The 2014 Big Beers Festival, Part 1

Photos by JulieannaD Photography

Huge wet snowflakes blanketed the pavement almost faster than heated sidewalks of Vail Village could meltJulieannaD_140110__JLD0861 them for nearly 3 days. This didn’t stop hundreds of brewery employees and craft beer aficionados from flocking to the Vail Cascade Resort for the 2014 Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival. “It’s like we are in a snow globe!”, photographer Julieanna Jablonski exclaimed as she snapped pictures during our dinner at the Red Mountain Grill the night we arrived in Eagle County.

I warmed a globe of Bourbon County Stout between my hands as we shared dishes of chili shrimp, ribs and ahi tuna salad. It was Julieanna’s first time at the Big Beers Festival, and my second, but you couldn’t tell who was excited more. Earlier in theJulieannaD_140109__JLD0447 day we had kicked off the weekend with a stop at Crazy Mountain Brewery. We shared a taster tray of all of their offerings. I was surprised to see such a light colored taster tray in the middle of winter, but over the weekend my expectations of beers and styles would be shattered over and over. I have always enjoyed Lawyers, Guns and Money, and their Bridge Street Holiday spice ale was Julieanna’s favorite.

We decided to stay in Avon rather than Vail for a cheaper hotel rate. We ended up with a great deal at the WestinJulieannaD_140109__JLD0484 Riverfront Resort and Spa, and a beautiful room. The first night ended with a relaxing soak in the hot tub, steam swirling up to meet the falling snow while I sipped a can of Eddyline Brewing River Runners Pale Ale. We shared the hot tub with a group of Australians, and while we tried to share our beer, their pallets just were not accustomed to American hops, and this beer definitely has a big pine punch.

Friday cameJulieannaD_140110__JLD0506-Edit bright and early as we headed back to Vail Cascade Resort for the Cicerone Prep Course sponsored by All About Beer. I may have freaked out just a bit when I arrived and saw that none other than Ray Daniels, founder of the Cicerone Program, would be our instructor for the day. The huge room had wall to wall sprawling tables with industry expert and newbie alike ready to learn more about the craft of brewing. For the next 3 and a half hours we sipped beer, crunched malt, and sniffed hops all to understand more about a beverage we all loved.


The course featured history lessons, off flavor attributes, and more, as well as hands on experiences. The “flavor vs. taste” experiment JulieannaD_140110__JLD0573-Edit (1)was an interesting way to learn about how you taste beer, and you can find out more, here. Try it at your next beer tasting.The course is a non- ticketed event offered annually, check it out if you can. I was pleasantly surprised at how much of the course information I already knew, and it gave me more confidence in finishing out my certification soon. The actual Cicerone Certification test is also available during the weekend.

TheJulieannaD_140110__JLD0698 foyer of the conference hall filled up quickly after the Cicerone prep course for the Welcome Reception. As media members and homebrew judges checked-in, Ommegang, Pretty Little Things Beer & Ale Project, and Cambridge Brewing Company each poured a beer to pair with a small dish. Three Philosophers from Ommegang became a completely different beer when paired with the Triple Chocolate Cake. The beer showed more cherry and other dark fruit flavors with the cake, creating a delightful truffle effect.

As the Welcome Reception ended, the homebrew competition began. I helped steward the competition last yearJulieannaD_140110__JLD0610-Edit, but decided not to participate this year in order to spend some time outside of the fest. If having your beer judged by some of the best pallets in the beer industry is something you are interested in, start brewing your beer now.

The wind wasn’t very enjoyable, but we walked around Vail Village anyways. Huge snow flakes continuedJulieannaD_140110__JLD0742 to fall as parents carrying ski’s and pulling along preschools strolled by. Ski school must have just ended. We ended up at Mountain Standard and grabbed a seat at the bar, but still with a view of the floor to ceiling windows. Outside was a fire pit surrounded by benches next to the river, and two snow caked men carving ice into a whimsical wall.

Mountain Standard was hosting a Schmaltz Brewing Company tap take over, and all 8 taps IMG_20140110_151512featured the New York made brews. I was excited when I saw their Jewbelation 8th Anniversary ale on tap, and we ordered the full flight. However, the bartender failed to mention that the beer would not be tapped until 8pm, and even still charged us full price for the flight. Luckily, the hickory, bourbon caramelized onion soup made up for it. Clearly they couldn’t call it french onion, as the added ingredients gave it an American twist. The savory soup complimented the sweet vanilla and cinnamon flavors of Reunion Ale ‘13.JulieannaD_140110__JLD0732

It was too cold to walk around anymore, so we headed back to The Fireside Bar at the Cascade. During the festival the bars at the resort stock plenty of craft beerJulieannaD_140110__JLD0874 brought in just for the event. You could hear the roar as soon as you walked in the building, as the room was filled with revelers catching up from the last beer fest they met at. Even the lobby had brewery shirt glad guests passing bottles around to share. I felt bad for the families here to enjoy a quiet relaxing weekend, as that atmosphere can’t be found when you put that many brewery people in one room. With several readily available kegs, no less.

