OnTheSnow uses cookies to personalize your website experience and collect statistical data. In addition, these cookies help us and our partners to better understand your use of the websites and provide tailored advertising to you. By clicking on the I accept button, you accept the use of cookies. Please refer to our Privacy Policy to find out more on how to manage your cookies preferences: Privacy Policy
Ok
English (US)

Big Beers in Breck: Ski & Craft Culture Collide to Concoct the Best Weekend Ever

23rd January 2019 | Heather B. Fried

News Regions: Colorado

Resorts in this article: Breckenridge

Big Beers in Breck: Ski & Craft Culture Collide to Concoct the Best Weekend Ever- ©Dustin Hall, Brewtography Project

Big Beers is the perfect blend of skiing and craft culture.

Copyright: Dustin Hall, Brewtography Project

Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Festival descends on Breckenridge toward the beginning of January every year to bring thirsty craft beer aficionados access to three days of palate-whetting, mind expanding/blowing beer experiences. While that probably just sounds like binge drinking in the mountains, the festival actually entails educational seminars and workshops, food and cigar pairings, homebrew competitions, yoga, and the main event: Commercial Tasting featuring more than 500 beers that fall into at least one of three buckets: 7 percent alcohol by volume or higher (the big and the Barleywine), Belgian style (the obvious: Belgian), and/or brews that are experimental in nature (at the discretion of the event organizers). 

And then—so that you can maintain your resolution to exercise more while simultaneously ditching the resolution to drink less—there’s the skiing. With close to 3,000 skiable acres and everything from mellow groomers to wide open, Euro-style high-alpine bowls, and steep, technical terrain, Breckenridge makes the perfect venue to cure what ails you after a night on the town… ales you. Nothing like cool, crisp air and presence of mind that comes with focusing in on the next turn and out of your aching head (assuming you can muster motivation enough to layer up and schlep to the slopes).   

"Perhaps one of the coolest aspects about Big Beers is that it's set to the backdrop of one of the world's best ski resorts, Breckenridge Mountain," according to Tristan Chan, founder, PorchDrinking.com. The Breckenridge benefits are no news to seasoned skiers and riders, same as the beer buffs have their Big Beers itinerary down to the last sip. What follows is advice for the crossover crowd who wants to maximize mountain by day and dabble in craft connoisseurship by night.  

Simultaneously maintain your New Year's resolution to exercise more while putting to rest the resolution to drink less at Big Beers.  - © Dustin Hall, Brewtography Project

Simultaneously maintain your New Year's resolution to exercise more while putting to rest the resolution to drink less at Big Beers.

Copyright: Dustin Hall, Brewtography Project

Navigating Breckenridge 

Being that Breck is pretty horizontally sprawling across its five peaks and also boasts a summit among the highest in North America, it pays to prepare with a trail map and game plan. Breckenridge’s peaks are situated Peak 6 at skier’s left to Peak 10 on the far right with Peak 8 being central and serving as the mountain’s main base (Peaks 7 and 9 have base stations as well). 

Each peak features a mix of terrain that generally gets steeper the higher up you go. Big Beers conference goers staying at Beaver Run can catch the Beaver Run SuperChair right outside the hotel’s back door. Those looking to ski or snowboard as a quick morning pick-me-up need look no further than the cruisers in this area, lapping the blues around this lift and nearby Mercury SuperChair. American is a great introductory black diamond run if you’re ready to up the ante. 

See 18/19 Long-Range Forecast

If American is up your alley but you need a change of scenery, Peak 10 has a lot more of the same fun and fast black trails. From the top of Mercury, jog over on Upper Lehman to the Falcon SuperChair and hit Centennial, Cimarron and Doublejack. A jaunt in the other direction via the Peak 8 SuperConnect lands you atop more mid-mountain black diamond cruisers and opens up easy access your next challenge: Horseshoe Bowl.  

Getting the face shots at Breckenridge at the start of MLK long weekend 2016.  - © Breckenridge

Getting the face shots at Breckenridge at the start of MLK long weekend 2016.

Copyright: Breckenridge

This steep wall that engulfs Peak 8 offers up plenty of powder and/or bump lines depending on the size and recency of the last storm. Traverse Columbine over to the Horseshoe Bowl T-Bar and take the looooooong ride up to drop into your choice of double black bliss. T-Bar haters (ahem, snowboarders) fear not, you can enjoy a portion of Horseshoe bowl by heading over to the 6 Chair and veering skier’s left from the top to hit Steampede, Mule and Rustler. 

Once there, however, you may not be able to resist heading up the highest lift in North America, the Imperial Express SuperChair, where you’ll be able to traverse and/or hike to your heart-rate’s content. When you’re ready to make your way back toward home base, travel along Frosty’s Freeway and take the E Chair up. True gluttons for pain will opt to hot dog any of the steep, narrow, double black mogul runs below, the superlative being the infamous Devil’s Crotch. Take E back up one more time and cruise all the way back into Beaver Run at the base of Peak 9 where what Chan calls "the most baller après you've ever experienced" awaits!

