Once a year Avery Brewing Company opens its doors and taps to fellow breweries to host a beer festival testing the strength and endurance of its attendees. This year the Boulder Strong Ale Fest celebrated its 15th anniversary under the clearest of blue skies on unseasonably warm day in March. To be included on the beer list, each beer must boast an ABV of eight percent or higher and represent something special and unique from its brewers. Over 100 beers from 43 breweries met the challenge. The majority of breweries made the journey from within Colorado but states as far as California and Delaware were represented.
Each person who was up for the test and purchased tickets received 16 beer tokens, a commemorative glass and a sense of satisfaction. The satisfaction came from knowing that the festival proceeds were going to charity. This year’s charity was G.O.A.L.S (Get Outside and Learn Something) a nonprofit that uses wilderness expeditions to both empower and inspire people.
While dark beers were the expectation there was a style and bold flavored beer for everyone. Here are our top picks for each style that defined the festival.
Stouts and Porters
There was no shortage of stouts and porters on this day. Aged in any barrel the brewers could get their hands, there were a range of styles but a couple stood above the rest. Weldwerks’ Single Barrel Medianoche was the star. Made from the best barrel of their 2017 batch, it lasted for just over an hour before it was gone. Smooth and complex it was easy to see why it the longest line of any beer.
If you were looking for a dessert beer you didn’t need to look any further than the host of the festival, Avery Brewing Company. The Banana For Scale, a stout and the brewery’s take on a bananas foster, exploded on your tongue with cinnamon, vanilla and bananas lingering in the background. Avery also hosted barrel tappings every hour on the hour allowing people to taste their favorite right from the source. Uncle Jacob’s Stout was incredibly rich right from the barrel and deceivingly easy to drink at 14.9 percent.
The most unique stout by far was from Atom Brewing out of Erie, Colorado called Stillness. It is an imperial stout that was aged in oak barrels and then packaged still, meaning without carbonation. The flavor was malt forward as expected but the feel without the carbonation was surprising. The lack of carbonation created a sense of wonder. It made the drinker focus more on the base flavors, a must try beer for any beer drinker.
Hop lovers were not left out in the cold on this gorgeous spring day. Melvin Brewing poured two double IPAs, Citradamus stood out with its fruity hop notes. Denver brewery Renegade brought along the only triple IPA, E3 Endpoint, it was not for those unsure of their love of hops. If you were looking for something a bit less intimidating but still full of hops Continuous Thunder from Ratio Beerworks was a solid thirst quenching IPA for enjoying the afternoon sun.
If you needed a break from the rich flavor of the dark beers you could easily find something to pucker up your taste buds. Perennial sour star Wicked Weed lived up to expectations with its Oblivion, a sour with blackberries and dates and Recurrant, a sour with black currants. Both beers are deeply sour and bursting with fruit. Local Powder Keg Brewing Company made some noise with their Company Quartet, a sour amber ale aged in cabernet barrels with black currants, it was nicely tart and refreshing. Avery’s Bug Zapper made an impression on the sour scene, this sour ale was aged in rum barrels and started strong with ginger and lime and ended even stronger with the taste of mint.
There was one beer, a bit of a myth and a bit of a legend that was talked about by almost everyone roaming the festival. If you dared to save one ticket for the end, which would be the recommendation, save it for Avery’s Chupacabra. This is an imperial stout made with cocoa nibs and habanero, it’s hot and worth the risk.
Every beer at the Boulder Strong Ale Fest may have clocked in at over eight percent for their ABV but that wasn’t what made the festival experience exceptional. It was the bold flavors, the rich character and dynamic ingredients of each individual beer that left a lasting impression.
All photography by Brittany Werges.