Sipping microbrews against the backdrop of changing leaves on Mount Werner, participants at Saturday's 14th annual Steamboat Mountain Brewfest seemed just as interested in socializing as in sampling fine beer.
"It's a nice end-of-season event. ... It just brings a big group of people out," Peggi Simmerman of Steamboat Springs said as she enjoyed the upbeat tunes of the Johnny O Band.
Simmerman was taking a break from beer to savor the apricot and berry tones of a mead from Redstone Meadery.
Mild temperatures and overcast skies made for ideal drinking conditions for the hundreds of Steamboat residents and visitors who congregated for the event, which featured products from 24 breweries, five of which were new to the festival, organizer Jolene Esswein said.
Beer vendors from across Colorado, as well as several from Wyoming and San Diego, poured sample after sample of their specialties and seemed to have as much fun as beer tasters.
"It's a very fun crowd. ... It's certainly not stuffy," said Dwight Hall, master brewer for Coopersmith's Pub and Brewing in Fort Collins.
The brewery is selective about the festivals it attends, he said. Steamboat's brewfest is one of four where Coopersmith's brewery has presented its beers this year, Hall said.
"It's one of the most beautiful settings for a brew festival," he said. "It's a great town, and there's a lot of support."
Hall's was among breweries that challenged samplers' taste buds with brews such as Coopersmith's Sigda's Green Chili Beer -- usually a hit or miss, Hall said -- and a specialty stout aged in Jim Beam bourbon barrels.
Such diversity didn't sound appealing to seasoned brewfest attendee Gary Ertl of Steamboat, who searched for a more traditional, balanced brew.
"I look for something smooth that's not bitter," said Ertl, who found what he was looking for in the Snake River Pale Ale by the Snake River Brewing Company of Jackson, Wyo.
But bitterness wasn't out of the question for other tasters, who lined up at Am-cas, a brewery from Salida serving its potent hops-heavy Double India Pale Ale, a popular brew of the day, brewer Michael Lacroix said.
Lacroix was impressed by the diversity of the crowd, which included tasters from Denver, southern Colorado and Wyoming, he said.
The high-energy crowd was a high point for brewer Steve Trese, with Rockies Brewing Company of Boulder, which has attended Steamboat's brewfest for more than nine years.
"The people who come to this one are a lot crazier than at the other festivals. ... It's something about Steamboat locals," he said.
Josh Graham, a Steamboat resident and microbrew distributor, said the laid-back style of the festival is a big pull for many attendees.
"People like it for its small venue style," he said.
Taster Frank Taylor of Boulder agreed.
"It looks like a really good setup. There's enough space, and it's spread out," he said.
Hosted by the Mountain Business Association, funds from the event go toward research and other projects helping businesses in Ski Time Square, Gondola Square and Torian Plum Plaza, Esswein said.
Though the brewfest was held in conjunction with the Fall Foliage Festival, near Torian Plum Plaza, the brewfest was the clear attraction of the day.
With only one craft vendor and several tents with children's activities, the Fall Foliage Festival was much smaller than in past years.
Vendors Jerry and Nancy Swanson of Livermore, who did well selling their woodworking wares at Art on the Mountain last weekend, were disappointed with the Fall Foliage event.
"We thought it would be bigger. ... Most people walking by are going to the brewfest," Nancy Swanson said.
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