Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Apres Brewski: Take Three - Santa Fe, NM

The thought of New Mexico often conjures up images of deserts, cacti, adobe houses, burritos, and red clay landscapes baked in the hot sun. That's what I thought of, even though I had heard they skied there. It's not that they aren't know for snow or skiing. Taos Resort is a very well known ski mountain and until recently was infamous as one of the last few areas that prohibited snowboarding, depending on your point of view of course.  So I wouldn't say I was surprised to drive into snowy landscapes on my first trip to the southwestern corner of America, but it still makes you stop, think for a minute and scratch your head. My friends Katie and Talee moved there years ago so I have heard enough about New Mexico to have some idea of what I was going to see. I was just glad that I had made a little extra time in my itinerary to stop by and check the place out, even if it was only 24 hours. By the time I crossed the northern border from Colorado it was dark, adding to the mystery of the place. From what I could tell the road had patches of black ice and blood red clay across it from time to time. "Caution Elk Crossing" signs dotted the side of the road. Out of nowhere a pair jumped out of the brush on the side of the road and I slammed on my brakes.  Luckily they didn't even cross the road but for the last hour of my drive I was extra alert, half hoping not to see one, afraid of the damage it would do to my car, half hoping to fully catch another glimpse of these majestic creatures.  I did get to see two more, a big fella standing in the shadows on the side of the road and a dead one a few miles later that was obviously on the losing end of a collision with some unlucky driver. 
El Paseo Lunch, Tacos and green chili 

I arrived safely, just a few hours behind schedule and Talee and Katie received me happily.  Talee cracked some Marble Brewery IPAs and we got up to speed on my travels and their careers. Katie works for Los Alamos National Laboratory, Talee runs his own web development company (check out his killer side project: Gear Institute) Katie was joking that Talee was just skiing all the time. Which was mostly true, he had been several times the last week, taking full advantage of the good snow they had been getting, much more than all the dried up areas to the north. I hadn't planned on it but when he looked across the table and said with a sly smile,"want to hit the mountain tomorrow?" I hesitated just a second, worried about my budget and falling behind on my trip, and my legs giving out after three straight days on the mountain, and said,"Sure! Where would we go?" "Santa Fe Skibowl, our hidden gem..." he replied with an even bigger smile. That was that, the plan was set, off to bed, early to the mountain and then some breweries in the afternoon. Definitely my kind of day! 

The next morning, the sun rose and quickly melted the frost that had formed overnight. Katie went off to work and Talee and I drove a few miles into town and filled our bellies with massive breakfast burritos smothered in green salsa at Tia Sophia's. The skibowl is a half hour out of downtown and Talee gave me the quick tour as we left town.  Plenty of adobe buildings dot the small city, sufficient to satisfy my preconceptions. It's a nice place filled with a lot of art galleries, bars and restaurants.  There are some cool festivals throughout the year. It was also quiet being winter time.  "The Texas don't come this time of year", Talee said. Santa Fe fits one of my travel mantras, stick to the shoulder seasons.  Prices are lower, you avoid the crowds and most places are still very enjoyable.  If you didn't care about skiing I'd say late Spring or Early Fall would be ideal times to visit.  We wound up the road out of town into the National Forest and started climbing.  The base of the ski area is almost 3000 feet above Santa Fe, which is no slouch, settling in at 7,200 feet about sealevel itself! As we climbed the snowbanks grew and grew.  I was getting giddy.  Being midweek there was no one at the mountain are we did lap after lap up and down the mountain never waiting in line. Cutting fresh lines through the trees.  After several runs we took a break and hit up the little snack shack restaurant at the lodge.  I couldn't ask for anything more, they had local craft beer and tamales on the menu. I had Santa Fe Brewing Co's Pale Ale and Talee had their Brown Ale. Both were delicious, but considering the scenery and the company, anything would have tasted good that day! We snuck in a few more runs before calling it quits and heading back into town.


