Mountain Media #192

Salt to Summit

Books: “Salt To Summit: A Vagabond Journey from Death Valley to Mount Whitney,” by Daniel Arnold

As the crow flies, 84.6 miles separate Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States, from the lowest in North America, Badwater Basin in Death Valley. One could choose to bridge the distance between the two points with roads and established trails in 146 miles, but you would miss the raw power of the landscape they circumvent. It is for precisely that reason that writer and vagabond extraordinaire, Daniel Arnold, decided to take the route less travelled, which he chronicles in his latest book, “Salt to Summit.”

Determined to link these natural wonders in his own way, Daniel escapes Los Angeles by bus and hitchhikes the last stretch of road into Death Valley to begin his adventure. After topping off his 85-pound pack, lovingly nicknamed “The Goblin,” with water, he sets off across the same salty flats that drove uninitiated pioneers to madness and death. Aimed at the summit of Mount Whitney, Daniel lets the need for water, the curves of unfamiliar canyons, the trails of daredevil sheep and the oppressive sun determine his path to the summit.

This is more than a tale of climbing Mount Whitney from the very bottom. It’s a tale of how the wilds have always found handholds in us and what is possible when we follow the pressure. Before Arnold, the Shoshone, the Paiute, John Muir, Mary Austin, mysterious hermits and legendary 49ers all chose to survive by the rules of this desolate country to reach one end or another.  Daniel uses these mostly forgotten histories to shade the story of his excursion with a depth that tugs at the reader’s sense of adventure and makes them wonder why they aren’t out exploring the same wild spaces before it’s too late.  $17.95, amazon.com

— Cole Lehman 

souls and water

Short Film: “Of Souls + Water,” by Forge Motion Pictures

Forge Motion, a small film company founded in 2007, attracted the attention of many in the paddling community with its 2011 film “Wildwater.” Billed as a “journey into the mind and soul of whitewater,” the initial trailer for “Wildwater” featured stunning HD video footage of one of the most impressive feats in modern whitewater kayaking — a record-high June 2010 run of Idaho’s North Fork of the Payette. By combining off-the-charts production values and filming techniques, talented athletes and thoughtful interviews, Forge Motion produced a landmark achievement in paddling cinematography.

Now, a year later, Forge Motion is back with another project for the paddling community. Produced in association with NRS, “Of Souls + Water” is a series of five video shorts released monthly starting in April 2012. The films consist of gorgeous, slow-motion shots that at times feel more like photography than film, accompanied by a monologue delivered by the nameless subject. The jaw-dropping visuals go a long way toward anchoring the somewhat abstract philosophical musings that anyone who has spent time on the water can relate to, but ultimately hardcore boaters accustomed to watching tightly cut sequences of stout drops with a pulsing Dub Step soundtrack will likely be disappointed by the slow pace and lack of a narrative. Those looking for an artistic examination of how the waterways we love share the human experience, however, will find Forge’s newest work thought provoking, inspiring and deeply memorable. Free, http://community.nrsweb.com/souls-and-water

— Ben Peters

reveal the path

Film: “Reveal the Path,” by Mike Dion

In Mike Dion’s latest mountain-bike film, “Reveal the Path,” he and three compatriots (including Tour Divide record holder Matthew Lee) travel on a global bikepacking trip to ride new trails, meet new people and challenge themselves at every turn. While it’s missing the built-in narrative of Dion’s previous film, “Ride The Divide,” “Reveal The Path” does a wonderful job at inspiring a little wanderlust, which the film declares to be its objective in the opening scene. Mission accomplished, then, right? Mostly.

I was left wanting more stories at every stop, and specifically, more about the inter-destination travel. The four riders flew from the U.S. to Wales to Switzerland to Morocco to Nepal to Alaska. Anyone who’s flown more than a couple states away knows that the farther you travel, the greater the likelihood of lost baggage, missed planes, surly customs agents and interpersonal discord. How difficult was it to bring four mountain bikes and all the gear between countries?

