Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines: The Whole Story

Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines: The Whole Story

I was approaching the west exit of the Eisenhower tunnel. A massive Dodge that easily stood 18 inches over my S10 had just passed me going about 65 miles per hour. I made the snap decision that he was going to be my shield. We rocket into the daylight out the end of the tunnel like a bullet from a rifle. For those not familiar with the Eisenhower tunnel, traveling east to west, you’ve basically been climbing for about 35 miles or so and then suddenly you are hurling down mountain at a very steep grade.

As we blaze our way down the mountain, I get separated from my shield and stuck behind a recent model Impala. I see their brake lights and I’m cruising in fifth gear just hovering the accelerator using my engine to brake. Whenever I hit the accelerator, my truck sounds like a muffler has been blown off a vacuum cleaner. “Fuck this shit” I finally mumble. If they can’t decide whether they want to cruise or be cruised in the left lane, cruised they shall be. I found a clearing in the center lane and blast by the snoozepala and set out to find my shield once again.

My dirty dark blue S10 lurches down the already steep mountain highway, easily reaching 85-90 miles per hour. My truck is hardly stable at this speed, but I try not to focus on that. I reach my shield again and he’s still barreling down the mountain without any hesitation. At this moment in time, he is my spirit guide. My 170 spirit guide. To my dismay, he works his way over to the far right lane, a lane I know for a fact ends in an exit. My cover has now been blown and I’m all by myself in the bright ass mountain sun as I hurl myself towards Vail, CO to reach the Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines festival in search of the biggest beers man has to offer.

I used an overly elaborate introduction to say I was late. I was supposed to leave Denver at 9ish so I could arrive in Vail around 11-11:30 and attend the festival’s Friday luncheon, but my day job interfered and caused me to leave at noon. Most of the cool stuff didn’t happen until Saturday, (Sessions and the commercial tasting) but I wanted to experience as much of the Big Beers Festival as possible. Friends that had attended in the past said it was one of their favorites and I’ve heard rumblings about it plenty of times on Twitter. I hate missing out, so my own tardiness pissed me right off.

I arrived. I got my stuff to the room. I met up with the people I wanted to meet up with. Everything was cool and we managed to hit up a bad ass bowling event hosted by Sam Caglione. Our crew included Sarah from Left hand, Tony from Odell and Ryan from Focus on the Beer. Team “Sarah and Sam” put on a goddamn clinic versus team “Tony and Ryan” going four out of five games. However, that last game was pretty brutal. I think they may have knocked down one pin for every dollar on our bar tab.

Once back at the hotel, Tony decided Worldwide Stouts while bowling doesn’t do the trick and ordered old fashioneds for just about everyone. Who am I to stare a gift drink in the mouth? We talked about going to the cigar pairing event until we realized there was a 45 minute wait. And it was outside. In Vail. In January. The only natural thing to do was to go up to the hotel room and slam beers for a couple hours. So we did.

I woke up Saturday morning cocooned in my sleeping bag with Modest Mouse’s “Satin in a Coffin” looping in my head. It was the only thing keeping me from openly weeping. My head felt like one of the lead pins we had been crushing with bowling balls just 12 hours prior. High altitude drinking had bested me again. It was only 9am and session I wanted to attend at noon seemed like light years away. So I got up, showered, vomited in the shower, dressed, picked up my press credentials, went back to the room and laid down on the bed to rest my eyes.

I woke up around 1pm, still groggy and headachy. In one hour, I had to go to the convention center and drink a bunch of high ABV beers, take pictures and potentially interview anyone who would talk to me. I did not feel like doing any of these things. I wanted to continue sleeping. However, I am a consummate professional and mustered up the will to pull myself out of bed, collect all my camera gear and wander to the convention center. (For anyone interested in seeing a session like the one I missed, here is a link to one Ryan recorded for Focus on the Beer)

The commercial tasting portion was tiny in comparison to something like GABF. Walking around, I thought to myself, “I bet I could have a beer from every brewery here.” After a slow start, I quickly realized this notion was absolutely idiotic. Even dumber, I left my business cards in the hotel room. Dumber yet, I then lost my tri pod for about an hour. Needless to say, the footage I collected for our video was about as well put together as I was. I managed to get a few interviews in before the Ugly Lights came on and people started milling out of the convention center.

My personal shortcomings aside, the commercial tasting was amazing, and I can see why this is an industry favorite. The hall was crowded like other popular beer festivals, but each booth was occupied by actual brewers, brewery employees and even some owners. The beers were all insanely delicious. I even tried a few sours just to break up the constant intake of imperial stouts and Belgian Quads I let cascade down my esophagus. The highlight for me, though, had to be the 1994 Samuel Adams Triple Bock. This beer was 21 years old. It can legally drink. And aside from the cork particles, was smooth as silk. And delicious. It made me realize my cellaring efforts are fucked and I should just drink everything I have before I ruin it.

My sense of urgency to get up to Vail on Friday was completely justified. The Friday events are top notch, everyone I met was awesome and excited about beer and it’s endless potential. Next year I’ll do a little more proper planning and maybe pace myself a touch better to enjoy this killer event to the fullest possible extent. I’ll probably also work on my high altitude drinking. Yeah, that’s clearly the lesson learned here.

Samuel Sly
Written by Samuel Sly

Homeboy seemingly came out of nowhere. Michigan? Colorado? Truth be told, no one knows where this motherfucker came from. Rumor has it he dwells in Denver and drinks ram piss.

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