Our first stop was Talee's favorite local, El Paseo, for some tacos. You could tell he was a regular by the banter he encountered the moment he walked in, from the old barfly at the door, to the couple at the bar to the owner Matt seated under the skylight reading the paper and eating his own plate of tacos. A regular Southwestern version of "Cheers!"  Not exactly a craft beer bar, though Matt says they want to add some taps, they still had a few good bottles. I had a Rogue Dead Guy, which I didn't realize only came in 22oz bottles in New Mexico... good thing Talee was driving! Refueled it was time to check out the local beer scene. 

Marble Brewery's facility is in Albuquerque, an hour southeast of Santa Fe, but they have a tasting room overlooking Santa Fe's town square. Emily was our enthusiastic bartender and walked us through their beers. They also own Blue Corn, a brewpub across town and they had one of their beers on tap as well. In warmer weather Marble's deck is definitively a prime spot to have a beer in town!

Amber - 5.3% Mild and balanced light brown
Red Ale - 6.5% garnet and hoppy with Simcoe and Cascade hops, my favorite!
IPA - 6.2% Super citrsy aroma, but not too bitter, Columbus, Amarillo and Centennial hops
Oatmeal Stout - 5% a touch sweet, roasty and creamy
Blue Corn Decadent Porter - dry and roasty

Second Street Flight
Next stop was the Second Street Brewery. They have a nice clean 10 barrel copper brewhouse at Second St. and another location at The Railyard. They are a creative bunch with different beer themes each month.  It was "The Parade of Pales" the month I was there.  Half a dozen single hopped pale ales were being offered so you could pick out the nuances of each style of hop.  Talee and I got a quick look into the brewery as well as the pub.  Rod the brewmaster was finishing up some tax paperwork and apologized he couldn't hang out... pesky taxes!  But his friendly assistant brewer, John, showed us around and even let us sample some Apollo hopped Pale Ale off the conditioning tank. Can't beat super fresh beer!

Kolsch - Light, balanced, touch of hops, dry finish
Bitter - Tasty English style
ESB - A touch hoppier, English style
IPA - Might have been end of keg, a bit oxidized
Second St Parade of Pales: All mellow but balanced
Chinook Pale (Chinook means wind or snow eating wind in PacNW)
Cascade Pale - My Pub Favorite
Bravo Pale
Centennial Pale
Apollo Pale - My overall favorite

Santa Fe was really making me feel welcome and making it even harder to leave. After so many different samples I really needed to take a break and eat a bit before leaving so I decided to extend my short stay a few hours longer so I could let Katie finish work and say goodbye. OK! ...and have some more great Mexican food. FINE! ...I admit it, and see one more brewery too, why not!

Zythos Pale - 6.6% IPA really, Zythos is a new blend of hops that many brewers are playing with now
Oatmeal Stout - 5.7% GABF GOld Medal '07
Russian Imperial Stout - 10%, sweet and strong
End of Trail Brown - 5.5%

We went to Blue Corn Brewery to grab some dinner. (Read: More burritos!) The food was great and so were the beers.  I got to see a nice sunset, fill my belly and share some more beer with some great friends.  Now I could leave fulfilled... but only for a little while.  I will have to return to New Mexico some day, but for now, the road! The Grand Canyon was waiting...

Blue Corn Flight
Blue Corn Brewhouse and Adobe Fireplace
Farewell Santa Fe!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Apres Brewski: Take two, Summit County, Colorado

First off... if you have more than a week in Summit County get an Epic Local Pass and enjoy all 5 resorts there. You break even at 5 days. And if you are lucky enough to quit your job and travel across the country hitting breweries and ski resorts you can cash in at 3 resorts in Lake Tahoe too! This was my second trip to Summit County and it was even better than the first time... which is saying a lot!

Brewhouse at Backcountry

My first day was at Breckenridge. Not the best day on the mountain as it was cold, windy and firm but the new edge on my board helped me enjoy a full bluebird sky. On the way back to the highway I stopped off at Backcountry Brewery in Frisco, CO which I also checked out 7 years ago with my family. The memory of my experience from that trip has faded significantly, but I can say for certain that this trip was a pleasurable one! The cellar guys from New Belgium (see Ft Collins post) also had hit "Breck" that day and we got to sample all the beers and chat with the brewers Alan and Wes as well and try a few up and coming beers they had out back. If you're really nice they will let on where the good powder is... or maybe not!