I sipped a Trinity wheat and chatted with Chris and Tommy of Telluride Brewing whileJulieannaD_140110__JLD0925-Edit we waited for the Winter Seasonals seminar hosted by It’s no secret that I think Julia Herz is the bee’s knees, and I never miss a chance to learn from some of the best. She hosted the panel of brewers from Dillon Dam Brewery, Captain Lawrence Brewing Company, Very Nice Brewing Company and Surly Brewing. We tasted 4 very distinct and different beers in a blind setting, meaning we didn’t know the style of beer we were tasting. Truly, styles didn’t matter for these beers. Each one pushed one border or another. Some, like Surly’s Misanthrope, a wine barrel aged Saison, blew guidelines out of the water. Panels like this really give a personality to the beer you are drinking. Scott Vaccaro from Captain Lawrence may have spentJulieannaD_140110__JLD0973 more time laughing then he made us laugh, which was quite a bit. Make sure you get on the list for’s seminar next year, which you can do for a $10 donation the Vail Valley Charitable Fund

We finished off the night again at the Fireside Bar with some warming comfort foods and a glass of Sam Adams Utopias, but it was a bit quieter as other events were going on around town. The festival hosts not one, butJulieannaD_140110__JLD0981-Edit 2 beer pairing dinners on each Thursday and Friday nights. I have never attended one before, as the price tags usually are $100+, but I have heard they are worth every penny. Other businesses get in on the fun too, such a Bol that hosted a brewery vs. brewery bowling tournament. The night ends with a cigar and beer pairing, that usually results in legendary stories year after year. This event is on my must do list for next year.

Soon to come….a sensory seminar featuring Ginger Johnson of Women Enjoying Beer, a barrel aged beer blending seminar, the Grand Tasting, and the best after party I have ever been too.



Filed under Beer Festival, Travel

Local Love

Local Love

Fort Collins Beer is near completion, which means so is my guilt for writing on Napa instead of my book, and regular posts will soon commence. In the meantime, take a trip down to The Old Mine in Erie, CO. A new cidery, they have an excellent draft beer selection and have been teasing me with their not yet available cellar selection. The owners have been mentioning on social media how they have been saving bottles for years in order to offer some great beers. Their moniker claims they are also a BBQ joint, but the menu is limited to a pulled pork sandwich. However, I have seen families bring in their own dinner.

While you’re there, fill a 32oz growler with some of their Handlebar Cider. The globe + apple + moustache logo on the glasses is adorable and will be sure to be a favorite in your collection.

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January 21, 2014 · 11:58 am

The combination of cookies, procrastination and beer is delicious

I have always known I am a procrastinator, even if it took me a while to actually come to that realization. I have also always known that I have a hard time saying “no” and an inability to anticipate stress( read future breakdowns). All of these factors came together when I was asked to write a book of 40,000 words in 3 months. Of course I said yes, and of course I have been procrastinating.   I had assumed that my main form of procrastination entertainment while writing a beer book would be drinking beer, IMG_20131211_215448but I was wrong. Oh, so wrong. In fact, I have been drinking less. All in an effort to balance the insane amount of sugar I am eating in the form of cookies and other delicious baked goods. What fun is writing when you can bake cookies and watch a marathon of the Home Alone movies for days?

Recently I made Triple Chocolate Stout Cookies with Avery Czar Imperial Stout, and you can find that recipe here. This recipe used a cake mix as the base for the cookies. I grew up in a family of “from scratch” bakers, but I liked the simplicity of using the cake mix. It truly serves the purpose of being a lazy procrastinator.  But the first recipe must not have been enough for me, because I have come up with an even easier cookie recipe.

On a cold day while trying to find something to do other than stare at a screen, I found a box of red velvet cake mix stuffed into the back of the pantry. Now that I think about where I found it, I probably should have checked the expiration date before I made them. But then I wouldn’t be a true procrastinator.

I paired these with the last couple beers from a 6 pack of Odell Brewing Company Isolation Ale. The hop bite and smooth mouthfeel of this seasonal ale provides a balance for the thick, rich, sweet cookie. It also pairs well with Home Alone 2 or American Horror Story: Coven.


