Guest Review: Snowmass Chili Pepper & Brew Fest
Story, Photos and Video by Ryan Whaley
In the Colorado Rockies, the winter of 2010-2011 never quit. I’ve lived in the high country for five years and love playing in the snow, but this year it was still snowing in June and I started questioning my sanity. Luckily, as much as this part of the country is known for snow, it also has the most craft breweries in the United States. When they decide to get together for a brew fest, summer just happens.
When Road Trips for Beer asked if I could guest blog for the Snowmass Chili Pepper & Brew Fest, it was a no-brainer. I just had to find someone to help me make informed decisions about the brews since I would be judging too. It’s not that I don’t know my beer, flavor profiles, hop content and IPUs. I get all that, but I needed an inside edge especially since I’d be meeting all these beer types.
So I called on my buddy Chris, who happens to have a brother working for Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons, Colorado. I know they talk beer and he gets the inside details only brewery employees would know.
“So dude, do you want to head to a beer fest this weekend?”
On the Road
One of the coolest things about road tripping for beer is the road trip. Independence Pass (open from Memorial to Labor Day) has just opened and it has amazing views of the Rockies. The weather was forecast to be in the 70s at Snowmass, so it’s open windows all the way. Jump on Highway 82 about 20 miles south of Leadville, Colorado, and head west.
After passing the stunning reflective mountain views at Twin Lakes, the altitude starts to increase. The top of Indy pass takes about a half-hour to reach depending how you drive. As we crested the top the sun was shining, but winter isn’t quite over up there. At 12,095 feet there is plenty of snow left. People are stopped everywhere taking pictures, snowshoeing, biking, and yes, hiking for summer snow ski turns. It was exhilarating to watch sports from all seasons happening in one place, but we had beer to drink.
Cruise down the west side of Indy pass and you reach Aspen, “A place where the beer flows like wine. Where beautiful women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano…” as famously stated by Lloyd in the movie Dumb and Dumber. We rolled through Aspen quoting Lloyd the entire time while inching closer to Snowmass Village another fifteen minutes or so up the road.
More than 30 craft breweries showed up with even more home brew folks pouring their best. A bunch of chili there too, but this is Road Trips for Beer, not the Food Network. Before I get into the craft guys I have to talk about the home brewers.
I was lucky enough to judge the home brew competition and with the help of Chris, I was sure I’d come off like an expert. I quickly learned that if it tasted good, everything else just follows.
We used the same judging sheets that are used for the commercial brewers: smell, taste, appearance, balance and overall. My observation is that for a home brewer, balance is one of the most difficult things to achieve. With many of the brews I’d smell a clean aroma and looks would match the style. Every so often the beer would be a touch flat or a spice would stand out too much. Yet, I have to give the home brewers credit because when they get a hit, it’s typically out of the park.
There was a grapefruit wheat called Amorous Turtle that was balanced so well and tasted so good, I could have stopped there and now I can’t even find the guy’s card. Seriously, I can’t find the guy’s card!
After drinking a multitude of great beers, something to settle the stomach a bit is always a good idea. Tums? Pepto? Nah, go with Maryanne is Hotter than Ginger Wheat by Ben Bohmbalk and Mike Mines. This beer was amazing. The wheat flavor was there and the ginger hit the taste buds right after and lingered just enough to make you start thinking about how well this would go with sushi. Finally, the other judges and my buddy Chris loved Jerod Day and Mike Glock’s Blackberry Dunkel, which coincidentally placed first. Dunkel is really not my favorite, but the beer tasted like it smelled and I know that’s key for a Dunkel.
After this experience, I think a home brew only beer fest needs to be in my near future, but alas, I have to go taste the best micro brews in the country. Sucks to be me.
1st-Jerod Day and Mike Glock- Blackberry Dunkel
2nd- Ben Bohmbalk and Mike Mines- Maryanne is Hotter than Ginger Wheat
3rd- Kaylee Bowlby and Matt DeStefano- Belgian Strong Ale
Honorable Mention- Jason Bray
The Other Beers
On to the stuff you can buy at the store, if you’re lucky enough. As I said earlier, I love IPAs, so if this comes off a bit hop-heavy, my bad. I tried a ton of beers and these are a few of my favorites. First up was the Rifle Creek IPA by Rifle Creek Brewing Company in Rifle, Colorado. It has plenty of hops and tasted a bit stronger then typical IPAs.
I soon moved on to the Ghost Face Killah by Twisted Pine Brewing Co. I have to admit I was scared of the beer. I love hot food, but a chili beer with six peppers and one pepper with more than 200 times the heat of a jalapeño? I smelled it and became even more scared, then I tasted. At first it doesn’t hit hard, almost an ale flavor that soon disappeared. This mellow ale flavor then became a demon in my throat, which was heading to my stomach at a high rate of speed.
I sprinted over to Bristol Brewing for its Laughing Lab Scottish Ale. I love this beer and buy it at home, but this time I was hoping that it would just cool me off – and it did. The malty chocolate extinguished the fire demon peppers from Ghost Face. After my scuffle with death, I felt ready for another chili beer without such a dangerous rap sheet. The Taos Green Chile beer from Eske’s Brew Pub was perfect. This beer was dry and flavor balanced perfectly. The Independence Pass IPA from Aspen Brewing Company, which is just up the road from Snowmass, was another favorite. The hops hit you with an aroma before you start drinking and continue with a ton of hoppy-goodness until the glass is empty.
The 8th Annual Snowmass Chili Pepper and Brew Fest was certainly an amazing time. Good weather, good chili, good music and great beer!
1st Widmer Citra Ale
2nd Palisade Dirty Hippie
3rd Redhook Wit
Honorable Mention: Aspen Brewing Blonde
Here’s a link to a list of all the beers poured.
Thanks for the great review, Ryan. Be sure to pencil this fest into your Road Trips for Beer schedule. It always takes place the first Friday and Saturday in June.