Ptarmigan Pils - Simple, well made, good starter
Wheeler Wheat - Orange peel and coriander
Switchback Amber - Pretty mild, a good session beer or stepping stone beer for new craft drinkers
Telemark IPA - Really nice, hoppy, dry and balanced, my pick!
Peak One Porter - Also quite good, very roasty dark brew
Doppelbock - Seasonal, nice beer, tastes like Germany!
Barleywine - A bit lighter body than what I've had but tasted great
Bourbon Aged Barleywine - A good thing made even better, nice bourbon flavor compliment 
Saison w/ Brettanomyces - Sour and a refreshing change up at the end of the session
ESB - Great balanced, not too much of any one thing, as it should be
Breakfast Stout - Made with Breck Coffee, LOTS of coffee

Apres Hike Beers in Oct...
close enough!
Seven years back we also went to Dillon Dam Brewery but like I said there isn't much I can recall at this point.  They get good reviews though. Also in town is the Breckenridge Brewery. You can also hit their production brewery/restaurant in Denver. Also if you headed back to Denver from Summit, Tommy Knocker Brewery is in Idaho Springs, only a couple minutes off the highway.  I checked those guys out in October after hiking the hut trails near Vail. I DO remember getting a mix pack of Tommy Knocker 5 years ago and their Maple Porter is the one that stuck in my memory.  Fellow Harpooner John Baker also has had this beer and it partially influenced his home brew recipes that eventually became 100 BBL #35 Catamount Maple Wheat . Ideally you don't have to fight the traffic on I-80 and can stay close to the mountains, there is enough good beer to get you through until the next day on the slopes!

Cheers Mark! 

 Last but not least was Vail. There are a lot of people that rank it as their number one mountain.  I took two days to see for myself and could have used a few more.  With such a dry year I felt lucky that I got a little snow each day, even if it was only a few inches. I was worried the holiday week would make for crowded slopes.  However, the terrain was fantastic and honestly this place is so big it spread everyone out making even the President's Week masses seem small. In the spirit of craft brewing camaraderie I stayed with Mark Freytag who used to be a competing brewery rep for Saranac/FX Matt/Lake Placid Brewery before moving out west to commit to more ski days a year.  Not a bad life as he gets dozens more days in the snow than I do and has a mug on the rack at Garfinkel's, a great Apres ski bar if you want something a little less fancy than Vail's other offerings. He was happy to help lighten the load of beers I had picked up throughout the past week touring breweries. I also thanked him with my last bottle of Harpoon Leviathan Baltic Porter that had aged a year in my cellar. With all the craft brews I brought along we didn't really have time to check out the local brewpub Crazy Mountain Brewing Co. I suppose we'll have to come back again... that would be a pity!
Early Bird gets the Powder! ...even if it was just a little
Lionshead Village from Vail Gondola
Tavern on the Square: Apres ski fuel! Southwest Chopp'd Salad and Brussels sprouts with Chorizo and Manchego.
The beer list is pretty good too!


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Apres Brewski: Take One, Southern CO

It was a sad sobering moment when I mailed my snowboard home two days ago. Realizing it would be a while before I toured a mountain all day until my legs burned and followed up the day with a nice local brewery left me nostalgic for even recent memories. My drive cross country through Colorado, New Mexico, California and Oregon gave me lots of opportunities to indulge.

It had been a dry year for a lot of America's ski destinations but southern Colorado was still getting good snow.  Although a 3 hour drive from Denver, where I was staying, a $12 online ticked drew me down to Monarch Mountain. I was rewarded with six inches of fresh snow and bluebird sunny skies! Originally the plan was to visit Eddyline Brewery in nearby Buena Vista but my plans changed as the day wore on.  Halfway into the day I stopped for some lunch and after a quick survey of the lodges draft beer selection tried the Amicas IPA.  The bartender worked there as well and convinced me to check them out in Salida after I finished up my last turns. Amicas Pizza & Microbrews does two things well, you guessed it, pizza and craft beer.  I got a nice tour of their small facility from Steve, who has brewed there over 5 years. Then I got to chat beer with Mike, the owner who has friends near Harpoon's Windsor brewery where I worked. Mike is also on his way to NZ soon, once again showing how small the craft beer world is sometimes. I hope to catch up again soon on either coast for a pint! I didn't have room to try the pizza but the beers were very good across the board. I also was able to take home a few bottles of stuff not on tap to try out.

