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On the cold and snowy afternoon of January 5, the 16th annual Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines festival kicked off slope-side at the Beaver Run Resort in Breckenridge. While the well-respected Summit County event (formerly held in Vail) may not have the notoriety of the Great American Beer Festival, it’s widely considered to be one of Colorado’s best beer fests by industry folks. This year, 130 breweries from around the world gathered to showcase their Belgian-style, experimental, and high-alcohol brews in tastings, educational seminars, and food pairings. Amidst the global showcase of talent, Colorado breweries’ offerings shone bright. Check out our five favorite local brews here, and be sure to mark your calendars for next January’s Big Beers fest so you don’t miss out.
A gold medal winner in the Wood and Barrel Aged category at the 2016 GABF, Denver Beer Company’s Drama Queen was once again a standout. This saison’s complex-yet-synchronized combination of fruity and oaky flavors comes from aging in 16 different types of oak wine barrels (including Malbec, Merlot, and French Cabernet). 1695 Platte St., Denver, 303-433-2739
Jolly Russian Imperial Stout
If you’re going to drink one hearty, high-alcohol beer from Colorado this winter, make it Odell’s Jolly Russian imperial stout. Weighing in at a hefty 13.3-percent ABV, this roasty, rich beer is aged in rum barrels and tastes like a symphony of coffee, cocoa, vanilla, molasses, and dried fruit—perfect for those chilly winter nights. 800 E Lincoln Ave, Fort Collins, 970-498-9070
Ska Face Barleywine
Barleywines are strong aled with high ABV and intense flavors; Ska Brewing’s 11.5 percent ABV Ska Face is an exemplary example of the style. The complex, fragrant brew offers sweet caramel notes thanks to three years of aging in Peach Street Distiller’s Colorado straight bourbon barrels. 225 Girard St., Durango, 970-247-5792
Dry Hopped Nectarine Farmhouse Ale
Although Glenwood Springs-based Casey Brewing & Blending is a relatively new addition to the Colorado craft beer scene, its reputation for producing unusual, well-balanced beers using Old World techniques has already generated a buzz. After sampling the brewery’s dry-hopped nectarine farmhouse ale, it’s easy to see why Casey’s pouring table attracted such a steady stream of beer drinkers at the festival. Aged with Emeraude nectarines and dry hopped with Motueka hops from New Zealand, this brew is funky, rich, and bursting with sweet nectarine flavor. 3421 Grand Ave., Glenwood Springs, 970-230-9691
American Sour Ale with Raspberries
Sour ales are still white hot in the craft beer industry, and Loveland Aleworks’ American sour ale with raspberries was one of our favorite showings at Big Beers. Thirteen pounds of raspberries are added to this brew during the aging process, giving a nice sweetness to balanceout the tang of the wild yeasts. 118 W 4th St., Loveland, 970-619-8726