That said, the time the riders spent in Nepal looked like just about the most fun you could have on two wheels — until they flew to Alaska and broke out fatbikes for some beach riding. The smiles in the Alaskan segment likely did as much as the rest of the film to inspire folks to go ride a bike and find their own path. $29.99, revealthepath.com

— Brian Bernard

Taos Hum

MG 192 Brew Notes

Sometime late in the last century, rumors of a mysterious low-level hum audible in and around Taos, NM, grew loud enough to draw national attention. Congress ordered an inquiry, and some of the brightest minds from institutions across New Mexico descended on the hapless village to get to the bottom of this “nonsense.” The scientists eventually focused on a group of roughly 1,500 people, and determined that, at most, two percent of the population perceived a low-level rumbling noise with no discernible source. The “hearers,” as they became known, were consistent in their descriptions of the phenomena and tests ruled out physiological reasons as a possible cause.

The scientists left baffled, concluding that the evidence could not disprove the existence of the hum. Later, sources not interviewed by the Congressional team emerged, and firsthand accounts agree the root cause of the hum in Taos was likely a series of Grateful Dead shows that went down seventy miles to the Southwest in Santa Fe, NM, September 10-13, 1983. A quick listen to “West LA Fadeaway” from the night of the Sept. 11 confirms it: weirdness was rampant, magick unleashed. While science cannot explain the exact meta-geophysical mechanism by which the energy and glow of thousands of hallucinating individuals writhing together to the cacophony of their manic screams mingled with music blasting from deafening amplifiers actually caused certain layers of the Earth’s crust to resonate around the city of Taos, agreement is unanimous that, “well, the shit must have been real good”.

It is well known by locals that sitting down for a pint of the fresh after riding the fresh is an excellent way to relax and tune in to the cosmic vibes emanating from the hills around. To that end, a new venture, Taos Mesa Brewing opened its doors recently. With a menu created by local rockstar chef Scott Barady and a state-of-the-art venue for live music, they plan to have the valley rocking and the beer flowing in time for the season opener this year. In addition to brewing beer, private-label wine sourced from regional producers is also available. It is uncommon to find this in combination with a production brewery, and the wine offering adds a degree intrigue to their operation. Clearly, these people have heard the siren call of the hum, itself perhaps a beacon for the wisdom of the Age of Aquarius, the bringer of water and sign of the times (see MG #191).

A short distance from the historic old-town plaza, Eske’s Brewpub offers excellent fare and fine brews in a century-old building. Of note is the chile beer that is offered. For those unaware, the famous green chile grown near the towns of Hatch, Socorro and Lemitar, NM, while bearing some physical resemblance to what marketing teams from the Golden State have hoodwinked your average grocery store conglomerate into believing are “Anaheim Chilis” (note the misspelling as well), in fact bear no flavor resemblance at all to the pusillanimous Anaheim. First off, they are fucking piquant. Not in the melt-your-face-off manner of the habañero or tabasco, but in a solid full-tongue-engulfed-in-nuclear-hellfire kind of way. Yes, milder varieties are grown, but this seems to be dependent on rainfall rather than genetics. Eske’s has taken these chiles and infused the subtle smokiness from their roasted flesh along with the right amount of heat into a simple base beer that reflects these qualities cleanly. Many have attempted this feat, but few have achieved harmony like Eske’s has between these flavor aspects.

It is possible that finding the proper balance of flavor and heat in a chile beer is, in fact, impossible outside of the state of New Mexico. In his treatise on anatomy, the prominent Western philosopher Rene Descartes (the “I-think-therefore-I-am” dude), wrote that the heart was a pump for heat, pushing this life-giving blessing throughout the body and thus sustaining life in all creatures. While modern medical science has proven his theories to be slightly off, it is possible that, in the Land of Enchantment, the heat from the chile, like the mysterious hum of Taos, courses through the hearts and minds of the people and mountains and sustains the spell that makes this place so fascinating.

Erich Hennig lives in Durango, CO, and is always on the lookout for excellent green chile. Drop him a line: beer@mountaingazette.com 

Bob Chamberlain’s Mountain Vision #192

Artificial Snowstorm

Artificial Snowstorm, The Beginning of The End • Aspen, 1982

The beginning of the end began with a rumor that electrified the 1950s ski underground with the smoking news that, “They’re actually packing the snow in Aspen!” And they were. And it was my first job in Aspen–packing the snow. The “packing crew.”

