quad. This beers sounds like it’s got a lot going on and it does. But all of those independently distinct flavors end up coming together so perfectly. The coffee is from one of my favorite local roasters Huckleberry Roasters and is aged in 21 month old Bourbon barrels. An amazingly balanced and smooth beer, with lots of vanilla, toffee and plum. – Kelissa Heiber

2016 Vail Big Beers Belgians and Barleywines Weldwerks
WeldWerks Brewing. Photo Courtesy of: Brittany Werges 303 Magazine

WeldWerks Brewing – Everything. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the festival was from newcomers WeldWerks Brewing out of Greeley, CO. Their entire lineup impressed up and down from their Cherry Gose which, in my opinion, contended as one of the top five beers at the festival including their variants of Chocolate Achromatic, their imperial chocolate stout aged on cacao nibs, TCHO Chocolate and Madagascar vanilla beans. The Mexican Achromatic featured extra doses of the cacao and vanilla beans in addition to cinnamon sticks and cayenne. And finally their Medianoche Achromatic features their bourbon barrel aged imperial stout blended with their Chocolate Achromatic aged in Breckenridge Bourbon barrels. Oh, and add to their lineup a tremendously complex Bourbon Barrel Aged Brett Pale Ale and suddenly for the first time in my 6 year Colorado residency I had an inexplicable urge to visit Greeley, CO. No joke I just googled how long it’d take to drive to Greeley. -Tristan Chan

2016 Vail Big Beers Belgians and Barleywines Baere Brewing
Baere Brewing. Photo by: Desiree Duzich, Spoiled Beer Brat Productions

Baere Brewing – Tart Cherry Brown & Brett Hoppy Brown. I was incredibly impressed with Baere’s entire lineup, it was all very unique and well balanced, however their Tart Cherry Brown and Brett Hoppy Brown stole the show. This beer has a lovely tart pie cherry flavor up front, with complementary malt character. This beer finishes dry with a pleasant refreshing tartness. Brett Hoppy Brown- This beer was aged in Law Whisky House bourbon barrels. This beer has a perfect balance of smooth malt character with a hoppy bite, with added complexity of bourbon that enhances the quality brown ale and Brett Brux that dries the beer out and adds some fruity funk to complement the hops. – Kelissa Heiber

2016 Vail Big Beers Belgians and Barleywines The Bruery Ukulele
The Bruery Ukulele. Photo Courtesy of: Brittany Werges, 303 Magazine

The Bruery – Grey Monday & Ukulele. – Perhaps the most unique and unexpected flavor profile we got at the festival came from The Bruery’s Ukulele, a bourbon barrel-aged sour ale with passion fruit, ginger and ghost chili peppers. It pretty much tasted like a Passion Chili Whiskey Fizz with soured ginger beer poured into a glass of whiskey sour and stirred with a ghost chili pepper. Okay, it’s like a whiskey sour mule stirred with a chili pepper to provide just a hint of heat in the back of your throat on the finish. – Cory Pelc

Upslope Brewing – Everything but most notably the Experimental Uber Petite Saison. Sure we know it was meant to be a joke, but the fact that Upslope brought an experimental 1.9% petite saison that was actually amazing made this one of my favorite finds of the weekend. A beer brewed so well with this low of an ABV is really a testament to how awesome Upslope Brewing continues to be. These folks are really onto something with this Belgian single, and now we just dream of crushing it while mowing lawns throughout the summer. -Tristan Chan

2016 Vail Big Beers Belgians and Barleywines Upslope Brewing Experimental Petite Saison
Upslope Brewing 1.9% ABV Experimental Petite Saison. Photo Courtesy of Brittany Werges, 303 Magazine
2016 Vail Big Beers Belgians and Barleywines Allagash Brewing Nancy
Allagash Brewing Nancy. Photo by: Will Dozier

Allagash Brewing – Nancy, Avance, Curieux and Coolship Resurgam. Allagash was one of the US’s first breweries to nail the open fermentation process and their lineup was no better showcase of just how well they’ve perfected it over the years. Coolship Resurgam is a blend of this 1, 2, and 3 year old spontaneously fermented beer. Tons of tropical fruit and flavors of funk lead to a clean, tart and dry finish. – Cory Pelc

