Crafting the Stoke

Dude in neon bodysuit pounding it circa 1988, prior to the Craft Brewing revolution. Greg Stump – The Blizzard of Aahhh’s

I’ve been waiting for the snow to fall. I’ve been waiting for the snow to fall, and cover us all!” If, like me, those simple lyrics by the String Cheese Incident cause a stir deep inside as the fall colors fade and the nights become crisp in the High Country, you too may be feeling the onset of the stoke for another winter season in the mountains.

At Crazy Mountain Brewing Co., located in Edwards, CO, the stoke is on not only for winter, but for the exciting developments afoot this season. A production brewery founded a little more than a year ago in the Vail Valley, Crazy Mountain is the brainchild of Colorado native Kevin Selvy and Marisa Aguilar. Kevin honed his brewing chops at the venerable Anchor Brewery in San Francisco before returning home to set up his own shop. Since pouring their first beer last January, they have opened a tasting room, begun distributing six packs locally and will begin shipping a wider range of beer styles packaged in 22-ounce bombers this fall. The Vail Valley has been rough on breweries, with several closing doors or changing hands in the last few years. When asked about this, Kevin stated that the local market has been fantastic, and the support they have gotten, as well as the exposure to travelers from all over the country and the world, has been a huge factor in their early growth. With distribution deals pending in four states, a 10,000-square-foot expansion planned for the fall, and with the beer now served at most fine-dining establishments and at Vail Resort this season, Crazy Mountain is way out ahead of the game, and is hopefully in the early stages of becoming another mountain brewery success story.

If you will be lucky enough to get in some days at Vail Resorts this season, I am happy to report that they will be offering several quality craft brews from the aforementioned Crazy Mountain, as well as the Breckenridge Brewery. The standard selection of Euro-fizz lagers and other InBev/Anheuser-Busch products round out the bill, with the addition of Coors products to please the home-state crowd.

While I’m on it, I’d like to give a shout-out to Coors (or Molson-Coors now), for their long-standing contribution to Colorado brewing history, and for making one of the best hangover cures out there, Coors Light. Yes, along with sex and guacamole omelets, nothing staves off the agony of the morning after like an ice-cold Silver Bullet.     

While ascending the lifts towards the back bowls at Vail or on the chairs at the Beav this season, it is probable that, amongst the flocks of families and tourists, you may glimpse a rare and fabled creature, descending the slopes with gusto, knees tightly locked together, resplendent in all his radiant neon grandeur. Yes, you know the man of whom I speak. He is member of an elite group of holdouts, skiers who hit their prime in the late-’80s, and, though ravished by time, are still able to pound the slopes like the pros of yore, and still fit inside the glowing cornucopia of faded glory that is their original-issue neon body suit.

Some may deride these veterans with terms such as “Manther” (this being the male form of “Cougar”) or “Plake.” In their defense, I offer only Greg Stump’s 1988 cinematographic masterpiece, “The Blizzard of Aahhh’s” as their raison d’être. Fashion being circular, all indications are that the 2011-12 season will witness the widespread return neon to the slopes. Facing the distinct probability of a new batch of body suits being manufactured in this palate, take heed. For those thinking that you have the skills to roll the excess of style that is a neon body suit, think again. The man that can rock the neon body suit is a lot like Tom Selleck and his moustache — Selleck belongs to the 1% of men that own and operate a truly “lady-killing” mustachio. Yours, on the other hand, represents the other 99% that vary in lady-killing ability on a scale ranging from Burt Reynolds to those of Freddy Mercury. Before taking the plunge on the neon body suit, heed the guiding principle of Socrates and Know Thyself.

Erich lives and works in Durango, CO, where he generally rocks it. Drop him a note at beer@mountaingazette.com

Autumn in the Rockies – A Perfect Time for Beer

A new brewery opening is always good news, and having one take shape in the challenging economic environment of a mountain town is even better. This September, Telluride Brewing Company will open its doors in the Lawson Hill area of Telluride. A joint project between long-time Smuggler’s Brewpub head brewer Chris Fish and business partner Tommy Thatcher, TBC is intended to be a production brewery, with distribution of canned product and 22-ounce bombers to begin locally in southwest Colorado this fall. Tastings will be offered at the brewhouse, with the full lineup of TBC brews to be available at the Llama Restaurant and Pub on Main Street in town. The final decisions as to which styles of beer will be offered initially were not set at the time of writing, but Fish indicated that he thought a Rye Pale Ale might be the first out of the gates, as he has won medals at the Great American Beer Festival for that style of beer in the past. The grand opening celebration is planned for the week of Blues & Brews, and TBC will be pouring at the festival as well.