“We could side-step the whole mountain, from top to town, and be down and done by 3 o’clock in the afternoon. This being mid-October, there was hardly anything else to do except spend the rest of the day drinking beer at the Red Onion. Tough duty.

No such fine nostalgia attaches to the gradual insinuation of the pipes, pumps, fire hoses and gun turrets of the artificial “product.” Nor does the unremitting roar of slurry under high pressure remind you of the solitude of a silent storm of featherlike snowflakes drifting quietly down on top of  one another onto the buried shapes of once-earth-like objects all around you.

But it’s not supposed to. It’s only supposed to keep quad chairs full of bodies, at least one head on each pillow in town, and to keep the ACL ward at the hospital occupied and in demand. “Skiing for the Millions,” (a title from the 1940s) and millions it costs to do it.

No, the packing crew has gone elsewhere, places like Telluride, where they side-step uphill, instead of down, and it’s all by invitation only. Otherwise, it’s turned into a fleet of 8,000-pound machines, which doze and roll and chop ice that’s been dumped into a pile, where the water drains out of it, so it can then be moved somewhere that it’s wanted by dozer blade. But if it’s ice you want, you may as well find out what the real thing is all about; at the local rink, they can show you how to skate, how to scrape ice and how to make ice. Hijack the Zamboni, and you can re-surface the whole mountain with hot water after every hockey game, which is pretty much what you are doing already. What’s wrong with artificial snow? Very simple. It’s not powder.

Senior correspondent Bob Chamberlain lives with his dog at 8,000 feet in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley. 

Ephedra

Ephedra Cover

With summer hitting full stride in the Roaring Fork Valley, the Ideas Festival crowd turned into more of a Mountain Fair crowd, and instead of contemplating the economic value of a human life, I find I am contemplating the value of a poetic life. Partially spurring these thoughts have been two recent local poetry readings from the late-Karen Chamberlain’s posthumously published book, “Ephedra.” While I am not the first to say I miss Karen — who served for many years as Mountain Gazette’s poetry editor — I might possibly be the first to hope she really is just late, and maybe so wonderfully late, she will miraculously appear at a poetry reading, barn raising, horse dusting or goose-inspired fly-by.

Or perhaps, while collecting stinging nettles or yarrow, or plucking small wild strawberries, which are, at this very moment, very ripe, and very very tasty, I’ll look up and she’ll be there, smiling, the dusty desert and mountain babe of my dreams, second only to the salty surf and mountain babe of my reality. Until that time when Karen might appear, I’ve been reading and thumbing through the pages of “Ephedra” the same kind of way I might be reading and thumbing my way through the West. And what I have found in Karen’s collection, among poems dedicated to James Tate, Louis Simpson and Larry Levis (I have a bumpersticker on the back of my manly black Ford Ranger 4×4 that says “I heart Larry Levis”), are poems about real places and real people. OK, maybe not “Yerokastrinos,” which I wasn’t able to find in either Google or the Encyclopedia Britannica, though it captures both Greece and the feeling of longing in a particularly sweet, dark-red-pear kind of way. And who doesn’t love poems about real places and real people?

In “Medicine Women,” Karen takes us on a rooted, ridiculous and incredibly spiritual journey centered around sponge-capsule animals, of the variety you put in a glass of water and watch the gel capsule dissolve and the sponge saturate (along with mini-stories about the healing and strengthening of the three women). In “The Holy Fool of Bahia Kino,” Karen seeks a humane, human and spiritual connection with a boy who her friend describes as the village idiot, but who Karen listens to use the language of beauty to connect with both a dog and herself. Karen ends the poem by saying: “…Hapless boy,/ wronged by wonder…/ tomorrow I must leave the sea, drive/ the road of broken glass and dead tortoises,/ turn north toward the border. Then, even more,/ I’ll want for whatever’s wrong with you/ to be what’s wrong with me.”

So what’s the value of a poetic life? Everything. And then some. And then some more. As the old adage goes, you might even be one and not know it. A poetic life is like a bluegrass band wailing away on center stage with a sweaty audience dancing their hearts out. A bottomless dish of elephant ears, sno-cones and curried lentils. The righteous and valiant forward thinkingness of Carbondale’s Green Team, bio-degradable everything and coalitions that protect us against thoroughly fracking up the environment. But I digress. “Ephedra” captures, if ever so briefly, the life and lens of one of our very own poets. If we may claim her. And I think she would be generous enough to let us. One who graced many of us with her presence, and continues to grace us with this collection of poetry.

