I tend to spend more than my fair share on livingsocial.com or groupon.com. I can’t pass up a good deal, and I blame my mother for that. When a 2 night stay at a little B&B in Ouray, CO popped up, and I had a couple hundred extra dollars in my account I said to myself “why not, you haven’t had a vacation in almost 2 years!”. So that insight, as well as not having to enter my credit card number to purchase as I am such a loyal and frequent customer, led to a romantic Christmas gift for my then boyfriend. I couldn’t wait to relax in the hot springs (2 passes included with deal), sleep all morning in a huge bed (with my complimentary wine and truffles-in the deal) and sip the beers of the 2 breweries in Ouray. Then I ditched the boyfriend. New travel plan. I suckered friend and fellow Pateros Creek beer slinger, Alyse, into taking the 7 hour drive with me, and pulled out my Beer Drinkers Guide to Colorado. We planned to make this trip a “research” trip, and check out all the breweries we could. We had originally planned on 15 breweries in 3 days. Ha! We were incredibly ambitious and didn’t take into account that some of these places would be amazing and we would want to stay all day. Now, before you all get worried about two girls driving around the state after drinking lots of beer at lots of breweries, we were very safe about it. I mean, after all, who wants to die off a cliff on Monarch Pass because of beer? Beers awesome, but not that awesome. We spaced out our breweries to be 2-3 hours apart in driving if they were not walking distance from our hotel. After ordering a single taster to split, one would taste, and the other would drink. The taster is the driver, and we almost always left beer in the glass. I know, shameful beer wasting. But remember, this was a research trip, not a get drunk trip. We ended up stopping at 13 breweries in 4 days. From the huge operations at Bristol Brewing, Oksar Blues Brewing and Lefthand Brewing to tiny 1.5 barrel systems at Ourayale House and Royal Gorge Brewing, we saw it all and we tasted it all.
We loaded up the car at a bright and early 6:45am. We needed to get an early start if we were going to hit all our stops today, especially as Mother Nature decided to dump some snow and was threatening to close down a few passes. First we had to stop by Pateros Creek to pick up some brews for trades. Of course we set the alarm off, since everything I touch that involves technology I can’t handle or inevitably destroy. Once we put the growlers in the cooler and said sorry to a frazzled Steve who drove to The Brewery after he received a call from the alarm company, we were headed to Bristol Brewing in Colorado Springs!
We got to Bristol about an hour after they opened, but it was still 11am. It smelled of delicious warm malty goodness as soon as we walked in, they had to be brewing. Turns out, they brew up to 5 times a day with 3 separate shifts. That’s a lot of beer! The gentleman working the taproom was quiet and reserved, so much so I don’t even remember his name. It was hard to have conversation though, as there were a couple employees filtering with possibly the loudest filter known to man. With only us in the taproom it seemed huge, but I am sure the room can fill up fast. There is a 3/4 wall of frosty glass bricks on one side of the room to allow you peeks at their huge fermenters and brewing equipment. Patrick, the brewer on duty, was very welcoming and showed us around their system. It turned out he was brewing THE first batch of Yellow Kite Summer Pils that day, one of my favorites! I was in beer geek heaven. The head brewer of Bristol John Schneider has a little side project called Black Fox Brewing Co. I’ve heard of Black Fox but didn’t realize it was within Bristol. They specialize in saison and belgian styles. I was sold at “saison”. I got to try their Somnombulance, a dark brown belgian aged in coffee, vanilla, and caramel. At 7.6% it was extremely well balanced with a nice light hop profile to balance the malty sweetness. I wish there was more Black Fox on tap to try, but they were only pouring the Som that day. Their Faust Part 2 sounds like a fantastic summer sipper being brewed with citrus and rose hips.
Next up, we drove a little over an hour to Royal Gorge Brewing Co & Restaurant. A small little brew pub, with 5 beers on tap. They were still pouring their Yule Tide Joy holiday beer. I typically enjoy spiced beers, but this one left a dry after taste in my mouth like I just swallowed cinnamon. We both enjoyed their Red Ryeder, with its caramel, toffee after taste. Our bartender kept apologizing to us because he didn’t know the answers to a lot of the questions we were asking about the beers and the brew system. We felt bad for badgering him with our arsenal of beer snobbery judgement. He did let us into the brew house to look around with the send off of “I have no idea what any of this does, but you girls seem to have a handle on it” before shutting the door behind us. There were several large fermentors, but a tiny little boil kettle I could of wrapped my arms around. After feeling a bit awkward wandering around this brew house alone we slapped a PCBC sticker on their sticker wall so they know we came and headed out. Waiting for us was our mountain of fries….literally. Piled with green chili and cheese. These were awesome and the most memorable part. Thats right, the fries were the most memorable part.
While it was no longer snowing, once we reached Salida we saw signs that they wre closing Monarch Pass at 4:30 for snow removal. It was 4:19. Could we make it?!?! We pulled over to consult our handy dandy Beer Drinkers Guide to Colorado map (because we were smart enough to not bring a real map) and discussed making a pit stop at a brewery in Salida instead. We eventually decided to go for it, and were the absolute last car over the pass! As we were making our way through the scary ice packed roads, plows were pulling out from the side of the road after us, escorting us down the mountain. They must have known we were in search of beer!
We made it to Gunnison Brewery just before dark. They only had 3 of their beers on tap but we just so happened to sit next to Colin, the brewer. Everyone knew each other in this small little bar in this small little mountain town. They were having a bingo and trivia event to benefit the Gunnison River Conservation Project, and it was a full house. It was pretty obvious we were the tourists, when my name was drawn to win the trivia contest and I wasn’t paying attention, the entire bar was looking at me and yelling “Lauren, you won!”. I gladly accepted my t-shirt, water bottle and koozie after apologizing for not listening. How was I supposed to know I was going to win? I mean, who really knows how many cubic feet the Gunnison River was flowing in June of 2011 without Siri? We played a round of bingo and chatted with Colin over a pint of the brown ale, which is named after a local regular who is a writer for the Mountain Gazette and apparently a legend, whom we also got to meet. Colin has only been brewing for 6 months. He worked at the little brewpub in other capacities first, and when they needed a new brewer, he stepped in and learned the ropes. For only brewing for 6 months, and having his brew house be basically the size of a closet, the beers were pretty good. He said one day he’d love to brew a batch where his head doesn’t hit the ceiling while stirring the mash tun. When we left, most of the people in the packed bar said good-bye and wished us well on our journey. We were only there a couple hours, but we were treated like we were locals.
We decided to post pone our last stop of the day, Colorado Boy Pub and Brewery, for tomorrow and just head to our hotel. When we made it to Black Bear Manor in Ouray we walked to a little pub (and the only thing open) called O’Briens. We had a couple Dirty Hippie’s from Palisade Brewing (no more driving, woo hoo!) and ate mozzarella sticks. We met a group of locals and played some darts with them, and eventually met up with them later at one of their homes to talk more beer and create more memories and friendships. I’m sure without their local insight, day 2 would not have gone as smoothly. .