The 18th Annual Telluride Blues & Brews Festival will take place September 16-18th in Town Park. The party really gets going during the grand tasting on Saturday, this year featuring 53 breweries from across the West. The musical lineup is slightly different than in years past, with Willie Nelson headlining, along with the Flaming Lips, Robert Cray, Big Head Todd, Dweezil Zappa and Moe. According to event press director Bill Kight, the intent this year was to attract a broader audience and then expose them to some serious blues musicians alongside less-traditional blues music. I personally consider Willie among the top three on my list of the greatest living Americans (the other two being Bob Dylan and Jimmy Carter), and hearing the mellow notes and bourbon-smooth sound of his guitar and voice flowing pure and true through the crisp fall air at 8,750 feet is reason enough to make the trip.

If you do go, be sure to stop in at the newly re-opened Baked in Telluride for some tasty goodies. Following a tragic fire that destroyed the entire building two years ago, owner Jerry Greene undertook the arduous task of rebuilding the establishment, a process completed this past June when the doors were opened in time for the summer season. Though he used to produce and serve his own beer, BIT now serves several styles from Smuggler’s on tap.

For some reason, September is the month to celebrate the greatest of all beer holiday, (and perhaps the greatest of all holidays, period), Oktoberfest. Based on a fairy tale originating from old Germany, the annual event, supposedly commemorating some dude’s wedding, is celebrated around the globe, and makes a wonderful excuse to get together with a couple thousand of your closest friends and neighbors to drink beer and eat brats in the streets of a friendly mountain town near you. Seriously, claiming meaning for Oktoberfest is about as ridiculous as the messenger of Easter being a magic egg-laying, long-eared mammal. Having attended my share of these celebrations in various locales across the West, I will call out the annual event held in Durango, Colorado, at the end of the month as my personal hometown favorite.

Up in Keystone, the 15th Annual Bluegrass and Beer Festival will take place August 6-7th at River Run Village. Featuring dozens of breweries, and tastings on both days of the event, this festival bears particular attention as bluegrass legend Peter Rowan and his Bluegrass Band will play two full sets on Saturday, and a third on Sunday. A one-hour song-writing/guitar-picking workshop session with Peter is also on the schedule for Saturday morning. If you don’t know his history, as a young man, he was a member of the Bluegrass Boys backing up the grandfather of bluegrass music, Bill Monroe. In the early ’70s, he, David Grisman, Jerry Garcia, Vassar Clements and John Kahn formed Old & In the Way, a traditional single-mic unit that began a bluegrass revolution that is still going strong today. I personally own and operate something like 50 albums and live recordings of his music spanning five decades, and make sure to get tickets whenever he comes to Colorado. At the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in June, he introduced his song, “Panama Red,” by saying, “Some people think this song is about drugs. Some people think that I take drugs. But I don’t need to take drugs … I AM ALL DRUGS.” Can I get a yee-haw to that!?

Erich Hennig, an avid home brewer, is the Four Corners correspondent for the Rocky Mountain Brewing News. He lives in Durango, Colo.  

Dog Days of Summer

Jess Wojcik enjoying a cold one in the backyard. Photo: Erich Hennig

Writing a column in late May destined for the High Summer issue in July while watching flakes the size of coasters build to a soggy eight-inch-deep mess on the front deck is no easy task. On the radio, the talk is of serious snow in the central Rockies, and the possibility that the intrepid souls at CDOT may not have some of the seasonal high-alpine passes open for the Memorial Day weekend. Independence Pass is 25 feet deep in places, but the locals in Aspen still hope for a regular start to summer, hot on the heels of near-record skier visits this past winter.