“Ephedra” is available through People’s Press, peoplespress.org, and the Aspen Writers’ Foundation, www.aspenwriters.org.

Cameron Scott is a freelance writer, teacher, and a fly-fishing guide out of Basalt, CO. If you have leftovers, he will eat them.

Way of the Mountain: #192

In celebrating MG’s 40th year of publication, we thought to reach back to one of our most beloved poetry editors — Karen Chamberlain of the Roaring Fork Valley (Aspen, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs) — as this issue’s featured poet. Production issues led to a postponement of the poetry column to this October issue. We teased you on the cover of Aug./Sept. issue (blame Fayhee!) and here’s the real deal.

Karen’s work certainly embodies the Way of the Mountain that Dolores LaChapelle of Silverton championed. In 24989, we were both awarded a Colorado state arts fellowship in poetry (back when the state had an arts program). Karen was such a gracious soul. She loved poetry. She encouraged young writers. Maybe her greatest passion was for the wild — from Mt. Sopris and the Southern Rockies to Utah’s slickrock canyon country. She wrote a lot, won awards, but published only sparingly, although she generously published many of us in MG’s pages.

It’s wonderful that the People’s Press of Aspen has posthumously issued a collection of poems Karen had completed just before her passing, “Ephedra.” They’ve agreed to let us publish one of the poems from the collection in these pages. For more information on the book, an inspiration to all of us who love peaks and poetry, visit www.theephedracollection.com

Oh, yes, and what’s with the strange dates in this column, you are asking? As an earth-based spiritualist, I find the Christian calendar inappropriate for my worldview. So, I’ve created a Ancient North American Calendar (ANAC) that takes my keeping count back to one best-science guess at the millennium when humans first stepped into the New World of North and South America (names that memorialize European notions and explorers — maybe North and South Turtle Island would be more fitting). And then I’ve coordinated the ending date to match the Christian calendar, so we can begin the transition away from the Julian/Gregorian and into a new calendar system appropriate for our current understanding of this ancient world. Happy 25012.

— Art Goodtimes
Cloud Acre

White Lady

Sleepless before dawn
a woman opens the mirror
into her medicine cabinet, stands
for long minutes
leaning against the sink,
staring at the contents
arranged wearily
behind her face.

— Karen Chamberlain,
from “Ephedra” (25012)

For Don Lumpkin
(24922-25011)

Looking back
after cleaning out
my parents’ apartment:
Golden dust motes dancing
inside an empty room

— Kirk Lumpkin
El Cerrito

Stone Trail

A stark white slate of stone
abruptly faces me.
It waits, demands
I face myself
stripped to stark
white bone.

— Barbara Test
from “Raw Potatoes” (25011)
Denver

no temple bells
still the crow goes on
about awe, awe

— Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer
Placerville

SAR

The pager wailed and we gathered
headlamps probing the inky night.
Four-wheelers inserted us deep
into Coal Canyon. We never practiced
folding a once-warm form
into a black, zippered coffin.

— Richard Scott
Walla Walla

Untrainable SEAL

What a kick, carousing
in “big city” To-Hell-U-Ride

with fellow eco-roustabouts
who survived the Sixties

which used to mean San
Francisco, only to morph into

AARP AARP
most of my best friends

— Capt. Barefoot
Kuksu Brigade (Ret.)

Emergence

to the west
a mass of undifferentiated grey

to the east
a flock of small white clouds

half wolf, half sheep
scudding sunward

somewhere in between
a place of letting go

— Tony Alcantara
Carbondale

Summerville Trail

Talus slope
Chirping marmot
Bear? Me? Both?

— Joseph Van Nurden
Gunnison

Keeping It Free…

Free Concerts

Snowmass Village has a stage that uses the natural incline of the slopes for a perfect day of music in the mountains.

