Float-trip season is on, and for those of us lucky enough to have won a permit lottery, the arduous planning process has already begun. If, like me, you find that floating down some remote canyon on a 100-plus-degree day in Utah necessitates the life-saving presence of copious cans of ice-cold beverages, then you understand the complex nature of determining the correct quantity to pack. Failure to crack this nut results in the number of beers available on the raft being equal to the amount that you want to drink, minus one. This is completely unacceptable, and avoidance of this tragedy is a sound gauge of the relative experience level of the trip planner or river guide. Likewise, should you have the misfortune to witness glass bottles being loaded onto watercraft en masse, run like hell, as this is a sure sign that whomever is in charge has no fucking clue what they are doing. Glass on the river is about as cool as the presence of Cesium 137 in coastal Japanese waters.
My first experience of craft beer in a canned package happened in 2003 at a backyard BBQ in Boulder. Fishing through an icy cooler in the dark, I grabbed one of the remaining cans from the water, cracked it, and took a gulp. Expecting the piss-thin flavor of Milwaukee’s finest, I was completely shocked as a floral explosion of hop aroma and bitterness consumed my senses. Swallowing hard, I tipped the can and chugged the rest of the magic elixir, convinced I had found some rare and holy artifact. Clutching the empty, I staggered towards the lights from the house to ascertain the brand, in hopes that it was locally produced and that I would be able to find more in the morning. About that time, the hostess, known to some as “Evil Annie,” appeared with a huge funnel and hose contraption and a gallon of some railroad gin, which I believe consisted of cheap tequila mixed with Rufinol and turpentine. Regardless, waking up the next day, red-eyed and blurry, four words stood on the barren plain of my blasted brain like distant monuments on the desert horizon — Oskar Blues, Lyons, Colorado.
Since 2002, Oskar Blues has been packaging their brews in cans for the portability cans offer in outdoor recreation, and for the protection that the fully sealed and light-blocking package affords the beer inside. They currently offer five styles year-round in their 26-state distribution footprint, led by their flagship Dale’s Pale Ale. Oskar’s would like to invite all kayakers to the Lyons Outdoor Games to be held June 10-11, 2011, on the mighty St. Vrain River in downtown Lyons.
A long-time supporter of wild and scenic rivers, New Belgium Brewing Co. in Ft. Collins, CO, proudly supports conservation and preservation efforts on four western rivers through their Skinny Dip campaign, and recently via a $300,000 grant to SaveTheColorado.org, an effort to preserve the Colorado River flow. 2011 will be the third year that the brewery has released its flagship Fat Tire Amber Ale in 12-packs of cans, an effort that was pioneered with the help of Oskar’s in Lyons. Additionally, canned versions of Mothership Wit and Ranger IPA are available in Colorado and select Pacific Northwest markets.
Up in the Summit, Pug Ryan’s brewpub has entered the canning revolution, offering up their Pali Pilsner (named after a run at A-Basin), and the needs-no-explanation-for-the-name Morning Wood Wheat. Pug Ryan’s and the Dillon Business Association would like to invite you to the first-ever “Summit of Bluegrass and Brews” to be held at the beautiful Dillon Amphitheater on the June 24-25. Twenty-four breweries from across the Colorado will convene for two days of bluegrass music and craft beer on the shores of Dillon Reservoir.
For those of you lucky enough to be running the Smith in Montana or one of the arms of the Salmon through Idaho this summer, keep your eyes out for the multitude of canned craft brews proudly brewed under the Big Sky. Kettle House Brewing Co., of Missoula, MT, has recently expanded to 10,000bbl of annual production capacity, supporting their distribution in western Montana. Look for their Eddy Out Pale Ale, Double Haul IPA, and Cold Smoke Scotch Ale in the 16-ounce ”pounder” package. Missoula is also home to Big Sky Brewing Co., whose Trout Slayer Ale, and oft-imitated but never-equaled Moose Drool Brown Ale, are widely available in cans throughout the West.
If a lighter brew is your preference to beat the summer heat, Great Northern Brewing Co. of Whitefish, MT, markets canned sixers of its flagship Black Star Golden Lager in six states (MT, WA, OR, CA, AZ, NV), with Colorado to be added later this summer.
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Erich Hennig, an avid home brewer, is the Four Corners columnist for the Rocky Mountain Brewing News. He lives in Durango, Colo.