Profiles in brew: Laura Lodge of Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival

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2017 Big Beers, Beligans & Barleywines Homebrew Compeition Winner — Laura Lodge on the right with the pink credentials; brother Bill behind her.

David Foxhoven

Held every winter high
up in the Rockies, the Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival is one of
the year’s premier beer events.

“It’s largely a brewers’
festival,” Laura Lodge, cofounder of Big Beers, says. “And they like to show
off … and discuss innovation and new ideas with each other.”

Spanning three days
(Jan. 9-11, 2020), Big Beers features brewmasters leading dinners calibrated to
their ales and lagers, panels on the science and history of beer styles, a
homebrewing competition, and the best commercial beer tastings you’ll ever
attend inside a ski resort.

And though much has been
added in the past 20 years, little of the festival’s core ethos has changed.

“The idea was to
educate,” Lodge says. “Not only educate the buyers but to educate the public.”

Big Beers debuted in
Vail in 2001. At the time, Lodge’s brother and festival cofounder, Bill, owned
High Point Brewing Corp., a distributor for various microbreweries — to use the
parlance of the early aughts — as well as an importer of Belgian ales.

Though Bill’s portfolio
was enviable, knowledge of imports and microbrews in the late-’90s/early-’00s
was limited. So too were Front Range brewers’ access to the mountain ski towns.
They wanted their beers in restaurants and bars, but to do that, they needed to
create demand. They needed beer drinkers to know what was out there, and how
good it tasted.

“So the whole idea of
Big Beers, Belgians, and Barleywines started with the idea of having a trade
show,” Lodge says.

The trade show quickly
became Big Beers’ commercial tasting, a chance for brewers, buyers and the
public to try the most boundary-pushing brews on the market.

It didn’t take long for
Big Beers to turn heads. Adam Avery of Avery Brewing Co. was an early
supporter, as was Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head Brewery), and the two teamed up
for a Brewmasters’ Dinner in 2005 — a staple ever since with two new
brewmasters leading the dinner every year. This year features Neil Fisher of
WeldWerks Brewing Co. and Troy Casey (no relation) of Casey Brewing & Blending.

Another staple that’s
been with Big Beers since year two is the Homebrew Competition, an integral
component of any beer festival.

“The homebrew clubs are
so passionate and so driven to make things happen,” Lodge says. “They will come
up and make the world move for you.”

And from those humble
roots, Big Beers grew from one day to three, relocated from Vail to
Breckenridge’s Beaver Run Resort in 2017, and continues to incorporate more
dinners, more educational seminars and more beer.

Lodge is still trying to
make Big Beers bigger, and this year’s festival will feature a first: the Box
of Big Beers Raffle. Ten mystery 12-packs filled with bottles from the
commercial tasting will be raffled off on the final day. Raffle tickets are $10
(or three for $25), and you need not be present to win.

Raffle tickets, as well
as passes to the commercial tasting and certain seminars, are still available.
Visit bigbeersfestival.com for more.

 


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