The rock-star status of craft beer is evidenced by the increasing number and popularity of festivals that give barley top billing with the music and food being featured. And among the best of such fests is the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival, being held Sept. 14–16 and now in its 19th year.
The again-sold-out Great American Beer Festival is the gold standard of beer festivals, but second-tier festivals are popping up all around the state as well as coast to coast. Some are focused, regional and low-key, like the Craft Lager and Small Batch Beer Festival in Manitou Springs in early August, celebrating its first decade. Not strictly limited to lagers, or even beer—participants represent a nice mix of craft brewers and distillers—the vibe of the Craft Lager festival is intimate, laid-back and fun, with music provided as a side dish.
Others, like the Chili Pepper and Brew Fest in Snowmass in early June, gives the music, beer and food about equal billing. Acts like Gogol Bordello and Galactic are as much an attraction as the competitive chili cooks and local and regional craft brewers, both of which submit their creations for judging. Good beer and chili—especially the world-class creations that are concocted at this event—are a match made in heaven. Throw in some stellar tunes and you have a near perfect event.
But if you like world class music in heaping doses to go with a big assortment of craft beer—in an outdoor venue that is impossible to beat—Telluride Blues and Brews is ideal.
Yes, there’s camping, so you get some of the homespun campsite music vibe found at the Bluegrass Festival. But the juke joint jams at venues throughout town that last well into the wee hours eclipse the walkabout jams found in the campsites.
Big names draw big crowds and Telluride Blues and Brews regularly sells out by booking headliners like Phil Lesh and Friends, Gov’t Mule, the B-52s and Little Feat. But the fun of Blues and Brews is discovering a smaller band you’ve never heard of. For me, that included the raw guitar and snappy horns of Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears a couple years ago, as well as the barn burning blues of Jonathan Tyler and Northern Lights.
And the same is true for the beer. Every year at the Grand Tasting on Saturday, there are new, up-and-coming breweries that show up and surprise with their offerings, as well as much-sought-after beers that don’t make it to Colorado from regional breweries even further West. Headliners like Deschutes, Stone and official sponsor, Sierra Nevada, will be back. But as with the music, it’s the little guys—or the ones that don’t get around much— that are fun to check out. Like Sweetwater Brewery from Atlanta. Consistently excellent beer (including a gold and silver from last year’s GABF) that’s hard to find. Or Revolver brewing from Granbury, Texas. They launched this summer and Telluride will be one of their first festivals.
With a number of new festivals popping up around the state and the country, it’s easy to find one that matches your food or music interest with good beer. But for tasty and delicious blues to go with your beer—and world-class scenery to chew on—there’s no match for the Telluride Blues and
Telluride Blues & Brews takes place Sept. 14–16 in Telluride. Visit tellurideblues.com for details.