ASPEN, CO -“Honey, you’ve got crumbs all over your lap,” said the woman to her companion, who was wolfing down a late-night slice at Goodfellas in Snowmass.
“Don’t worry,” he replied, matter-of-factly, the last of the pizza crust on his shirt. “When I stand up, they’ll all go away!”
Hard to argue with such micro-brew infused logic after a gorgeous summer evening of spicy chili, zesty hops and live music on the mountain. It was one of those magical summer weekends in the Aspen area, with strong and steady sunshine tempered only by the occasional floating cloud; no afternoon thunderstorms in sight. The 7th Annual Snowmass Chili Pepper and Brewfest was the perfect reason to spend the better half of two days on Fanny Hill.
It all started with the judges’ area. A group of volunteer Green Chili judges were huddled together, sequestered in a corner like a jury being selected for a much publicized case. The head judge laid down the law and the gravity of the chili judging situation: no talking about the chili during the tasting; no expressions, exclamations, facial ticks –nothing to influence the other judges’ palettes. “This is deadly serious,” he said, having been in the chili making and judging business for 28 years.
“You are to move in a counter-clockwise direction and discard your spoon after each sample. There’s no certification to judge chili, no experts in the field – your taste buds are as good as mine,” he assured his puzzled audience, now deadly serious themselves.
Chili is judged on texture, color, flavor and spice blend, respectively, and ICS (International Chili Society) rules demand that judges taste – and swallow – each and every chili. The tasting tent was equipped with pitchers of beer and water, and plates of carrots, grapes, jack cheese and sour cream, to cleanse the palette in between bites; the dairy products do the best job of wiping the slate clean, while “too much beer will deaden the palette!” cautioned the fearless leader. “And remember,” he continued: “No double-dipping!”
After the list of rules was read and re-read, a few judges – surely known for double-dipping – wondered if they were up to the challenge. Happily, there was no grimacing, no one’s palette was deadened beyond repair and everyone moved in a counterclockwise direction.
Out on the hill, the festival was underway. Red and green chilis were doled out and dolloped and taste buds were hopping; across the field and behind the stage there were hops a plenty, with assorted beer colors and flavors from Durango, Granby, Taos and Coogie Mountain, a fine brew from an imaginary place somewhere between New York and Denver. Brad from Aspen Brewery admired the live hops display, which curled like ivy around the Taos Chili Beer tap, while talk turned to blueberries and jalapenos and alcohol per volume.
Soon, Brett Dennen took the stage, Friday’s headliner and the highlight of the weekend’s sounds. Some knew him, some were just discovering him, but a beautiful calm came over the audience as he played. Dennen captivated the crowd with his state-of the world songs and sad, romantic love songs, set to a full-band, a soulful sway and the deepening sky at dusk.
Saturday was another stellar day for outdoor festivities, as throngs of people descended on the hill. Musically, the Wailers were still missing Bob and George Clinton and P Funk peaked about 20 years ago. On the culinary front, some felt a bit rushed through the actual chili and beer festing. One disgruntled reveler echoed a common-heard complaint: “I got there at 4 and they ran out of chili, and then cut off the beer at 5! It’s disappointing,” she declared.
“I don’t know,” said her friend, visiting from the Greater Mid-West. “I lived in Cleveland for 15 years; I’ve definitely been more disappointed than today!” He smiled and held up his glass and the sun moved from behind a floating cloud, to warm his shoulder and mellow his hops.