Did you hear the one about the couple who went to the 2014 Denver Bacon and Beer Festival, and wound up in a food coma that lasted a week? It left them unable to think about, much less write about, anything having to do with food or beer. No punchline here, but we’ll throw you a few puns: We would have written but we weren’t bacon any sense. All the delicious food and beer was bacon us crazy. But now we’re bacon the saddle again. Bacon.
Attending the Bacon & Beer Festival
In all seriousness, the Bacon and Beer Festival, put on by Eat Boston and Denver off the Wagon, is not just a festival you attend – it’s a festival you survive. As this festival winds down it’s not unusual to see people who have simply become overwhelmed, sitting in the corners with a glazed-over look on their eyes and the shimmer of pork fat glistening on their skin. At two and a half hours it may seem short, but many fail to make it to the end. It doesn’t help that the decadent food and delicious beer is typically paired with large crowds in warm rooms, where the fresh air is replaced by the heavy scent of cooked bacon fat. It’s a lot for all of your senses to take in, and eventually, even the strongest among us have to throw in the towel. We like to believe we’ve been training all our lives for this type of excess, but we still end up leaving early, will full bellies and the smell of bacon permeating our clothes and hair. #DenverBaconandBeer has beaten us yet again.
Still, Denver Bacon and Beer Festival is totally worth it. Seriously, this is one of our favorite events of the year. As soon as the bacon sweats stop and the beer and food coma has released us, we’re ready to do it all again. If you haven’t been you’re missing out, and good luck trying to live with your regret after reading our recap. You’ve been forewarned.
There was no shortage of amazing bacon-inspired dishes, and every morsel we tasted was pretty outstanding. A few standouts were Pumpkin Pie Bacon Cup from Butcher’s Bistro: a house-cured bacon cup with pumpkin custard, cranberry salsa and a bacon-pepita brittle. We also loved Hops & Pie’s creation, a square of crispy pork belly topped with a brown butter rice crispy, a chunk of pineapple, and bacon brittle. It may sound a bit unique, but everything worked so well together – it was amazing. The pale ale and goat cheddar soup from Kevin Taylor’s At the Opera House was simply to die for. Think of the best beer cheese soup you’ve ever had, then add a little piece of pork belly bread pudding heaven. Amazing. When we felt like being “healthy” we had some Brussel sprouts sautéed with bacon from The Lobby. They were so fantastic, that even a Brussel sprout hater (Jeff) gave them a thumbs-up.
One of our favorites was so tasty we didn’t pause long enough to snap a photo. Blackbelly Catering chef Hosea Rosenberg created an incredible small plate of Pork Belly Lardon, served with creamy cheddar grits and delicious collard greens. Incredible. There are simply not enough adjectives to describe how good it was. Then again, Mr. Rosenberg is the season five winner of Top Chef, so apparently, he knows his way around a kitchen. Bravo, chef. (Pun intended)
If the complex cuisine was too much, there were plenty of simpler pleasures, too. Like a single piece of perfectly cooked bacon dripping with jalapeño honey. Or the spicy strips of bacon that they handed out while you waited in line. There was a number of bacon-inspired sweet treats, too. There was bacon caramel corn, bacon topped chocolate cupcakes, and even more bacon found its way in cheesecake bites. Second Home served up mini apple and bacon pies topped with cinnamon ice cream that was incredible. And of course our favorite ice cream shop, Little Man Ice Cream, was there with some whiskey and candied bacon ice cream. It was all delicious, and everything included some form of bacon. What’s not to love about that?
This year it felt a bit like the beer took a backseat to all the food. Maybe it was the layout of the space, which had beer and restaurants spread out over several different rooms that made it feel this way. However, a quick count on the menu actually confirmed that the restaurants did outnumber the breweries this year, though not by much. All of the twenty or so breweries in attendance had at least a few options, all of which paired well with the decadent and rich meals being served nearby. One absolutely amazing stand-out was the Brown Ale infused with hops, chocolate nibs and orange being served by Our Mutual Friend. Every flavor was present, with the delicious chocolate up front and center, and the orange melding perfectly in the finish. It was as amazing as anything we sampled that day, which says a lot. TRVE had a fantastic Stout and unique hoppy wheat beer, and Elevation and Epic collaborated to deliver their Epication, a delicious blackberry saison. Finally, we always love Zora by Strange Craft Beer, and the rosemary in this pale ale complimented the savory dishes perfectly.
The Denver Bacon and Beer Festival knocked it out of the park. However, while the new space at The Curtis may have been bigger, we missed the old layout. Having everything spread out over several rooms was not as much fun as one grand space where all the action took place. It got crowded and at times was hard to navigate past the lines to move from room to room. Still, despite the crowds or lines or whatever other minor inconveniences we faced, there was the beer and the bacon. We have no complaints.
Arguably the real best thing about this festival of pork fat and excess is that it’s all for a good cause. Two good causes, actually. Proceeds of this festival went to Metro CareRing and Project Angel Heart, both charities that focus on feeding those less fortunate than us. It makes us feel a little less guilty about our own hedonism when we can give back to those who need it most.
If you are ever able to go to one of the Bacon and Beer Festivals put on by Eat Boston, do it. They throw similar parties in Boston (duh), Philadelphia and South Jersey. However, clearly, Denver does this best. Not only do we have the incredible assortment of craft breweries and innovative chefs at our disposal, but we also have certain recreational establishments that could take your bacon and beer experience to the next level. If you’re into that kinda thing. For us, the bacon and beer alone is plenty for our senses but to each their own. Hope to see you at the Denver Bacon & Beer Festival next year!