With all of the news recently about Anheuser-Busch/In Bev taking over little guys like Goose Island (with the accompanying shit storm of GI’s brewmaster pissing in glasses), and our own fight here in Colorado to keep full strength beer out of convenience and grocery stores (it ties in, trust me), I think a brewery with integrity deserves to be spotlighted; Bristol Brewing in Colorado Springs.
Best known for their Laughing Lab Scottish Ale, Bristol’s been brewing unique, full bodied beers for more than 15 years. I began sampling their beers when they began distributing outside the Pikes Peak region and was always impressed by not only Laughing Lab, but their Compass IPA as well. I must admit though that I’ve always taken them for granted; just another great Colorado brewery that I’d pick up a six pack or two on occasion. That is until I talked with David Boone, their self-described Breweducator/Brewing Padawan, at the Summer Brewfest in 2010, and then visiting their tasting room later that year. We initially began discussing Bristol’s Yellow Kite Pils, and the proliferation of pilsners that year and at the festival itself, but I was soon to learn a whole lot more of Bristol.
Bristol has always been involved in their community, believing that where they are located is more than just a place to brew excellent beer. Each month the proceeds from a specialty beer at the tasting room go to a local nonprofit or charity. And with their recent purchase of an old school in the neighborhood, they will not only expand their brewing operations, but will also host space for community gardens and meeting spaces (they are hoping to offer both of these free of charge). Both the wife and I were suitably impressed after our chat with David, and vowed to visit the next time we were down that way. Well, relatively, we didn’t wait long.
That fall we made one of our annual road trips to explore Colorado more, this time deciding on the southeast part of the state. After a pleasant stay in La Junta and a thwarted attempt to visit the now defunct Purgatory brew pub in Las Animas, we headed home, thirsty for some craft beer. We had already visited Shamrock in Pueblo on the trip down and so decided to try someplace in Colorado Springs since we hadn’t visited any of that city’s breweries. Perusing the always handy Colorado Beer Map listings for the Springs, I spotted Bristol and instantly knew that we had to go there.
Nestled in an older neighborhood of Colorado Springs, the current location sits at the base of the foothills just a short drive from I-25. With a cold front coming in, the tasting room was warm and cozy less than a week before Halloween. My old rule about whether the stools at the bar were full held true, my wife and I taking the last two open there. Our bartender and the patrons quickly engaged us in conversations not only about craft beer, but about the community as well, so we quickly felt the vibe.
Our general habit when visiting a new brewery is to try each of our favorite varieties to start; an IPA for me and either a stout or amber for the wife dependent upon the season. With it being so brisk out, the wife had the nitro-infused Winter Warlock Oatmeal Stout, while I had the Compass IPA, both, were impeccable, the stout having some of the same flavors as a smoky Scottish ale. While we sipped and discussed the heavenly delights of nitro-infusion our bartender asked if I’d had the nitro IPA. Nitro IPA? “Well fill ‘er up” I declared. After the first quaff I firmly took the stance that all breweries should do the same thing at their tasting rooms. The creaminess so enhances the hoppiness, that it’s a different beer as it hits the various regions of your palate, and very pleasing each step of the way.
As I drank my next selection, the even balanced Red Rocket Pale Ale, our server told us that the new facility would not open until 2012, and that they still hoped to have a community event room and gardens. She also told of the other offerings there at the tasting room, which I initially took to be guest beers, that of Black Fox. The Black Fox beers are brewed on Bristol’s premises by their head brewer, John, and distributed to taphouses across the state, namely Falling Rock and Uptown Brothers in Denver. I found it admirable that Bristol allows one of it’s employees to compete directly with them and use their equipment as well, not to mention having those beers on tap in the tasting room! Black Fox’s brews are tasty, trending towards wits and Belgian styles.
When we left after a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon, we both knew that come 2012 we’d be back.
As the weeks and months have gone by since then, happy memories of that afternoon have snuck into my day to day thoughts, like fleeting childhood remembrances of Halloweens gone by. Every time I buy some Compass IPA I wish that Guinness would share their technology for infusing nitrogen in cans and bottles. And my respect for Bristol has only grown with recent events in the Colorado Legislature.
Here in Colorado we have laws that allow only liquor stores to carry “full strength” beer and wine, grocery and convenience stores can only sell 3.2% ABV products. Every few years some misguided legislator tries to introduce a bill that will change that situation, playing on the sentiment of some of the public that it would be easier for them to buy everything at one location. What they fail to understand is that the system we have now allows for greater selection of the smaller breweries in many of the liquor stores since they have more shelf space dedicated to just beer. If the larger grocery chains and their distributors are able to dictate what beers go where by sheer volume buying power, many of our great local breweries would be dropped. Enter Bristol and their advocacy.
When I first heard that they were trying to run this through again (HB 1284 and SB 194), I got angered and did what everyone should do if they don’t agree with legislation: contact my representative. In the course of writing emails to both my district representative and the sponsor of the bill, I did some research to make sure I was stating the facts correctly, and low and behold who should come up in my search but Bristol.
Not only did they have advice to people who wanted to write letters in support of craft beer, but they had economic impact studies showing direct correlations to what I had already stated in my letters. They also had a very public statement regarding the ramifications of the bill. Bristol comes through again. The legislation has since been voted down, but it can easily rear its ugly head again.
If you’re a Colorado voter, I encourage you to keep informed on this subject and tell anyone and everyone you know about how wrong this is for our state’s economy, especially since there is talk of sending it to a public vote in a general election to “let the people decide.” I’m afraid that the average Joe will only look at the convenience issue and not the economic one. I know that the big chains and distributors will pour ungodly amounts of money into getting it passed if it does come to a public vote.
So, if you’re ever passing through the Springs and getting thirsty, think of Bristol Brewing and know that you’re not just supporting a brewer of outstanding beers, you’re supporting a community and the Colorado economy as a whole.