I haven’t been up the Roaring Fork Valley in years, not since Widespread Panic and Ratdog played something called the “Howling Wolf” at the base of Buttermilk in the late-’90s. At that time, the Flying Dog Brewpub still operated in Aspen, though the bottling operations had been moved down to Denver. The larger production facility allowed owner (and MG founder) George Stranahan, (also producer of Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey), to distribute his flagship Doggie-Style Pale Ale and the rest of the lineup in 45 states. I’m a big fan of Doggie-Style, and I always wondered at the connection between the beer, Aspen and the unique artwork on the labels.

As it turns out, George was the owner of the “Owl Farm” property in Woody Creek that was the long-time residence of the late-Hunter S. Thompson. He leased it to Hunter, and through his acquaintance, was introduced to artist Ralph Steadman. When Flying Dog began bottling beer for distribution, Ralph agreed to design the labels. His first label, for Road Dog Porter, contained the scrawled slogan, “Good Beer, No Shit.” The Colorado liquor board, apparently concerned that adults over the age of 21 would be irreversibly harmed by this bold stroke of marketing genius, pulled the beer from shelves. A four-year legal battle ensued, during which time the words, “Good Beer, No Censorship” replaced the original moniker. Flying Dog prevailed in court, and the label art was restored. Today, it can be found in any decent liquor store across the country, with the notable exception of the State of Texas, whose mixed-up liquor authorities still can’t handle that shit.

With the closure of the brewpub in 2000, Aspen was without a true local brewery until 2008, when the Aspen Brewing Company opened up shop. The brews are served in the on-site tasting room, and at notable venues in and around Aspen. I was lucky enough to run into them at a beer festival on Earth Day in Boulder. I enjoy India-Pale-Ale-style brews, and found ABC’s offering, Independence Pass IPA, to be a crisp and refreshing hop experience, and a welcome break from the current trend of double- and triple-strength concoctions out there, many of which drink like chilled Robitussin, and hit like a full bottle of the same.

That same summer, a friend and I hiked the Lost Man trail over the 4th of July, from the top of Independence Pass, to where it again intersects the highway, seven or eight miles below. Standing on the side of the road in a sweaty tie-dye with my thumb out, none of the 13 out-of-state minivans grinding up the pass in a slow line behind an RV would stop and give me a lift. As I watched them pass, a jet-black Trans-Am skidded to a stop on the gravel shoulder. Jumping in to the black leather seat, the driver, wearing aviators and a silk shirt, looks over to me and says in a Swiss/South African accent (a combination possibly heard only in Aspen), “I just watched them pass you. I used to ride up here. Now we pass them all”! Burying the pedal, he proceeds to tear up the narrow lanes of the pass with complete disregard for solid yellow lines, speed limits, other vehicles, sheer drops or blind curves. As we recklessly swerve around them, the honks and shouts from the flabbergasted minivan drivers are drowned by the deep-throated roar of the big-block, and Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” which the driver has turned up to 11. At 70 mph, he makes his move on the rental RV, and with open road now ahead, I see the hairpin just below the top of the pass where our car is parked. Not wanting to get behind the RV again, he slows to a roll and I jump out with a shout of thanks. As he screams away, I stand at the inside of the hairpin as the RV and all 13 minivans that had refused to give me a lift, roll slowly by. The shocked looks on the face of the Midwestern wives and children was great. The last guy in the line shouted as he passed, “Nice choice of Rides!” Priceless!

Erich Hennig, an avid home brewer, is the Four Corners columnist for the Rocky Mountain Brewing News. He lives in Durango, Colo.

Beer at Altitude – Mountain Brewfests Kick Off Summer

Late Thursday evening, early spring, van driving hard toward Pagosa Springs on the yearly penance run to the Front Range for a weekend of old friends, bluegrass, weirdness and beer at the Boulder Theater.

Telluride local/pirate Hawkeye Johnson and the author pause for the cause at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, 2009. New Belgium's brews are on tap at the festival in June, and the adult sippy-cup is a free upgrade.

No snow yet in the graying sky, but “The Wolf” to cross — Wolf Creek Pass, among the upper class of high-mountain passes in the West, and no interstate or magic tunnel to guide us into the night. Stones wailing in our ears, the yet-frozen forest of the high-alpine passes into night as we careen down into South Fork, Del Norte and on through forgotten space towards Saguache. Darkness takes the snow-bound heights, clouds descend and snow flurries scatter in the metal-halide glare of the state prison as we enter Buena Vista.

