If craft beer is "the new rock 'n' roll," as the saying goes at Bristol Brewing Co., then I guess the Firkin Rendezvous is kind of like a sudsy South by Southwest, before the crowds.
Thanks to a timely convergence with Friday's annual Rocky Mountain Microbrewing Symposium ("the only conference designed by microbrewers, for microbrewers") at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Bristol's winter beer festival traditionally draws not only innovative one-offs from breweries in the Front Range and around the state, but often the very alchemists who created them.
"You get to feel like you're part of this crowd and scene just hanging out with these guys for a few hours," said Bristol Beer marketeer Matt Ward. "It's like looking at a painting and talking to the artist. You get to drink the beer and you're staring the dude who brewed it right in the eye and he's asking, 'What do you think?' What could be better than that?"
The challenge to the 40 artisans creating showcase-worthy suds for Bristol's 13th annual cask ale fest, a benefit for the Colorado Brewers Guild, was simple: Go wild, and go small. Containing just shy of 11 gallons, a firkin is an archaic term for a modest-sized beer barrel whose use in brewing dates back centuries in Europe, to when "publicans" lived above their taverns and making and tending to beer was less a job than a life's work.
"Cask-conditioned ales are fermented, dry hopped, conditioned and served in just a single cask," said Ward, adding that barrel-aged treatment can be applied to all styles. "There's a major range - sours to IPAs to stouts."
Some of the festival's brewers opted to riff on popular flagships and seasonals; others started from scratch. For its two limited-edition contributions, hosting brewery Bristol will tap a sour tangerine IPA and Aztec Warlock, a version of its winter oatmeal stout aged on cocoa nibs, dried habaneros, vanilla beans and spices.
"It basically creates the taste of mole sauce - spicy, chocolatey, and there should be some heat to it," Ward said. "If you've ever had authentic hot chocolate, it's going to taste more along that line, which should be great especially if it's kind of a cold day."
For the first time in its history, the event will play out in heated tents in front of the Ivywild School, with access to the barrel-aging room. Traditionally held in the brewhouse, in recent years the gathering there has been growing "cramped," Ward said.
"It's always been a great time and has gotten bigger and bigger each year," he said. "It's something we still get charged up for."
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