Great Divide Brewing – The Smoothness, Port of Meow & Rosabelle (Everything). We first fell in love with Rosabelle at Festivus, and we fell off our chairs sipping full pours of Port of Meow at Great Divide’s Anniversary Party this summer and we fell into lust with The Smoothness at Great Divide’s Jameson collab party, so really we’ve experienced these greats before, however The Smoothness ranked among our very favorites of the event because it seriously was so damn smooth. This black lager was aged in Jameson barrels as part of a traveling Jameson Drinking Buddies tour. Those barrels were then shipped back to Jameson and now hold their whiskey. Can’t wait to try some pulls of that gem. – Tristan Chan

2016 Vail Big Beers Belgians and Barleywines
Photo Courtesy of: Brittany Werges, 303 Magazine

Black Project Spontaneous and Wild Ales – Mach-Limit Tempranillo.  Black Project has already been garnering a great deal of accolades and notoriety over the past year, but their Mach-Limit – Tempranillo truly stole the show. The ruby red hue of this beer might just be the most aesthetically pleasing beer I’ve ever encountered. That overall tasting experience was only punctuated by the dry and balanced tartness of this golden sour which was fruited with Tempranillo wine must from Red Fox Winery in Palisades. – Tristan Chan

Other Notables:

Avery Brewing  – Vanilla Bean Stout

Barrels & Bottles – The Big LeBEERski – Smooth, creamy and this beer’s taste profile was modeled off it’s namesake White Russian cocktail and it definitely captures that essence.

Boston Beer/Samuel Adams – Triple Bock from 1994, with only 20 cases created this tiny blue bottle actually stole the show over the fact that Utopias was being poured from a sixtel.

Boulevard Brewing – Love Child #6

Cannonball Creek – Chain Shot Abbey

Coronado Brewing – Barrel-Aged Punk’In Drublic & Barrel-Aged Stupid Stout

2016 Vail Big Beers Belgians and Barleywines Casey Brewing and Blending
Photo by Will Dozier

Casey Brewing & Blending – Casey Family Preserve: Cab Franc Grape & Laredo Plum, The Cut: Peach,  The Cut: Plum & Leaner (Desi)

Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project – L’Brett D’Cherry

Denver Beer Co – Badmotorfinger

Destihl Brewing – Antiquity Rye Wine (Will)

Deschutes – 2008 Vintage: The Abyss

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery – 2010 World Wide Stout – Oooooohhhweee! Dogfish showed us their teeth with this smooth stout that just gets better with age. Hurry, cellar away as many of these as you can!

Dry Dock Brewing – 2015 Signature Series Whiskey BA Double Coffee Porter – Perhaps one of our favorite in the Signature Series this beer is definitely big but it does a tremendous job in showcase the rich coffee flavors.

Former Future – Cat Sabbath – This gigantic 20% ABV RIS drinks like a liqueur. It was fermented in a fresh bourbon barrel  and then transferred to a second fresh bourbon barrel to age for a year. This brew is for, you guessed it, bourbon fans. So, we drank it they only way we knew how. Very quickly; as in, we took shots of it. It was delicious.

Elevation Beer Co – 2014 and 2015 Arete Barleywine Ale – This side by side tasting of Elevation’s Single Hop barleywine really showcased the difference a year can make on a barleywine that was brewed with Centennial Hops.

Firestone Walker Brewing – XVII (Seventeen) Anniversary Ale, Parabola, Sucaba & Agrestic

Goose Island Beer Co – BCBS Rare & BCBS – Prop 2015 Oh you know, BCBS Rare just being tapped from a sixtel. NBD.

