Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk | AspenTimes.com
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Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk

Kelly J. HayesAspen Times Weekly

Some say that anytime is the right time for a beer. Others insist summer is the perfect season for sipping suds. Regardless, the rain this past weekend didnt seem to dampen the enthusiasm of the throngs who attended the Beaver Creek Blues, Brews & BBQ festival.While the crowd grooved to the likes of Mavis Staples and the funk and jazz-tinged offerings of Boulders Otis Taylor, they also chowed down on barbecue made with love by both local and distant smokers from as far afield as Illinois, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri. But the highlight of the event for the beer lovers was an all-Colorado micro-brew tasting that featured 35 brewers and more than 100 different beers. Judging from the attendees, the state of Colorado brewing is pretty good, despite the recession. From my research, which consisted mainly of walking from table-to-table and tap-to-tap with an empty glass waiting to be filled while I asked questions, there seem to be three different categories of players in the Colorado beer game.At the top are the established brewers who got in early and are as serious about market share as they are about hops. These include the New Belgium Brewing Company out of Fort Collins, the eighth largest (in dollar volume) brewing company in the nation. Then there are the other familiar names to Colorado sippers like the Odell Brewing Company, the Breckenridge Brewery, Boulder Beer Brewing Company, Avery Brewing Company and Left Hand Brewing Company of Longmont.Next up are the brewpubs and restaurants that brew their own beer on site. Rock Bottom Brewery may be the proto-type, but small, single-store locations like the San Luis Valley Brewing Company in Alamosa and Colorado Springs-based Trinity Brewing Company are a growing part of the landscape.And finally there are a burgeoning number of small micro-brewers, many of whom started as home brewers, who are taking their products to the next level. Companies like the tiny Three Barrel Brewing in Del Norte and SKA Brewing in Durango all help to make Colorado perhaps the most diverse craft brewing state in the union.According to beertown.org, website of the Boulder-based Brewers Association, a trade organization that keeps track of industry trends and data, Colorado had 103 breweries in 2008. That is the second highest total to Californias 221, and gives us one brewery for every 47,956 residents, putting us fifth on a per capita basis amongst the states. While Coors in Golden and Anheuser Busch in Fort Collins account for more than 90 percent of the beer brewed in the state, the vast majority of our breweries are defined as craft brewers.Craft brewers are defined as small breweries with production of less than 2 million barrels, independent, with no more than 25 percent ownership by someone who is not a craft brewer and, traditional, meaning they either make an all-malt flagship beer or use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor. Last year craft brewers saw a 10 percent increase in dollar volume nationally, making them the hottest segment of the market.Music and beer events have become summer staples in the high country these days, as resorts strive to bring business to their too-often-empty halls and malls. Telluride has a popular Blues and Brews event in mid-September that has 15 years of history behind it and has become an end of summer ritual for many beer and blues fans.This week, on Friday and Saturday, June 5 and 6, the local summer festival season kicks off with the 6th annual Snowmass Chili Pepper and Brew Fest on tap. Aside from killer music (Leftover Salmon on Friday, moe on Saturday) there will be a couple of different beer venues available for those who buy the Party Pass for $35 per day or $50 for the weekend. Sorry, kids, the pass is only for those 21 years or older.Friday features a tasting of seasonal brews and a competition for the best summer ale. Saturday will host the grand beer tasting. This year, there will also be a tent with European and exotic beers. The price of a ticket also includes the tunes and a chance to taste some top-notch chili.Sunshine or not, this is the best time of year to tip a glass of beer. See you in Snowmass.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and a black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at malibukj@wineink.com.