It’s not every day that Denverites’ endless craving for chili, brews, and bourbon result in more than a hangover or heartburn. Or both. But on Saturday, March 3, such a miracle is possible if you attend the second annual Zach’s Chili Challenge, which benefits the Morgan Adams Foundation in their work to fund pediatric brain cancer research.

Named for and inspired by Zach Canaday, the brave college freshman who’s been battling medulloblastoma since 2008, the Challenge is a lively event fueled by copious amounts of red and green chili (and chile). Each spicy iteration is simmered by a local chef and then paired with a Colorado beer or spirit. As you walk around the McNichols Civic Center Building, you can dine, sip, and vote on each dish and drink for the People’s Choice awards, while pro judges (myself included!) do the same. Live music by Fort Collins’ own “rock n’ funk n’ roll” band Graham Good & the Painters, courtesy of Beam Suntory, should encourage chili-heads to dance off the burn.

Defending champions and new competitors alike are getting ready for the cook off. Adison Conway of Comrade Brewing, 2017’s winner of the People’s Choice Award, told us, “Last year’s challenge was a blast, and easily a standout from all the other festivals we participated in last year. We were happy to help contribute to such an awesome cause with our comrades in the industry. This year we’re bringing the heat with our World Beer Cup Gold-Winning Yellow Fever Blonde Ale.”

Grant Ruesch, a Bon Appetit Management Company sous chef at Regis University, took home the Judge’s Choice award in 2017 for his wild card pork green chile with its chicharron garnish. He says, “It was an honor to compete in the inaugural Zach’s Chili Challenge, and it’s always great to see the culinary community come out in support of this worthy cause.” On Saturday, Ruesch will go after the green chili trophy with a recipe he’s been refining for months—details are top secret, and only attendees will have the privilege of tasting the deliciousness.

The details: Saturday, March 3, McNichols Civic Center Building, 144 W. Colfax Ave., 5 p.m. entry for VIP ticket holders ($100, which includes early admission, exclusive tastings, and access to a reserved seating lounge); 6 p.m. entry for general admission ticket holders ($50, which includes unlimited samples of chili, beer, and spirits; a commemorative tasting glass; voting vouchers; and grand prize drawing tickets). The event ends at 9 p.m.

Denise Mickelsen
Denise Mickelsen
Denise Mickelsen is 5280’s former food editor. She oversaw all of 5280’s food-related coverage from October 2016 to March 2021.