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, nothing ain’t worth nothin’ but it’s free …”

 — “Me & Bobby McGee,” by Fred Foster and Kris Kristofferson

It’s all about being free. Free Ride. Free Falling. I’m Free! Free Bird. Free your mind. Free your soul. Free love. Free spirited. Free the people. Free your heel. Free beer. Break free. Fancy free. Free agent. It’s a way of life. But, apparently, for some reason, it’s unanimously agreed that there is no free lunch. Fortunately, there are free concerts, and lots of them, for you to flee freely to throughout spectacular mountain venues where we can pack up the picnic baskets and Pibbers, the wine, the kids and the pooches and head out for an evening of social noshing and dancing. And … it’s free!

Snowmass Village has the venue with the views, a kick-ass sound system and amazing stage at their Thursday Night Music Series, which began in June and rocks the valley through August 16. Bring seats and whatever you want to chow down on, although you can purchase grilled foods along with beer and wine at the shindig. It’s kid friendly with a bouncy house and activities to amuse the little ones so you can thoroughly enjoy the music. Check out the schedule at snowmassvillage.com.

Up in Steamboat Springs, the summer viewscape is lush with five concerts, starting at 7 p.m. on assorted nights. Although pets and your personal alcohol stash are not permitted, you can buy libations there. Check out steamboatfreeconcerts.com, then head on over to Vail where Jazz at The Market in the tent at Solaris (141 East Meadow Drive) kicks off the summer through August 26, from noon to 3 p.m. Click over to vailjazz.org. Just down the road a piece, Frisco is gathering for their Concert in the Park Series at 120 Main Street. You and your leashed pet can join them Thursdays, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. through August 16. Right around the corner in Dillon, catch the Friday Night Concerts at the Amphitheatre until August 31. While you’re there, hang out for the Sunset at the Summit concert series presented by the Lake Dillon Foundation for the Performing Arts, on Saturdays at 7 p.m. from July 7 through September 1. You can find all these events listed at coloradoinfo.com/summitcounty/events.

On the Western Slope, Rob Miller of Pickin’ Productions decided there wasn’t enough free music and created three new series in Ouray, Ridgway and Paonia, splitting the summer up nicely between the towns and booking some great acts into each. You can spend June in Ouray (OK … next year, and do hit the Orvis suit-optional hot springs), July in Ridgway (Town Park) and August in Paonia (Town Park and grab some of that valley’s magnificent organic produce and wine too). All shows start at 7 p.m. And being Ridgway, not only are they endeavoring to build a real stage, they have an afterparty at the Sherbino Theatre at 10 p.m. with the opening bands. More info at community radio KVNF.org.

Want classical? Durango’s Music in the Mountains (musicinthemountains.com) offers some of their series for free, as does Aspen (aspenmusicfestival.com). Durango also has a free concert series throughout July and into August at Buckley Park, Thursdays 5 to 7:30 p.m. which you can access at durangoconcerts.com.

Hard to get to but well worth the journey are the Crested Butte concerts, both in town and on the mountain, along with down-valley Gunnison concerts.

Downtown CB’s Alpenglow series is smack in the middle of wildflower-filled vertical views every Monday at 5:30 p.m. through August 22 (crestedbuttearts.org). Chill out a few days and take the free bus up the hill on Wednesday between July 6 and August 24 for some fine performances at the Red Lady Stage on Mt. Crested Butte. Gunnison cranks out the tunes for two nights, Fridays at 5 p.m. in the Gunnison Arts Center courtyard and Sundays at 6 p.m. in Legion Park. You can check out all those concerts at gunnisoncrestedbutte.com/events/free-concerts.

High above Boulder on the Front Range, the Gold Hill Inn celebrates 50 years of food and music this summer with both down-home and uptown musical acts and free shows throughout the year. Check out their summer freebies at goldhillinn.com. And if you’re in the area, head over to Estes Park for their Thursday Night Live! free performance series, at 7 p.m. at Performance Park found at estesart.com.

Whether you’re already living in the hills or need a breather from the lowland heat, jump your favorite transport and head on up to the mountain stages to enjoy free music of every genre because the road isn’t just calling you, it’s screaming in four-part harmonies, for free.

