Road Trip: 2020’s Adult Beverage Festivals

Whether your happy hour is wine-thirty or cocktail-o’clock, Colorado’s adult beverage festivals beckon.

Photo courtesy of Breckenridge Wine Classic

The clock had tolled happy hour when my husband and I rolled into Breckenridge on a lovely almost-fall Friday afternoon; within minutes, we had embarked on Stroll Breckenridge, bracelets on wrists, wine glasses in hand, map tucked under my arm, app loaded on the smartphone.

Just a few minutes later, we stumbled out of our first stop, sweaty, frazzled, and still thirsty. It was so crowded! We had planned a relaxed, adult weekend at the Breckenridge Wine Classic, but we had just had to jostle for a tiny pour. After a couple more such stops along Main Street, we approached one of the volunteers.

“Try the Welcome Center,” she suggested, pointing. “Or the Barney Ford Museum Lawn.”

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We stepped inside the spacious Welcome Center, full of accessible tables of wine, beer, and spirits, and so many friendly people advising us on what to try that we never made it to the lawn. And so we learned the first rule of attending an adult beverage festival: Get your nose out of your map and your eyes off your phone, and start asking your fellow imbibers what they liked, where they found it, and who gave the biggest pours.

OK, well, maybe that’s not the first rule; maybe it’s the moral of the story. Katie Jenkins, event director for Team Player Productions, which runs the Breck Wine Classic as well as the Vail Craft Beer Classic, had set us up with a few very sensible dos and don’ts:

“Do buy your tickets early—the BWC (like the best adult beverage fests) sells out. Don’t bring dogs or kids. Do download the mobile app, which helps you find, track, and even buy your favorites. Do hydrate and don’t come on an empty stomach: You’re drinking alcohol at 9,600 feet! Do expect to try something new and fabulous. And don’t forget your layers: Fall in the mountains can be everything but predictable.”

Photo courtesy of Breckenridge Wine Classic

We had stunning weather the next afternoon and an uncrowded, delightful experience at the first of two Grand Tastings, brimming with conversations with chefs, education from winemakers, and advice from other tasters like us. Table after table of wines filled the Riverwalk Center, and out on the lawn were exquisite morsels from chefs including Joshua Oakley of Avelina and Jim Pittenger from Biker Jim’s.

We couldn’t possibly taste everything but didn’t want to miss the best stuff, so we worked the space as if it were a class reunion. And, when we finally just wanted to sit down and enjoy a glass of wine with a plate of delectable bites, we asked that question again: Who’s giving the biggest pours?

Relaxed and happy, we strolled Breck again—alongside the Blue River back to our room at the Breck Inn. And that brings me to a few more dos and don’ts I would add for your adult adventure:

Do make a room reservation when you buy your ticket. Do walk to and from the fun, or plan to be driven; the Breck Inn has a free shuttle for guests, and there is also a bus. Don’t crowd the pourer—if you want to ask questions, move to the side to let the wine line move along. Of course, don’t overindulge and make a drunken fool of yourself.

And, if you happen to love beer, wine, and/or spirits, DO start planning now to attend one of the eight 2020 celebrations on my curated list. VIP tickets for the Colorado Mountain Wine Fest in September have already sold out, and the Breck Wine Classic that same weekend is always a hot ticket.

Photo courtesy of Breckenridge Wine Classic

The happiest of hours

The unique, small-production wineries of the West Elks AVA share tastes of the newest releases from the highest elevation vineyards of the Northern Hemisphere. June 12-14.

Vail Craft Beer Classic
Includes Sip at the Summit, the state’s highest elevation beer tasting and dinner. June 26-27.

Telluride Wine Festival
Small events and tastings, capped by the Grand Tasting, all for the benefit of the local food-producing community. June 25-28.

Keystone Wine And Jazz Festival
Family friendly with free music and shows throughout, plus tastings and ticketed events for wine-lovers. July 11-12.

Colorado Mountain Wine Fest
Named Best Wine Festival in the Nation by USA Today, the 2020 showcase of Colorado’s wine country has already sold out of VIP tickets. Sept. 17-20.

Snowmass Wine Festival
This event’s Saturday Grand Tasting includes wines from around the world, with foods to match. Sept. 18-19.

Breckenridge Craft Spirits Festival
It’s a big cocktail party, with historic saloon tours, mixology classes, and a scavenger hunt, capped with the Grand Tasting* on Saturday at happy hour. Oct. 9-11.