There are so many new craft breweries opening across the country that it’s easy to forget those that haven’t survived. While 250 breweries opened in 2011, there were still 37 that closed their doors1. I’m not sure on the statistics over the past 20 years, but I think it’s safe to say that at least a couple of hundred have become spent grain in the great brewery in the sky during that time. Some have left the communities of their birth and relocated elsewhere, finding greener pastures and better tax breaks in municipalities eager to have the economic windfall that craft beer has become.
When recalling some of the breweries I’ve visited over the years, three that are no longer in business, or have moved, often come to mind; Hubcap Brewing in Vail, Kaltenberg Castle Royal Bavarian Brewhouse in Lionshead, Flying Dog Brewery in Denver (and Aspen before that), and The Queen Molly in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Each had varying degrees of quality, but even the worst were like that asshole friend everyone has; when they move on you’re glad to see them gone, but the good times you had with them still linger in your memory.
There was a time in the Nineties that if it was Celtic, it was The Shit. Those of us with Irish or Scottish heritage finally got our day with bars and festivals celebrating the culture. And, unfortunately, David Flatterley and Riverdance wooed the masses to his particular vision of Irishness, furthering the public fascination with all things Celtic. All through the Nineties we visited many an Irish pub, to mention a number of Celtic festivals.
One such time, in 1995 we made a trip to the first, and as it turned out, only Vail Celtic Festival. We followed the opening parade from where it commenced in Lionshead and on through the valley to Vail Village, where the followers outnumbered the participants when the pipers blew their last note. In those days an incongruous attempt at a mountain strip mall sat where the parade ended, and within was Vail’s first brewpub, Hubcap Brewing.
Nestled in the lower level, the place was always packed with the craft beer faithful. Time colors one’s perceptions, but there was nothing about their beers that particularly stuck with me. One thing that did stick with the Wife was the atrocious food; she spent the night heaving up tainted chicken wings. We tempted fate a few years later by having a bite to eat there again, and while neither of us prayed to the porcelain god afterwards, it would be a stretch to even call it pub grub.
We began to avoid the place on subsequent visits to Vail in the years to come, barely noticing as Hubcap closed sometime in the following decade. It was truly a shame that the food sucked so bad there, the atmosphere was always upbeat, making you feel like you were part of an in-joke at the world. But life goes on and so does a thirst for good beer.
In our attempts to avoid Hubcap over the years, we stumbled across Kaltenberg Castle Royal Bavarian Brewhouse in Lionshead. Perched in the old gondola building, the owners had recreated a German beer hall with cleverly painted wall panels and mirrors. Both the house-brewed beer and fairly authentic food were outstanding. Reading reviews of the brewery online to refresh my memory of the place, I was surprised to see so many mixed opinions of it. I personally thought it put Gordon Biersch to shame for craft German beers.
Unfortunately it too went out of business, although shortly after it closed in 2004, rumors abounded locally that it would open again in a new location. But as of this writing, I haven’t been able find any information on them, so I’m fairly sure they’ve gone the way of the dodo. Besides, Prost Brewing may set a new bar for craft German beer when it opens later this Spring. And for fresh craft beer in the Vail Valley, you can now go down the road to Edwards and visit Crazy Mountain Brewing.
Flying Dog Brewing cut a bold swath through the craft brewing community when it first opened with it’s fairly bold beers (for the times), it’s labels by Ralph Steadman, and their somewhat loose association with Hunter S. Thompson. Steadman’s labels were a breath of fresh air at a time when most microbreweries’ labels were an amateurish lot. In 2000, after years of a partnership with Wynkoop Brewing in the Broadway Brewing bottling facility, FD branched off on their own buying the defunct Timberline Brewery facility northeast of Coors Field.
In the Summer of 2000, I was a designer and de facto editor for a website listing events and businesses for LoDo, and as such was invited to a Flying Dogs press event announcing their new location and plans for the future. The plans Eric Warner had for the pub and brewery sounded grandiose as he took us around the equipment waiting silently for brewing to begin. His plan to have a doggie daycare next door to the tasting room and bar were never realized, but his projections for growth far exceeded the numbers he quoted that day. It was also hard to believe as they passed out free six packs in the tatty tasting room with much of Timberline’s paraphernalia still lying about.
In the next few years I visited what became Blake Street Tavern many times for lunch and a beer. The quality of the food was always a crap shoot, but was still a good alternative in that area of downtown when you wanted to mix it up from Breckenridge or Wynkoop. That was until 2008 when Flying Dog decided it wanted to move, and not just within Colorado, but to Maryland.
The news brought up mixed emotions, I had been drinking fewer and fewer of their beers over the years, the quality had gone down and they just weren’t changing for the times in my opinion. But truthfully I was galled that they’d totally pack up and leave the state of their birth. They could have followed the model that New Belgium is taking now by opening an additional facility in another location, but I guess the tax incentives were too much to ignore.
Well at least we have a new passionate brewer in that space with the River North Brewery who are coming up with some interesting takes on Belgian style beers. I dropped in there the week they opened as was impressed, look for a post on them sometime this year.
The last brewery I mentioned at the outset of this article was the Queen Molly, and it was one of the most memorable. As related in some of my previous posts, my late mother in-law passed away from cancer a number of years ago, but before she went we traveled back to Maine to see her often. When it became evident that she didn’t have all that long to go in life we took her to Nova Scotia, a place she had wanted to visit all of her life but never had had the opportunity.
The trip was made with six of us packed into a rented minivan (the one and only time you’d catch me in one) with the Wife and I doing the majority of driving due to my brother in-law throwing out his back shortly before. Although I was grateful to spend time with Esther, my mother in-law, and see her enjoy the excursion, it was a trying trek. Between the mass of seasick teenage humanity floundering on the restroom floors of the ferry during the rough voyage over, to my other brother in-law belching and farting during the white table cloth dinner that was suppose to be the highlight of the trip, and the driving, my normally patient demeanor was near the breaking point as we headed into Yarmouth to wait for the ferry back to Maine.
As we idly wandered the streets doing some window shopping, I espied a sign for the Queen Molly and instantly became thirsty. The Wife, bless her heart, saw the sign and the desperate look on my face and immediately steered our crowd to the waterfront establishment.
Little did I know as we settled in at the bench and table seating that I would be tasting a beer that would haunt me for the rest of my life. Their traditional IPA rolled over my palate like Bo Derek jogging in slow motion, her breasts swinging deliciously to and fro. It’s been so long since I had that beer that I can’t put my finger on what made it such a great brew. Maybe it was the time and place, or the relief, or maybe the generous Imperial Pint serving; I don’t know. All I can say is just the memory of it taunts me to this day.
In the years since, the Wife and I have talked about going back to Nova Scotia, just the two of us this time. But there have been too many other places that we either had to go to, or felt we needed to go to and that trip just wasn’t one of them.
Going through the pile of craft beer stuff I have in our china cabinet one day, I came across the Queen Molly matchbook I grabbed in lieu of the pint glasses I normally get when visiting a brewery; they had ran out of them a few days before we dropped in. That got me wondering if the home of my brewed One Arm Man was still around and goaded me to search the Interwebs for it. I found, with heavy heart, that they had closed up shop since we had been there, opened under a different name, and now is a pale reflection incarnated as a sports bar. But I also found listings for breweries and brewpubs throughout Nova Scotia, making me reassess when we might actually return there one day, searching for another Holy Grail of traditional IPAs.
1 Data from Brewers Association
Featured image inspired by Irish Snug t-shirt