We live in rad times. Proof of this can be found on the shelves of any decent liquor store, where the once homogeneous wall of light, and slightly less light beer, forced from the bowels of some cavernous monstrosity in St. Louis or Milwaukee, has been supplanted by a cornucopia of fresh, locally produced brews in an ever-widening selection of styles. Grab any two bottles of craft beer and you will find that, like snowflakes, each is unique. So too are the institutions that produce and sell these wonderful products.
Variety is the spice of life, and as with the beer they produce, craft brewers tend to create facilities that reflect personal style, creativity and marketing in equal parts. For the intrepid beer aficionado, intent on consuming new styles of beer in different places, the subtleties that differentiate one from the next can best be illustrated by breaking them into four categories, that of production brewery, the stalwart brewpub, the up-and-coming nanobrewery and the beer bar.
Production breweries, the workhorses of the craft industry, are primarily focused on producing volumes of beer for packaged distribution to the consumer. They hide themselves in light industrial areas across the West, in places where loading docks and forklifts are the norm. Despite this, the taprooms that operate in these facilities offer a chance to enjoy the freshest possible pints of product, while taking in the atmosphere of the place where it is made. Across Colorado, the number of these facilities that have evolved is staggering, with giants such as New Belgium, Lefthand, Avery and Odell’s in the Front Range being joined across the state by Ska, Oskar’s, Durango Brewing, Crazy Mountain and Telluride Brewing, to name just a few. I have many fond memories of visits to brewery taprooms, like riding to Lefthand for growlers on Saturday, the old roof-deck at Ska and not being able to find Avery on bike after sitting at Twisted Pine for a couple of hours (it’s just off of Arapaho).
While production breweries dominate annual production of craft brew by volume, by far the widest scope of small-batch beer comes from your favorite local brewpub, an American icon. These span the spectrum of style, but generally pair beer produced on premise (or elsewhere, in some cases) with a restaurant business. This is no easy task, as the two halves of the business, beer and food, operate on different frequencies. With the two in synch, the brewpub can function like the human brain, with each hemisphere specializing in the tasks that it is best suited to, and producing better results as a system than either half could alone. This delicate balance is rare, and finding really kick-ass beer paired with good food and service is not always a given. Style combinations vary widely, from great brew and steaks at Chama River Brewing in Albuquerque, NM, to fine pints and pizza at Amica’s in Salida, CO. Some brewpubs, like Tommyknocker in Idaho Springs, CO, have managed to pull off the triple crown of brewing feats, operating a brewpub and distributing beer on a wide scale. Increasing numbers of followers are coming to market every day, and finding offerings on the shelf from Wynkoop, Steamworks, Pug Ryan’s, Silverton and Eddyline are a real treat.
By far the newest entrant to craft brewing is the nanobrewery. While definitions vary, the “nano” generally produces modest amounts of beer in a few styles on a small-commercial or large home-built system. Run by brewers that may be operating part time, they distinguish themselves by having total freedom as to the styles of beer they produce, the volumes or changes they make from batch to batch. In essence, brewing at this scale represents the freest from of commercial brewing, meeting the requirements for legal sale, while flying under many of the constraints to variation that volume production introduces. A couple of my favorites are the Ourayle House in Ouray, CO, and Revolution Brewing out in Paonia, CO. The number of nanos out there is growing every day, and lacking large marketing budgets, sometimes these are hard for the intrepid beer writer to discover. Any tips as to where I can find these businesses flourishing and their beer flowing would be greatly appreciated.
And last, but certainly not least, for sheer quantity of beer styles on tap, one must give credit to the beer bar owner/operator. Wither an independent like Lady Falconburgh’s in Durango, CO, with 40 taps featuring selections both local and international, or a “captive” beer bar, like the (Breckenridge Brewery) Ale House in Grand Junction, serving both Breck beers and a strong selection of guest taps, nowhere else can whim and fancy for beer in varying style be met on such an uncompromising scale.
Enthusiastic homebrewer Erich Hennig lives and works in Durango, CO. Drop him a note at firstname.lastname@example.org