Dawne Belloise is a freelance writer, photographer and vocalist living somewhere between the alternate universes of Crested Butte and Boulder. Contact dbelloise@gmail.com   

Mountain Media #190

BOOKS: “The Responsible Company,” by Yvon Chouinard and Vincent Stanley

The Responsible Company

By now you’ve likely heard the story — in the late-’60s, itinerant surfer and big-wall climber Yvon Chouinard began hand-forging climbing gear in a seaside shed under the name Chouinard Equipment. He eventually added a clothing line, which grew into outdoor apparel giant and environmental champion Patagonia, a company that now banks somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 million a year. Somewhere along the way, however, Chouinard became a poster child for socially and environmentally conscious business management, and his latest book, “The Responsible Company,” distills what he and co-author and Patagonia veteran Vincent Stanley have learned on the subject throughout the company’s 40-year history.

Early in the book, the authors reveal that Patagonia’s attention-getting practices have them keeping some odd bedfellows theses days, most notably price-slashing juggernaut Wal-Mart, which Patagonia has been consulting on environmental improvements over the last few years.

It seems Wal-Mart and countless other major companies are coming to the sobering realization and fairly common-sense ideal that Patagonia has operated on for years — “doing good creates better business.” In other words, the less resources and energy consumed by a company, the more profit they will make.

Despite some modest examples of Patagonia’s successful environmental initiatives, the book isn’t rife with the kind of horn-tooting one might expect from a book on business published by a for-profit company. On the contrary, Chouinard and Stanley level the playing field by stating that Patagonia is not the model for a responsible company, and there is no human economic activity that is yet worthy of the popular buzzword “sustainable.”

In addition to an interesting state-of-the-union address on business and the environment, the meat of the book is a sort of elemental style guide for responsible business practices, something useful for not only CEOs and corporate bigwigs, but anyone looking to create a more meaningful existence at work.

So perhaps responsible is the new sustainable — any company can boast about philanthropic work or financial donations, but it requires something more to take responsibility for the inherent environmental and social damage done by your company and make steps to alleviate it.

$19.95, www.patagonia.com

-Andy Anderson

MUSIC: “A Stone, A Leaf, An Unfound Door,” by The River Whyless

River Whyless

As if nodding to the muse of nature that inspired it, “A Stone, A Leaf, An Unfound Door” begins with the sound of footsteps next to a nearby stream. After a few folky, fiddle-filled movements, the music gains strength, as curiosity often does when looking under the right rocks. The wandering tune reaches a celebratory high point and then gracefully descends. Such an orchestrated outline follows the full arc of an album, but this is only the first song of ten.

The River Whyless, a four-piece folk band from Asheville, NC, has created a musical wonder with their first album. Though at times sounding similar to Fleet Foxes or The Head and The Heart, the dual-songwriting efforts of Ryan O’Keefe and Halli Anderson have laid the foundation for something thoughtfully original as well as genuinely Appalachian. Underneath it all, the crisp, flowing rhythms of Matt Rossino on bass and Alex McWalters on drums both anchor and elevate the artful song structures. Freshman effort or not, The River Whyless has created a unified, coming-of-age album that’s best ingested in its entirety. For a quick taste, check out “Cedar Dream Part II,” “Great Parades,’” “Pigeon Feathers” or “Stone” … or “Unfound Door” … or you might as well just listen to it all. Go to www.riverwhyless.bandcamp.com, where you can listen to the album and name your price (hello, free music!) for an instant download, as well as check for upcoming tour dates.

— Jeff Miesbauer

APPS: Columbia GPS PAL

GPS PAL

While some branded smartphone apps seem to be little more than a thinly veiled marketing gimmick, the GPS PAL app from Columbia Sportswear stands out as a truly useful tool that just happens to be stamped with a brand name.

The GPS PAL, which stands for Personal Activity Log, provides GPS tracking with the ability to log photos, notes and videos as waypoints along the route. It tracks distance, time, pace and elevation automatically and provides a cool summary when your route is finished. The app also automatically syncs your routes and trip reports to an online journal, where they can be shared, compared and organized.

As a climber, I could see the app being extremely useful for approaches with difficult route-finding, but hikers, backpackers, runners and mountain bikers will find it an easy replacement for a GPS unit in most cases. It has already come in handy for measuring progress on training runs and relocating poop bags on after-work hikes with my dog.