Our destination this eve is the Eddyline Brewery, a newer participant in the Colorado micro-brewing movement. Located on the banks of the Arkansas River in the “South Main” area of B.V., it is a partner organization to the Socorro Springs Brewing Co., in Socorro, NM. (Author’s note: Fayhee gives Socorro Springs a hearty thumbs up, as he has found himself dry-of-mouth in Socorro on numerous occasions.) You ain’t late if you make last call, and doing so, it was beers and wood-fired pizzas all ’round. The brew was solid, and following the opening of an additional production facility this spring, will be available in 16-ounce “pounders” by high summer. It is always good to find a friendly brewery after an arduous drive, and even better to find one with nearby riverside parking for “stealth camping” in the van (which was kindly pointed out to us by the lovely bartender). It is this type of experience that defines the mountain-town vibe for me, and awaking to the glory of the Collegiate Peaks shining in the mountain sun across the valley the next morning, I needed no explanation why the motto in B.V. is, “Life is Better When You’re High.”

By June in the High Country, the clear snowmelt is running from the peaks, and beer is flowing in the hills at the many brewfests that grace the region. To begin, the 17th Annual Mountain Brewers Festival will be held in Idaho Falls on the 4th, featuring eight breweries from Idaho and a host of others from the Pacific Northwest, Montana, Utah and Colorado.

Depending on where you are in the state of Colorado on June 11, two festivals, both celebrating their second anniversary, require attendance. The first is the Boulder Sourfest, hosted by Avery Brewing. Think the kool-aide that Lindeman’s mass-markets as a Lambic-style beer is authentic? Well, stop by Sourfest, and think again. Celebrating all things wild, as in wild yeast and “spontaneously fermented” beers, this event will introduce the participant to flavor components of beer described as barnyard, earthy, goaty, hay and my personal favorite, horseblanket. Not for the faint of palate, Lambics, Guezes and sour beers are a connoisseur’s delight.

The second event is Silverton Rockin’ Brews, taking place at 9,318 feet of elevation up in Silverton, CO. The organizer, Silverton Brewing Co., was damaged when a tragic fire burned several historic buildings in town this past spring, including the brewery and taproom. This event will coincide with their reopening after being closed for repairs. Breweries from across the Western Slope will be pouring, and music will be playing under the big top tent.

June 24-26 is host to four events. Big Sky Brewing Co. in Missoula, MT, will host its annual BBQ Festival on the 25th. Less about beer and more about meat, last year’s event pitted BBQ cooked up by eight local restaurants against discerning BBQ aficionados from all over Montana. Big Sky’s offerings will be on tap to cool the heat, with live music throughout the day.

In Summit County, CO, look for the Summit of Bluegrass and Brews to take place over two days on the 24th & 25th at the Lake Dillon Amphitheater. Featuring national bluegrass acts and beer from breweries from all over Colorado, the event is a fundraiser for the Colorado Brewers Guild.

The 22nd annual Colorado Brewers Festival hits downtown Fort Collins on the 25th & 26th. An old favorite of mine from my days at Colorado State University, this is a full-on party that consumes Old Town.

And finally, the Made in the Shade Beer Tasting Festival will take place at Fort Tuthill County Park in Flagstaff, AZ, on the 25th. Featuring 50 beers from across the Southwest and around the world, this is the place to be if you’re down in the A-Z.

Got any brew-related news to share? Fire it off to me at beer@mountaingazette.com.

Erich Hennig, an avid home brewer, is the Four Corners columnist for the Rocky Mountain Brewing News. He lives in Durango, Colo.

Craft in Cans Float the Boat

Steve ‘Duder’ Kammerer, general manager at Steamworks Brewing Co., performs a difficult balancing act with cans of the Third Eye Pale Ale, Colorado Kolsch and Steam Engine Lager. Photo by Erich Hennig

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.

Got beer related-event news that should be included in the MG? Drop me a line: beer@mountaingazette.com

Cheers!