Jackie O’s Oil of Aphrodite and Everything: Always  good to see my local Ohio breweries killing it. This double stout featured local black walnuts and Belgian candy sugar. This beer features dark fruit notes, a toasted candied walnut finish with a strong balanced stout character balancing it all out. – Kelissa Heiber

Vail Big Beers
Photo By: Desiree Duzich, Spoiled Beer Brat Productions

Lost Abbey Brewing – Track 8: The Number of the Beast – It’s like liquid cinnamon raisin bread. Framboise 2015 – This was straight up a sweet tart. A deeply rich puckering, sour raspberry. This should have come with a sidecar of Tums. No joke, tart AF. – Cory Pelc

Nebraska Brewing – Melange a’ Trois- Nebraska’s Melange might be the celebratory beer I keep in my fridge for any and every special occasion, this Belgian-style blonde aged in oak chardonnay barrels is what Chardonnay wishes it could be.

New Belgium Brewing – Whiskey Barrel-Aged Blackberry Barleywine – A sweet, vanillin-heavy and boozy take on the OG version of NB’s Blackberry Barleywine. As we said before this is liquid jammy jam.

Ninkasi Brewing Ground Control. Photo by Will Dozier
Ninkasi Brewing Ground Control. Photo by Will Dozier

Ninkasi Brewing – Ground Control Imperial Stout – Space yeast may sound gimmicky but this Imperial Stout is no joke. Promising a sweet but smooth quaff, Ground Control was a natural choice for our must-try list but the actual taste is through the stratosphere!

Odell Brewing – Friek 2015 – “Super Friek is THE Bowmbaaa!!!!”  Mash up description we made up when everyone was too drunk to remember why this was so good but wanted to still be punny.

Perennial Artisan Ales – Foeder Saison (Phil’s Favorite)

Prairie Artisan Ales – CoffieOkie

Renegade Brewing – Depravity

Rodenbach – Caractère Rouge – The perfect mix of cherries and raspberries. These folks are the godfathers of sour beer for a reason.

Sierra Nevada & Bell’s Brewery Collabo – Trip In The Woods: Malliard’s Odyssey

Ska Brewing – Ska Face English-Style Barleywine

Stone Brewing – 2013 Old Guardian West-Coast, American Barleywine

Surly Darkness
Surly Darkness. Photo by Will Dozier

Surly Brewing – Vertical of Darkness & Nein

Three Barrel Brewing – Everything but specifically Saliente, a dry-hopped sour and Melaza, a sour ale with smoky Ancho chiles

Brouwerij Tinnermans (Poured by our homies at CR Goodman) – Pumpkin Lambiscus, a refreshing, pumpkin forward sour with a sweet tart finish. Delicious y’all!

Verboten Brewing – Never Lose Bourbon BA RIS with Coffee and Hazelnut. (Desi’s Favorite)

Victory Brewing – Java Cask – A bourbon barrel coffee stout that clocked in at 14.3%. This tasted like a Hershey’s Kiss filled with whiskey was dropped into a cup of joe. Victory Brewing killed it with this offering and we were repeat visitors to their booth.

Very Nice Brewing – Monk’s Phunk Belgian Abbey Alet.

White Pony – Black Sheep – A gypsy brewers take on an imperial stout with touches of espresso, licorice, dark chocolate, fresh blueberries and blackberries. Keep an eye out for these folks. This Italia-Belgio Brewery is sending their first shipment of beer to the states this month!

**Favorite Cuvee of the Festival – The Bruery White Chocolate & Deschutes 2008 Abyss during the Welcome Ceremony or Strange Craft’s Super Kriek blended with AC Golden’s Kriek.**

2016 Vail Big Beers Verboten
Verboten Brewing. Photo by Desiree Duzich, Spoiled Beer Brat Productions

So as you can probably tell we had zero fun this weekend. In fact, we urge you to stay at home next year, stay warm, watch Netflix, and drink the beer you already have because really there’s nothing to see here. Just kidding, start saving your pennies, Euros, Bitcoin, make sure you reserve lodging early, summit Mount Everest and chug some Cat Sabbath to train for high altitude drinking and get prepped for the 2017 Vail Big Beers because I assure you it’ll be just as spectacular.

Be sure to check back tomorrow as we’ll have an excerpt from a pair of seminars that Kelissa Heiber and Kara Loo attended during the festival.

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