Beer festivals – Colorado certainly has no shortage. A week has passed since the 8th Annual Winter Park Beer Festival and the hangovers have subsided, leaving us reminiscent of hoppier days. We were blown away by the turnout of breweries and beer drinkers alike. The event brought 45 microbreweries and over 3,000 attendees from across the country.
We had eagerly awaited this day when sleepy Winter Park would proffer abundant taps, brimmed with brews for every palate. Thousands of attendees traded their mountain bikes, fishing rods and running shoes for mini-steins and pretzel necklaces.
A view of cascading mountains in the distance greeted us as we approached the venue, thirsty as ever. Hideaway Park was already packed to the brim with beer drinkers, but it didn’t take long to get our first pour – an Amputator IPA courtesy of Butcherknife Brewery in Steamboat Springs. “Prost!” we yelled and slammed our mini steins together, a few suds splashing to the ground.
Amputator’s garish label brandishing a zombie creature with chainsaw in-hand leads your taste buds to anticipate a bold, heavier, punch-packing IPA. Down the hatch, this 7.2% American Style IPA is satisfyingly hoppy, however, not bitterly overbearing or impressionable. We would drink this beer on a lazy Sunday afternoon or at a BBQ. For our first beer taster, we were pleased with a middle-of-the-road beer, as we had a long day ahead of us!
We stayed true to the Town of Winter Park’s motto, “Never grow up, just find a bigger playground.” With 45 microbreweries in attendance, that left us at approximately 11 beer tents per hour; a manageable game plan even with the shoulder to shoulder crowds and lengthy lines!
Coming from just down the road in Granby, Colorado, the festival’s most interesting beer was a Fall Harvest Roasted Chile Cream Ale by Never Summer. Most chile beers make us say, “Save the chilies for the enchiladas, that’s what they’re good for.” The velvety body of Never Summer’s chile beer, complimented by a conservative presence of looming and subtle spicy aftertaste, satisfyingly surprised us. Humble beginnings characterize Never Summer, a homebrew operation and supply store recently turned professional brewery just last year! The best part about Never Summer’s booth was the red igloo kegerator – the precise charisma of the brewery and brewer himself!
Three other unique honorable mentions include Great Divide’s Nadia Kali Hibiscus Saison with ginger and lemon, Destihl’s deep golden Amra Mango IPA and New Terrain’s Mirage Hoppy Sour – a sparkling, pucker inducing invention for the audacious!
Around 3 o’clock, a cloud cover swept in, analogous with our increasingly foggy vision – perfect timing to migrate on over to Jagged Mountain Brewery’s tent, for a relevant Chowda Hazy Session IPA. Sessionable at 4.6%, this modest American IPA was a pleasant palate-cleanser; especially after a rich 8% Old Chub Scottish Strong Ale, heavy on the chocolate and cocoa notes courtesy of beloved Oskar Blues Brewery.
Jagged Mountain is known for some sock-knocker-off-ers such as their 17.5% Barrel Aged Devil’s Abyss and 14.8% Triple Bypass Imperial IPA. Fortunately for our stamina, the brewers left these back in their Denver Tap Room.
Our next pit-stop had us cozied up next to the Sapporo sponsored karaoke where beer-wielding rock stars enjoyed their 2 minutes of fame. A few crowd favorites included “I Want It That Way” and “Sweet Caroline.”
Shouting over the blaring speakers, I was able to chat with the beer guy behind the taps of Boggy Draw Brewery from Sheridan, Colorado. He poured me a sample of their famous beer, the Sergeant Sinkhole. Famous, you say? Talk about a beer with a story! Two years ago Sergeant Greg Miller’s police SUV plummeted into the ground in an unfortunate random sinkhole incident. Fortunately for the Sergeant, he escaped with minor scrapes and bruises. In his honor, the brewers at Boggy Draw invited him to help in the brewing process of his favorite kind of beer. The outcome was a 5.2% bright gold hazy Hefeweizen dedicated to the Sergeant and his sinkhole episode. While I hope that disasters aren’t necessary for a good beer story, they sure do make each sip more interesting.
A blur of dozens of more beer tents ensued.
We eventually bopped and buzzed our way through the Colorado t-shirts and hats on over to the food section for a tasty turkey leg to pull us through to the event’s end.
Around 4:30, most breweries had run out of their most popular ale and lager varieties. Judging by attendees’ dance moves and stumblings on the lawn, it was a safe bet to guess whose bellies most of that beer ended up in!
Time ticking, we scurried to a few last vendors and ended up at Eddyline Brewery from all the way out in Buena Vista, Colorado. We scored by visiting the Eddyline booth last, as they were handing out beer cans left and right to stragglers still trying to party. I snuck away with a full can of Crank Yanker IPA – conveniently one of my personal favorites. A citrusy hopped Indian Pale Ale, layered with pine and lingering bitterness, at 7% sure makes for an aggressive night cap but hey, we’re not complaining!
From Colorado classics like Tivoli Brewing, founded in 1859, to New Terrain’s recent intro to the industry in 2016, all participants contributed to the success of Winter Park’s Beer Festival. This eighth year of production marked the largest yet and I cannot wait for number nine.