[To skip right to the festival review, click here!]
When we first moved to Colorado the only beer festival we really knew about was The Great American Beer Festival (GABF), which happens in Denver sometime in October. This is probably the best known beer festival in Colorado and maybe even the United States/World. However, as we got to know people better in the beer community we were informed of another worthy of attention. This one was a much more intimate festival that was brewer focused and organized with pairings, seminars, a home brew competition, and a commercial tasting. You must go they said. This is the best festival they said. So this year we did.
The festivals name is Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival. This was our first time attending and the first time the event had been held in Breckenridge, Colorado (the previous years it had been in Vail, CO). Breckenridge is a gorgeous historic town tucked away in the Rocky Mountains (and closer to us than Vail *highfive* for less driving). I had never been before and was excited to visit for the weekend…buuuut…we were a little late in our ticket purchase and all that was left was the commercial tasting and some seminars on Saturday. Turns out that was a good thing as Mr. Physics came down with a cold and even as we rolled out of the house at 6:23 Saturday morning he still wasn’t feeling 100%.
Now I say 6:23 because the exact minute we left is important. It is important because…ski traffic. Here in Colorado sure we have normal commute to work traffic like everyone else but we also have early Saturday morning and late Sunday evening through the mountains traffic. This is a public service announcement if you are ever heading into the mountains to ski at this time from the Front Range; plan for double the time. We left about 13 minutes later than we should have and it took an hour longer. This fit perfectly with the i70 website prediction, “Saturday WB – As is the typical pattern, traffic will build very quickly starting at 6:00 a.m., be at its heaviest around 8:00 a.m. and will last until Noon. Last year on this Saturday, heavy traffic caused an additional one hour of travel time”, yup spot on and sigh.
Breckenridge greeted us with a winter wonderland of snow and 12°F weather and a strong desire for coffee and sustenance. First stop, Daylight Donuts! Donuts aren’t something I eat a lot of but occasionally crave. There are very few donut places around where I live and when I want something fun and special I usually think donuts or other breakfast pastries. Daylight Donuts did not disappoint. I got a bear claw bigger and heavier than my hand and a sprinkles risen donut to go. Mr. Physics got a sprinkles risen donut and an all chocolate cake donut. Sooooo goooooood! It also had other plated breakfast options that looked really delicious and the ambiance was fun with pictures and licenses plates on every possible bit of space.
We then trekked up the main street to find that coffee place and, I have to say, the beauty of Breckenridge did not disappoint. There were holiday decorations everywhere made even more beautiful by the snow. The street was full of cute shops and we stopped into many of them along the way before entering Cabin Coffee Co. for cappuccinos. The view from the window of the town and the slopes was amazing and we lingered over our coffee contemplating on what to do next. Normally we would snow shoe or snow hike but with how Mr. Physics was feeling we settled for the less active more tourist route of continuing to explore the town.
Once we got our fill of site seeing we stopped in for a quick and delicious soup and sandwich lunch at Park & Main and headed up to big event of the day for us, the commercial tasting at Beaver Run Resort and Conference Center. The tasting consisted of 139 breweries across 3 floors of the conference center and did not disappoint! No way you could try them all (Each brewery probably had an average of 4 beers a piece – about 556 beers. I don’t know the exact number because many breweries didn’t bring exactly what they said they would in the program – which you can see here). I see now why people highly recommended that we attend this event. It was crowded but not overly so and we were able to taste all of the beers that were on our must taste list.
Pros of the event:
- Lots of different breweries and lots of different beers. All the breweries also brought enough beer so most did not run out, even of the popular stuff, for a few hours or even at all.
- The beers that were being poured were in general high quality beers that are sometimes very difficult to find otherwise.
- There were water and bread stations in every corner of the room. If you don’t know why this is important you haven’t been to a beer festival! (at elevation no less, remember Breck is at 9600 ft so drink that water and eat that food especially when drinking beer)
- They had a coat check!!!!
- You got one free meal ticket with three options to eat. Nothing that works if you were vegan and only one vegetarian option but still it was “free” food.
- Breckenridge was beautiful and the conference center looked out over the ski slopes.
Cons for the event:
- The rooms got really hot. With so many people and the weather so cold outside that they could not open the windows, it got uncomfortably hot. So much so that I took breaks on the second floor and the halls a few times.
- Some of the table placement in the halls was not ideal. I appreciated trying to get more breweries in but if the brewery in the hall was popular it blocked everyone from walking by and made it so the people could not really line up for those breweries or talk to the brewers.
- Some breweries only brought one beer that did not fit the theme of the festival. If those breweries were going to be there, they should have been the ones in the hall.
- It was hard that it was the first weekend after New Years. It would be nice if they could make it one week later so you weren’t still recovering from family and holidays. It would have also allowed for a longer weekend as well.
Would I go again next year? Yes for sure. It was totally worth the price for the beers you got to try and Breckenridge was really nice to visit. I like beer festivals in general because they allow me to try some of the hyped beers without having to drink the full bottle. Goose Island BCS Proprietors 2016 for instance, fun to taste, not sure I could ever come across or would want a full bottle. Next time I would get a ticket for a seminar and would plan to come up the night before. We waited too last minute this year but still enjoyed ourselves.
I highly recommend visiting Breckenridge if you like quaint historic towns with more expensive shopping. We went into a Jerky Outlet (bought some way too expensive elk jerky), multiple “vintage” stores, and I can’t even count on two hands the number of outdoor wear and sports stores we walked passed. At night it was beautifully lit up with all sorts of holiday lights. Be aware the waits for dinner at restaurants got crazy long. We didn’t eat but we knew people who were trying to. Instead we got hot chocolate with a little coffee to walk the streets admiring the lights and prepare for the late night ride home. I wish I could comment more on the outdoor events to give you a sense of other things you can do but shop and ski, maybe next time. Also next time we will have to try the local brewery and beer scene so we can get a sense of what that is like without Big Beers in town.
Now that we are home and looking back on the event, our top beers of the day we drank were Station 26 Brewing Co. German Chocolate Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Star, Wiley Roots Brewing Co. Catacombs #5 and Funk Yo Festivus, Casey Brewing and Blending – everything…not joking Supreme Clientele, Dry Hopped Nectarine CFP, Leaner, Jammy, and Santa Rosa Plum The Cut were all amazing, Odd13 Brewing I-P-Alien, Jester King Brewery SPON Methode Gueuze 2016 Blend 4, and Black Project 3 Year Spontaneous Still (one of the components of Oxcart). I am sure I missed some others and I skipped some that I had already had and knew I liked that probably would have fallen in the top beers.
Cheers to your beer experiences!