Add to that the fact that it costs nothing, doesn’t require any map downloads (it maps through Google), tracks well without cell phone service and works better overall than some apps I’ve paid five bucks for, and the GPS PAL is a real keeper. The only real downside is that running the GPS for long periods of time (multi-hour hikes) seems to drain the phone’s battery quickly.

Free, GPSPAL. Columbia.com

— AA

I Want A New Drug

I Want a New Drug

A bottle of Pear Brandy made by Peach Street Distilling, Paonia, CO. “To get the pear into the bottle, the distiller drops in a lit match, sets the fruit on top, and watches while the vacuum created pulls the fruit down through the neck.” — Dave Thibodeau, Peach Street Distillers

Politics has been called the world’s second-oldest profession. If this is the case, then, in this country, the third is making moonshine. Long relegated to illegal backwoods operations by draconian federal and state tax laws that favored large producers, the art of distilling spirits was passed from generation to generation by word of mouth and the activity was kept in the shadows. There was good reason not to get caught breaking the law. Adherence to federal code governing alcohol production is policed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Trades, formerly the ATF, the same people who brought you the Waco and Ruby Ridge tragedies. Some law-enforcement agencies arrest and prosecute those who violate the law; these guys are licensed to kill. A decade ago, changes in tax codes allowed small producers to begin producing liquor and turn a profit. In 2003, the American Distilling Institute was founded to help promote the nascent industry. At that time, the association recognized 69 operating craft distilleries nationwide. Today there are more than 240, with projections of this number doubling by 2015. With craft distillers currently operating in every Western state, the movement resembles the craft-brewing industry of the early 1990s, which was a period of rapidly rising consumer interest and explosive growth.

Founded in 2004, Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey can lay claim to being the oldest legally operating distillery in Colorado. A partnership between Woody Creek locals Jess Graber and George Stranahan, (also component to the reawakening of this journal), the whiskey was once distilled from mashes made at another of Stranahan’s former business concerns, the Flying Dog Brewery, when it also operated in Denver. Both have since changed hands, but unlike Flying Dog, Stranahan’s Whiskey continues to be produced on Kalamath Street in the Mile High City and distributed around the state. Having recently taken delivery of new copper pot stills and fermentation tanks, they aim to triple their production over the next year, with hopes that some of their product might actually make it out of Colorado to points far and wide.

On the other side of the state, Peach Street Distillers in Palisade first put fire under its still in 2005. Taking advantage of being located in the heart of Colorado’s fruit- and wine-producing regions, they have put together an award-winning lineup of products that include Colorado Straight Bourbon, Goat Vodka, Jackalope Gin, Jack and Jenny Peach and Pear Brandies (including the Pear Brandy pictured above with the fruit grown in bottles carefully suspended from the tree branches), several styles of Grappa and other unique products. Peach Street proudly points out that theirs was the first bourbon produced in the state. According to press release, a common misunderstanding is that bourbon must be made in Kentucky, and although there are strict laws governing what a bourbon is, the spirit can technically be made anywhere in the United States. According to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, Bourbon must be made from at least 51% corn, aged for not less than two years in new charred American oak barrels, and nothing can be added at bottling to enhance the flavor or color. As with all of Peach Street’s spirits, they use local Colorado ingredients, including the famed sweet corn of Olathe. This “commitment to excellence in creativity and quality” was cited as determining factor in Peach Street being awarded the “Distillery of the Year” award at the 9th annual Craft Distillers Conference held in Louisville, KY, in April of this year. Plans are underway to expand the tasting room, as well as to acquire several of the buildings that they currently occupy, as well as to put up over 100 barrels of bourbon in 2012.

Claiming title as “the world’s highest distillery,” Breckenridge Distillery operates their production facility and downtown tasting rooms up in Breck at an elevation of 9,600 feet above sea level. Breckenridge produces award-winning bourbon, vodka and rum. The bourbon is curious in that it contains a high amount of rye in the grain mixture that forms its base. This differentiates it from many American-style bourbons that might finish sweeter. They also produce an original line of bitters infused with alpine herbs intended to create remarkable aperitifs with flavors evoking the rare beauty found in the mountains around them.

Erich Hennig lives in Durango, CO, and would love to hear about hooch made near you. Drop him a line: beer@mountaingazette.com