Guest Post by Angela Rose
Held annually in the ski town of Breckenridge, Colorado, the Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines festival is understandably popular with craft beer aficionados. The festival’s largest event, the Saturday afternoon Commercial Tasting at Beaver Run Resort, regularly features high ABV and Belgian-style beers from more than 150 breweries located across the U.S. and around the world. It’s easy to see why Big Beers has earned a place on USA Today’s 10 Best Beer Festivals list two years in a row.
This year’s event took place January 10-12 and did not disappoint. With tap takeovers and other affiliate events at a multitude of venues around town, attendees had dozens of opportunities to mingle and savor unique brews all weekend long. Those who enjoy imbibing in conjunction with education had the chance to attend a number of ticketed workshops and seminars. And the weekend’s three unique double-beer pairing dinners were a foodie’s delight.
I was invited to attend Big Beer’s Small Plates and Craft Beer Pairing dinner at Aurum Food and Wine in Downtown Breckenridge on the afternoon of January 11. It so impressed me that I decided to dedicate my coverage to that particular event and forgo the usual recap of beers enjoyed at the Commercial Tasting.
Setting the Table
Featuring brews from Blackberry Farm Brewery in Maryville, Tennessee, and Verboten Brewing and Barrel Project in Loveland, Colorado, the dishes served at the Small Plates and Craft Beer Pairing dinner were created by Aurum’s Executive Chef, Korey Sims, and his culinary team.
Because the beers chosen by the two breweries for the event were incredibly different, I was delighted by Sims’ ability to create artful dishes that successfully bridged the gap between the diverse styles.
“Just like wine, beer has a lot of different nuances,” Sims explained at the beginning of the meal. “You can pair wine with food symmetrically or perpendicularly, and it’s the same with beer. We also thought about the progression of the beers as you eat through the dinner. I like to go from lighter to heavier beers, so that was our inspiration.”
First Course: Cured Scallop Aquachile
With lime, jalapeno, pickled red onion, cilantro and crispy fennel, this dish was bright and beautiful. Accented with white chocolate shavings to add richness, the Aurum team paired the dish with Blackberry Farm’s 1976 Farmhouse Ale, an imperial saison, and Verboten Brewing’s Somebody to Love, a brut IPA.
“Somebody to Love was actually the first brut IPA released in Colorado,” Grenz explained as diners savored the tender bits of scallop. “We beat three breweries by a whole week in releasing this beer. This particular batch is very fresh and has a dry finish to highlight the hops. I wanted the dryness to provide most of the bitterness while the aroma and flavor of the hops shine through. We used Hallertau Blanc, which has some wine characteristics, as well as Azacca, a new-world hop that is tropical and kind of citrusy.”
Second Course: Hudson Valley Foie Gras
As a foie gras fanatic, I couldn’t wait to sink my fork into this course, but I salivated patiently as Sims described the plate before me.
“We’ve made a Hudson Valley foie gras mousse with a little bit of chicken liver in there as well,” he said. “On the base, you have a spiced brioche pan perdu, pecan butter and some toasted pecans. There’s also brittle made with local honey from Clark’s Farm with a little Maldon sea salt and a bit of grapefruit to add some bitterness and break up the creaminess of the dish.”
While I preferred Verboten’s brut with the first dish by a tiny margin, the second course was perfectly accompanied by both Blackberry Farm’s Barrel Series Brett Saison 18 and Verboten Brewing’s Thinking of Something Orange, an orange blossom honey wheat.
As attendees dug into the fancy French toast, Hixon explained that the saison was aged in red wine barrels from California’s Alban Vineyards for 18 months. “When we tried it, it wasn’t over-oaked, so we bottled it uncut,” he added. “We were fortunate enough to get a silver medal for this one at the Festival of Barrel Aged Beers in 2017.”
Third Course: Achiote Rubbed Pork Belly
Inspired by South American flavors, the final savory course of the afternoon featured achiote-rubbed pork belly, an Aji Amarillo chili pepper sauce, French soubise and a crispy potato croquetta. Pickled red cabbage and pineapple salsa cut nicely through the layers of spice.
“We source our pork from Corner Post Ranch in Black Forest, Colorado,” Sims informed us as we barely refrained from licking our plates clean. “They raise five different animals sustainably on Audubon Society-leased land, making it bird-friendly as well as organic. The difference in the pork is incredible. It’s the most marbled, beautiful pork I’ve ever used.”
While Verboten Brewing’s Little Nonsense, an imperial oatmeal stout, accentuated the sweetness of the pork and achiote, the dry finish of Blackberry Farm’s Boundary Tree saison worked well with the sour notes in the pineapple and pickled cabbage.
Fourth Course: Manjari Chocolate Dome
I don’t often end a meal with dessert, but Sims’ chocolate on chocolate masterpiece, gilded with shimmering gold leaf, was not to be missed. Featuring a 64 percent cocoa Manjari chocolate glaze over a tender chocolate buttermilk cake filled with orange curd and accented by chocolate crumble and cocoa nib ice cream, the dish was a decadent foil to Verboten Brewing’s Cake or Death, an imperial chocolate stout, and Blackberry Farm’s Abbey Quad.
“We made Cake or Death to push our 15-barrel system to see how far we could take it,” Grenz said as we all devoured our desserts. “We put as much grain as we could possibly fit in our mash tun twice, just to get 15 barrels of liquid out of it. We boiled it for six hours. Then we added five different types of chocolate to it including Belgian chocolate, liquid cocoa nibs, and cocoa husks from Honduras, Fiji and Ghana.”
Hixon explained that Blackberry Farm’s delightfully syrupy quad had been brewed with sorghum from Muddy Pond Sorghum Mill, a Tennessee producer, rather than the Belgian candy sugar typically used in beers of that style. “The farm has been a big supporter of the Southern Foodways Alliance over the years,” he added as we savored our final bites. “Local producers are a great resource to us.”
Don’t Miss Next Year’s Festival
Is your stomach growling? If so, that’s a sign that you shouldn’t miss next year’s Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines festival or the delicious pairing dinners that surround it. Mark your calendar for January 9-11, 2020 and prepare for a weekend of epicurean adventure as you feast and imbibe in the beautiful Colorado Rocky Mountains.
Also by Angela Rose for HeidiTown.com: The 12 Best Bites at PAIRED 2018 at GABF
Angela Rose is a freelance journalist living in Longmont, Colorado. She loves food, craft beer and cats (though not always in that order) and can be found scouring the state for the best tacos, trying new breweries, and –more often than not– removing helpful felines from her keyboard so she can meet a deadline. Check out more of her work at www.thequirkycreative.com.