1 box Red Velvet Cake Mix

2 Eggs

6 TBS Butter, melted

1 Cup Chocolate Chips

Roll dough into 1 inch balls, and roll in powdered sugar

Bake for 9 minutes at 375 (until the tops look dry)

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How to Take a Newbie to a Beer Fest

I recently reconnected with an old friend from a few years back when I moved back down to Thornton. I wasn’t as far down the beer hole back when I last saw him, so he had a lot of questions about my new career and passion. Eventually, I asked him, “what beers do you usually like,chef-brew-2013-300x211 any craft beers?”. When he responded “I’ve had Shiner Bock, I liked that”, I understood just how little craft beer he had been exposed to, despite living less than a mile from award winning Echo Brewing Company. When a craft beer fest came up, and none of my other writers were unable to attend with me, I figured this was the perfect chance to share my world with him. Beer fests are great opportunities for those new to the world of beer. There are tons of different styles, pours are small, and if you don’t like it, there is probably a dump bucket around.

If you have some newbie craft beer friends, here is a guide to taking them to their first beer festival

1) Find a Fun Component: Matt is a foodie, so I knew I could convince him to attend this years Chef N Brew festival with me. Each brewery was paired with a restaurant that offered one or two dishes to pair with the beer. He was all over it. Even if he didn’t want to try the beer (we found out real quick that he was not a fan of hops), he still wanted to down the dish. There are tons of fests that have additional components, everything from food and music,IMAG0983 to curling tournaments, are offered along beer samples.

2) Translate: When the brewer looks at your newbie friend and says “This is our new saison, fermented in traditional style in open vats and we also added coriander and lavender late in the boil before running it through a hop back then dryhopped it on sapphire hops before barrel aging it in white wine barrels” be ready to run interference to stop them from running for the door. While this is information beer geeks want and crave, the average person has no flipping idea what the hell you are talking about. A simple “this is a saison, a lighter belgian style beer traditionally made on farms, and can have spices or herbs added” will suffice. Really, all they want to know right now is if it tastes good to them or not.

3) Get the VIP treatment: If VIP tickets are available, get them. Going in an hour earlier than most attendees will give your newbie a chance to get a grasp of how fests work without the crazy crowds that can easily be overwhelming. Give them a run down of typical etiquette for beer fests so they know what to expect. Don’t forget to remind them that if they don’t like a beer they can dump it, and no one will be offended. By the time general admission doors open, they will be a pro. Plus, you can take solace in knowing you are not with a group of bros or hipsters who insist on standing RIGHT IN FRONT of the booth drinking and eating their samples (and getting seconds) so no one else can get to them, because you taught your newbie well.

4) Meet People: Introduce your newbie to your craft friends. Make a point to show how a beer fest can be a gathering of amazing people. Strike up conversations with brewers. Telling the brewer “It’s my friends first beer fest! What would you recommend?”, might help you avoid #2 and also help them get a real personal connection to why you are all there.

5) Follow Up: Take note of beers or breweries they enjoyed. Grab stickers or free beer coupons from the table. Make a plan to visit one of these breweries soon. While only a couple of the breweries beers were available at the event, many more will be available in the taproom. Seeing the taproom and having a beer they enjoyed there will surely send them down the wonderful rabbit hole of beer. Or at least we hope.

I apologize for the lack of photos, and descriptions of the food pairings in this post. after a solid 10 year record, I lost my phone for the first time 😦

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Imperial Stout Triple Chocolate Cookies

I love cooking and baking from scratch. Using a pile of whole, real ingredients to make something beautiful and delicious is always an accomplishment. Unfortunately, baking from scratch isn’t always possible. On a blustery Saturday I decided to forgo my bike ride to bake some cookies for my family. After deciding that the low-fill bottle of Avery Czar would taste delicious mixed with the three types of chocolate chips I found, I went on a hunt for the rest of the ingredients in my moms kitchen. I found a 10lbs bag of sugar…but no flour. No flour. How in the hell am I supposed to make cookies?!?!

Oh look, a devil’s food cake mix.

photo (1)

While using ingredients like this isn’t my favorite, it sure does work in a pinch. Frankly, this might be the easiest cookie recipe I have ever made.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Combine the following ingredients in a bowl

1 box devil’s food cake mix

1 stick butter, melted but not hot

2 eggs

1/4 C Avery Czar Imperial Stout

2C of chocolate chips and nuts of your choice (I used 1/2c dark, 1/2C milk, 1/2C white and 1/2C pecans

Spoon 1 inch balls onto a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper

Bake for 11 mins

Hint: Don’t make the cookies too big, cake cookies hold up better in smaller form

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