If you go

What: Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival

When: Jan. 10--12

Where: Vail Cascade Resort, Vail

Tickets: $55 for commercial tasting and seminars

Info: bigbeersfestival.com

When the mercury drops, it's time to reach for flavorful, big-bodied beers that warm the body and enliven the senses.

And there's no better place to find a world-class collection of these beers under one roof than at the Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival, set for Jan. 10--12 at the Vail Cascade Resort in Vail. Entering its 13th year, the festival has become a must-attend event for beer aficionados and industry professionals alike.

"In 1990, when we founded the event, many people weren't familiar with these kinds of beers, so we created an 'open trade show' to help educate the public," festival coordinator Laura Lodge said. "It snowballed from there, and today it's a destination event for many, many people."

The Brewmasters' Dinners and many of the educational seminars sell out quickly, but there's plenty of room at the grand Commercial Tasting to sample rare and special beers from more than 80 breweries and importers.

Big beers and beers of Belgian origin speak for themselves, but the nebulous Barleywine category is a bit more difficult to define. Typically thought of as higher-alcohol beers approaching the strength of wine, with a complex and rich yet balanced flavor profile, there are two major sub-categories of Barleywines -- English and American styles.

English-style Barleywines are more rounded, sweeter and malt-driven beers with layers of dark fruit and molasses flavors. American-style Barleywines tend to be more hop-forward with a dry to sweet finish, yet are still balanced by a strong malt backbone and a rich complexity of flavor.

"I am a huge fan of very hop forward, American-style Barleywines, as long as the beer has balance," said Matt Thrall, head brewer at Avery Brewing Co., which is known for its Hog Heaven Barleywine. "In my opinion, a double IPA is given a free pass on balance, as it should be hop forward and dry as a bone.

Volunteers pour beers  at the 2012 Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival.
Volunteers pour beers at the 2012 Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival. (Courtesy photo: David Foxhoven)

"With American-style Barleywines, I feel the brewer should not only up the hops but also the malt backbone, as well. It should be a perfect pairing with each component trying to outdo the other."

Both styles are ideal candidates for cellar aging, as the flavors will meld and change subtly while still maintaining the beer's vigor.

Many breweries will host a vertical tasting of several vintages of the same beer to demonstrate how the beer changes over time, and you can expect some older vintages to make an appearance at the Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines festival, as well.

Sisterhood

of the Hop

Sip on some tasty brews while you shop at the Sisterhood of the Hop Holiday Bazaar, from 3--7 p.m. Sunday, in the Barrel-Aging Cellar at Avery Brewing Co. This one-stop holiday shopping event features many local, handmade crafts and products such as jewelry from Bead for Life. Visit averybrewing.com/calendar for more details.

Contact Tom Wilmes at

boulderbeerguy@gmail.com