For the formative tale of firkin festing in the Front Range, one must go back to the early(ish) days of Bristol Brewing Co., pre-Ivywild, when what is now the city's largest brewer operated out of a modest facility and cramped taproom on Tejon Street.
Mike Bristol recently had introduced a cask ale program at his almost-decade-old brewery, and he was seriously grooving on the old-school technique that yields unpasteurized, unfiltered beers naturally fermented, conditioned and served in the same container. Bristol figured he couldn't be the only brewer who'd discovered a taste for the style. Regardless, the news was too good not to share with thirsty audiences on both sides of the bar.
"At that point, to be honest with you, it was a little selfish. I just liked the style," said Bristol.
He suggested that be-all-end-all of craft beer cred: a festival showcasing the brewing style, which - by its nature - tended to yield big beers that were difficult to duplicate. Proceeds would benefit the Colorado Brewers Guild, the nonprofit trade group for which Bristol was a board member.
The Firkin Rendezvous got its name from the British cask size most commonly associated with the style. The inaugural festival, held in Bristol's Tejon Street warehouse, drew about 12 brewers.
"It seemed like a lot at the time. Of course, there weren't that many breweries in 2003," Bristol said. "It was a little raw. It was a very small warehouse, and we had a much bigger response than we thought we would. There were lots of people packed in there trying interesting beers and really enjoying it."
The party became an annual event that really flexed its muscles after Bristol's 2013 move to the Ivywild School, the former elementary - now mixed-use development and neighborhood hub - in the city's Broadmoor area. In the years since the first fest, the "rules" on what types of beers can join have relaxed a bit.
"It's moved away from the British-style cask ale and turned into kind of a free-for-all, but not in a bad way," Bristol said. "It's still all Colorado cask-conditioned ales."
This year's 14th Rendezvous features 40 craft brewers pouring experimental one-offs with recipes limited only by a brewer's imagination. To keep things more intimate, ticket sales are capped at 450.
"It's not important to us to have a 2,000-people event. That's one of the things that makes it fun," Bristol said. "As we all know, there's a bit of festival burnout."
The concept behind Firkin Rendezvous has a baked-in freshness, though. Each recipe is unique, and the quantity very limited: A firkin holds just 9 imperial gallons, or 72 imperial - 20-ounce - pints.
Regular attendees never get the same festival, or beer, twice.
"Brewers pull these beers off one at a time and have incredible freedom to do whatever they want," said Bristol, whose brewery is contributing a cask-conditioned version of its cherry sour ale. "It's a one-shot deal. You'll never get a chance to try any of these beers again, not in the same format."