A view of the town of Breckenridge, Colorado at night  - © Breckenridge

A view of the town of Breckenridge, Colorado at night

Copyright: Breckenridge

Navigating Big Beers 

Going on its 20th anniversary in 2020, Big Beers has been called the “best in fermentation, education and recreation,” according to Eric Schmidt of participating Amalgam Brewing. He also appreciates the occasion’s rare opportunity for craft lovers to connect with the attending owners and brew masters behind their favorite breweries. Dustin Hall, founder and photographer of the Brewtography Project, cites the “unique location and time of year (ski season),” as to why Big Beers attracts more of the owners and head brewers. “Which is amazing.” 

While it's easy to gravitate for big-name national brands, Colorado's craft beer scene has risen to elite level qualities.  - © Dustin Hall, Brewtography Project

While it's easy to gravitate for big-name national brands, Colorado's craft beer scene has risen to elite level qualities.

Copyright: Dustin Hall, Brewtography Project

With a custom lineup every year, many of the events over the course of the weekend are ticketed or geared more toward brewing industry folk. That said, it’s not hard to find yourself on the receiving end of popup pours—Cigar Pairing Experience, Goose Island Tasting—while trying to find your way around Beaver Run, the fest’s central hub. And because Breck is known for its nightlife, Big Beers hosts affiliate events throughout the town and weekend that include parties, tap takeovers, food pairings, concerts, tastings and overall access to beer rarities that, in some cases, are hard to come by at the breweries themselves. 

Brewers from Colorado's Call To Arms enjoying the scene at Big Beers in Breck.  - © Dustin Hall, Brewtography Project

Brewers from Colorado's Call To Arms enjoying the scene at Big Beers in Breck.

Copyright: Dustin Hall, Brewtography Project

If you only manage to attend one of the myriad Big Beers events, the Commercial Tasting is where it’s at. Even though you’ll have close to four hours to explore and excavate your favorite pours, it pays to do a little homework given that the session features two full floors of more than 150 breweries and 500 beers. In other words, the pours might be unlimited, but sobriety/consciousness is not. For pre-reads, Big Beers offers the list of participating breweries on its site as well as the full beer list via DigialPour app, sortable by style, ABV, IBUs (bitterness scale) and location within the event. For the inside scoop, our friends over at PorchDrinking.com provide their picks for most anticipated beers beforehand and the breweries that over-delivered with the recap highlights. 

Tristan Chan of PorchDrinking.com archiving his favorite beers.  - © Dustin Hall, Brewtography Project

Tristan Chan of PorchDrinking.com archiving his favorite beers.

Copyright: Dustin Hall, Brewtography Project

PorchDrinking.com's Chan also offers up this sage attendee advice: 

Tip 1:  Build Your Base

There might be no more important piece of advice you'll receive about Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines than to properly fuel up before the main event. When drinking 8 percent alcohol by volume and above beers for four hours, you've got to come prepared. While Big Beers does a great job of providing ample baskets of free bread to allow you to refuel during the fest, it doesn't quite do the trick like a hefty breakfast burrito or a stuffed crepe. 

Tip 2: Go in With a Game Plan, Then Plan to Abandon It

Over the past 19 years, Big Beers has gained a reputation for curating one of the most impressive collections of beer talent for a festival of that size. As such, you really can't go wrong when it comes to sampling incredible beer. We recommend taking a quick look at the pour list before the event starts to identify a handful of can't miss beers, then just allow exploration to run its course. 

Tip 3: Meet the Brewers

One of the other benefits of attending an elite level beer festival of this nature is the fact that most participating breweries send their actual head brewers or brewery owners to hobnob with attendees. From Adam Avery, founder of Avery Brewing Company, to Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head, Big Beers tends to bring out all of craft beer's biggest celebrities. Take a moment to stop and hear their story and learn a little bit more about the beer you're drinking. 

Tip 4: Don't Forget About the Local Breweries

While it's easy to gravitate for big-name national brands like Dogfish Head, Sam Adams (who brings Utopias, a $200 bottle of beer), Fremont, Side Project, Avery, etc., Colorado's craft beer scene has risen to elite level qualities. Young breweries like Cerebral, WeldWerks, Black Project and Outer Range have rightfully been garnering a ton of buzz, but even risers like Amalgam, Cellar West, Wiley Roots, Paradox, Westbound and Down, and many more bring out their best. And their best is often just as impressive. 

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Gallery

Big Beers snow - © Dustin Hall, Brewtography Project
Breckenridge - © Breckenridge
Breckenridge - © Vail Resorts/Jack Affleck
Tristan Chan of PorchDrinking.com - © Dustin Hall, Brewtography Project

View All

 

Advertisement

Related Articles

Solid Snowfall for Intermountain West, Northeast: 1.24 Snow B4U Go ©Meteorologist Chris Tomer

Solid Snowfall for Intermountain West, Northeast: 1.24 Snow B4U Go

The Western storm track shifts north into Canada over the next five days setting up a series of smaller Clipper-like storm systems on ...

Advertisement

Advertisement