Big S Brown - 6%, sweet and balanced brown
Mocha Joe Porter - 5.7%, ode to Ullr, Norse god of snow, cocoa powder and espresso, My pick!
Momma's Milk Stout - 5.8% Lighter bodied stout that's sweet and dark
Headwaters IPA - 7% Centennial Chinnok Cascade hop blend, malt backbone to balance out the hops
Green Chili Ale - Took one to go. Last night is proved to pack some heat!

Mike also mentioned I should try out Moonlight Pizza down the street.  These guys have been doing pizza a long time but recently added some slick new, albeit small, brewing equipment. Scotty is the head brewer but was out, however his assistant Brian gave me a great tour and walked me through the samples. He also hooked me up with some sweet shades to combat the late afternoon sun.  Seems I wasn't the first as they had a nice collection of snazzy shades for their happy hour clientele. My favorite was the Porter.  However Clayton, a nice well versed homebrewer from Pueblo that drove up to fill his growler went with the IPA. I also got a Rye IPA bottle (test batch) to go!

Porter - Dark, Semi roasty, light body
Red - balanced touch of malt, touch of hops
Rye IPA - Tried this a month later (last night!) Spicy, Amber IPA
Amber - Balanced, a touch dry and a bit hoppier than the Red
IPA - Medium hoppiness w/ Chinook, Centennial and Dry hopped with Cascade
Rootbeer for the kids too!

With the sun setting and a drive back to Denver ahead of me Eddyline and Buena Vista would have to wait until next trip.  This area is also home to great river rafting and kayaking in the summer.  A trip back in warmer months for more delicious brews and time on the whitewater of the Arkansas River are definitely in the cards! Until next time... Cheers!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Longmont... A+!

Oskar Blues' Homemade Liquid and Solids
I'm not sure if Longmont was such a good day in my mind because of the excellent hard to find beers, the good hosts I met, the weather, or the games... but when I think back it was one of my favorite afternoons in Colorado. I arrived at Oskar Blues' Restaurant Home Made Liquids and Solids to meet up with Nathan Levi their beer manager.  He was busy opening up but made sure to welcome me and get me my first sample, what a guy! 
43 taps of delicious craft beer!
They have 43 taps and while a dozen taps are used to showcase Oskar Blues' beers that leaves plenty of room for guest beers.  As Nathan proudly explained, "Dale likes lots of other beers too, and I get to buy those beers with Dale's money!" Not a bad job if I do say so myself. This day the feature was a keg of Russian River's Pliny the Younger.  I was lucky enough to get some of this a few days before in Fort Collins (see previous blog) but it was nice to try it again since it is a hard one to find. While Nathan finished up a few things the bartender, named Fish, let me try just about anything they had on tap.  I slowly worked through another half dozen or so samples (see below).  
Nathan making sure I don't get thirsty

Travelling alone can sometimes be lonely but when you're into craft beer you're not far from a friendly face. The bar was quiet when I first arrived but soon was buzzing. The young man to my right had just rode his bicycle 15 miles to the pub from Boulder and was sampling a few beers himself.  We had a great chat and exchanged beer notes. There seems to be a big connection with craft beer and cyclists.  At Harpoon Brewery we sponsored a few great bike rides (check out the prestigious B2B ride, or the more relaxed P2P) and cyclists sipping beers in their spandex pants was a common site in the warmer months in the tasting rooms as well!
Fellow craft beer fans!