Erich Hennig, an avid home brewer, is the Four Corners columnist for the Rocky Mountain Brewing News. He lives in Durango, Colo.

Salmon River Brewery

In 2004, Tamarack Ski Resort, located across Lake Cascade from Donnelly, ID, became the first major new ski area to open in North America since Beaver Creek, CO, and Deer Valley, UT, back in 1981. The resulting spasm of real estate speculation, and associated influx of “far-ners,” many fleeing the more populated mountain towns of Colorado for the relatively underdeveloped paradise of Idaho’s Valley County, brought with them a culture and ideas that were a “mite differn’t” from those that had dominated these rural areas in the past.

Uninterested in sheep herding, the newcomers had ideas about recreation, recycling, education, public transportation and green living that hadn’t been given widespread credence in these parts before. They also brought with them a taste for something other than Olympia and PBR. Ten-year resident Matt Ganz, himself working full-time ski patrol at the resort, heard the call, and in 2009 with partner Matt Hurlbutt, founded the Salmon River Brewery in the nearby town of McCall, ID, with a 7Bbl brew system bought from the Wynkoop Brewery in Denver.

On the opening day of the brewery, it was announced that Tamarack would not be open the following year. The perfect economic shit-storm that had hit the rest of the country took an early toll, and the owners of the resort were in court, or on the run. Despite the news, the brewery and restaurant flourished, and sales of their Salmon River Quiver IPA and Udaho Golden Ale kept on strong. Now, two years later, a group of homeowners at the resort have worked a deal to get the lifts at Tamarack turning, and the slopes were open again this past winter. Rumors of possible investors abound, and all involved hope to see a stable operator at the helm soon.

Robbie Russel enjoys a proper-sized mug of Salmon River Quiver IPA a the Salmon River Brewery in MCcall, ID. Photographer: Colin Gamble

At the brewery, the resort opening has helped the winter business some, but their focus has been the details of a possible expansion this summer to allow for a wider distribution footprint. According to Ganz, the current brew system and production volumes don’t pencil well with large distribution, and he is eyeing some 15Bbl fermentors and a new cooling system to fix this. In the meantime, expect to see a series of small-batch beers on tap where the brewers have taken a mainline offering and done something different, such as changing up the yeast strain, or adding some dry-hopping (post-fermentation addition of hops to increase floral aromas and flavors in the brew).

After the lifts have been stopped, but before nighttime temps in the High Country have quit turning barley-pop into beer-sicles, the weather is near perfect out in Utah’s Canyonlands. Moderate daytime highs make this one of the best times of the year to get out into the red-rock backcountry. And if, despite this, the rumor of Beehive State 3.2% beer laws give reason for pause, then you have not visited The Moab Brewery. According to head brewer Jeff VanHorn, the brewery maintains a rotating lineup on eight taps, spanning the spectrum of color and ABV. Additionally, he is bottling a series of imperial-strength beers (above 8% ABV) in bombers for campsite enjoyment. By press time, these should include a Scotch ale, a black imperial IPA and a Belgian triple. These, as he says, should help non-local beer drinkers to feel safe about coming to Utah. Spring of 2011 will also see the ground-breaking for a planned 5,000-square-foot expansion of the brew house to allow for more fermentation space and a new canning line. Plans for off-site distribution are not complete but a definite possibility for 2012.

From the back deck of Ska Brewing’s World Headquarters, located atop Durango, CO’s mighty Bodo Industrial Park, one is afforded an excellent view of the rocky craw of Carbon Mountain, less than a half mile distant. Azure afternoon skies are saturated with San Juan sunshine, and, generally speaking, the air is perfect for drinking. It was here one Saturday afternoon a few years back that I sat with some buddies and watched the ski club from Ft. Lewis College practicing their backcountry turns down the still-snowy north face of the mountain, while consuming the last barrel of Ska’s winter seasonal, Euphoria Pale Ale, punctuated by mugs of the first batch of their summer seasonal, Mexican Logger (look for a canned release this summer). A more perfect trifecta of spring rites in southern Colorado cannot be described.

Brewers! Got news about your brewery, your brews or beer-related events in the West that would interest our readers? Send email and a sixer to beer@mountaingazette.com. Cheers!