To my right were a couple of guys who also were lucky enough to get tickets for the Pliny the Younger tasting event.  They were in high spirits, and once I shared with them my ongoing adventure, they gladly gave me their favorite beers and breweries to check out.  Suddenly one of the waitresses got on a microphone and announced they had someone taking the "Wing Challenge".  This just added to the excitement as a poor fellow not knowing what he was really getting himself into tried to get down two dozen atomic hot wings and a beer. The beer is easy but the wings are another story.  I tried this in my more foolish college years and 6 of those puppies got me a picture on the wall in a bar near Clemson. It also almost won me a trip to the emergency room!  All this fun before noon should be illegal. Finally Nathan was ready to show me the brewery down the street.

Russian River Brewing - Pliny the Younger, 10.5% Triple IPA, very hoppy
Oskar Blues - Priscilla 5.2%, Wheat, citrusy, light
Oskar Blues - Half Squat, 4.5%, English Mild, light, mild, balanced, slightly hoppy finish
Oskar Blues - One Nut Brown, 6.1%, med body, malty
Asher Brewery (Boulder CO) - 6%, Organic Amber, med body, touch hoppy
Black Fox Brewery - Noche del Diablo, Black Saison, Fruity, Spicy, Cinnamon and more!
Stone/Elysian/Bruery - 5% La Citrueille Celeste de Citracado, pumpkin, rye, lemon, Wicked complex!
Bristol Brewing - 6%, Winter Warlock Oatmeal Stout, Dark, smooth and delicious
Oskar Blues - Nitro Cafe 'o Chub, Scottish Ale on Nitrogen plus coffee
Oskar Blues - Deviant, 8%, double dry hopped w Calypso on cask, smooth, almost a double IPA
Oskar Blues - HGH (HomeGrown Hops) 8%, 70 IBU, citrsy hops
Oskar Blues - Ten Schmidy, 5% Late Runnings Ten Fidy fermented w/ Trappist yeast

Skee ball and recycled can bar

 The production facility and tasting room are just a half mile down the road from the restaurant. There was a lot going on and Nathan left me in the capable "hands" of Shawn, Beth and Shannon at the Tasty Weasel Tasting room attached to their brewery. Oskar Blues is a fast growing medium sized craft brewer.  Their claim to fame is their focus on only canning their beer instead of bottles.  This was a significant hurdle years ago with a negative stigma being associated with canned beer but that has changed recently as many craft breweries offer canned beers now.  Oskar Blues' hard work definitely helped break down those barriers. Shawn, who is the first guy I've met to have been proud of his small hands, gave me a great tour. He says they help him work on the machines better! They were installing and working out the kinks in their

Original canning line
new high speed canning line. Its a slick looking machine, I'd love to come back and see it in action! The building is a big one but
New canning line
they are outgrowing it quickly with new tanks also going in as we speak.  The tasting room is a unique one basically an open air corrugated box inside the brewery.  They had great beers and staff that love their jobs. They had local regulars that loved their local beers. AND they have skee ball!!! I was never much for video games but old school arcade games are my Achilles heel. I must have played 30 games while tasting all the delicious beers on tap. I finally pried myself away from all the fun and went on across town for my next brewery, Left Hand Brewery.


I really have a soft spot for Left Hand because when I was just getting into home brewing in college their founder Eric Wallace was sitting next to me on the plane and was very encouraging. I got to try a bunch of great beers and listen to some good tunes as their taproom is a lively place on a Saturday evening. James at the bar did a great job making me feel welcome and explained the beers as they came out.

Left Hand - Stranger, 5%, Rye Pale Ale, citrusy
Left Hand - 400 Pound Monkey, 6.6%, English IPA, well balanced
Left Hand - Black Jack Porter, 6.8%, balanced, roasty, chocolate notes
Left Hand - Black Jack Porter Cask, smoother, chocolate came out more 
Left Hand - Fade to Black, 7.2%, Chili Porter, Just a touch of spice
Left Hand - CO Beer Week Sauce, 6%, Coffee Stout, strong coffee flavor

Malted Barley Doors

They have a nice deck outside as well that I would have loved to have sat at with a beer as the sun started to set over Colorado again.  However, my time in Longmont had come to an end and back to Denver it was. 

My time in Colorado was closing fast as well. A few days skiing in the mountains and I would be moving on.  While sad to leave behind all the great Colorado beers and landscapes there is a lot more waiting for me down the road.  After all this adventure is just getting started. See you soon!