It’s tough to find authenticity today. What with older suburbs trying hard to recreate town centers with their Disneyesque attempts to imbue community via redevelopment. McMansions fruitlessly employing hideous slab stone exteriors to evoke class and timelessness. And bars in new buildings using as much stained and lacquered wood as possible to lure their patrons with ready made quaintness. Only everything is new and shiny. It doesn’t have that ever present aroma of decades of beer soaked floorboards. It doesn’t have a soul. And while you’ll never find any more authentic personalities than in the craft beer community, chains like Rock Bottom, Gordon Biersch, and so on are diluting the realness that appealed as much to me as the beer did when I began my brew trek some twenty-odd years ago.
Palisade Brewing doesn’t even make an attempt at pretension, structure-wise at least; it’s in a corrugated metal warehouse to be honest. But everyone associated with the brewery is authentic, from the brewers to the bartenders to the patrons to the small town it resides in. Located a few miles east of Grand Junction, I was able to combine business with pleasure in the fall of 2010 when I visited it. After the previous day of visiting Rock Slide and Smuggler’s, it was a breath of fresh air. More on those two breweries in future posts.
My traveling partner and I conversed on many subjects during the lengthy drive from Denver, a number of them concerned beer and breweries. I related the camaraderie I’ve experienced on my trips, many of them at the numerous breweries and brew pubs that passed by on the I-70 corridor as we drove on and on. By the time Grand Junction came in view, we were primed for some good craft beer.
And we had some excellent beers at Rock Slide after we had finished that first day on the Western Slope, and some fairly mediocre brews at Smuggler’s later that night during dinner. It would have been a good trip just with the Rock Slide visit. Little did we know the best was yet to come.
The next day after putting in a day’s work in Fruita, we headed out for a partial journey back to Denver and consulted the Colorado Beer Map for someplace to have an after work beer. We settled for Palisade.
Getting off the highway you’re enveloped by the fruit orchards the town is known for, the leafy bowers framing your drive in. After a misstep from Google Maps on my phone we finally found it nestled between the residential and commercial part of town. As mentioned before, the brewery is in a large metal warehouse structure, but a beer garden enclosed by a latticed-topped fence greets you as you walk in.
The tasting room occupies a corner of the building and continues the rural beer garden theme, the boundaries defined by more lattice, the bar, and a few tables. The vibe was evident from the moment we walked in, with the bar being half full and just a few people sitting at the tables, but being such a pleasant day, there were quite a few patrons out in the beer garden as well. And you couldn’t blame them for wanting to sit outside; the beer garden sits on the eastern side of the brewery, the late afternoon shade combined with the spectacular views offer a relaxing setting. Bleached, rugged buttes dominate the view eastward, and were made more striking by the sinking sun.
Our first quaffs were the IPA and the Pale since we both love hoppy beers, and these didn’t disappoint. Both were crisp and aromatic without being too fruity or having that “perfumy” aftertaste that are envoque among many breweries these days. These two beers so impressed us that we decided to get the taster line-up, even though we had originally intended on having a couple pints before continuing our trip to our destination for the night.
During my Trek over the years I’ve had more tasters than I can count, I usually find one or two very good brews, a couple of so-so, and a few very poor light weight brews meant to appeal to those who don’t appreciate craft beer. Palisade’s was one of the few where every single offering was incredible. Even their Rusty Wire, a fruit beer, lightly infused with peaches that Palisade is known for, was good, and I’m not one who goes for fruit beers. I didn’t see it on their tap list while I refreshed my memory on their site, so it is most likely a seasonal.
Every sip brought smiles and surprises for my drinking partner and I. From the Dirty Hippie Dark Wheat (another type I am generally burned out on) to the High Desert Red and Paw Print Porter, not one brought any disappointment.
One of the conversations my companion and I had during the drive up was about my observations on the clientele of some of the breweries and brew pubs I had visited. She had been to quite a few herself but had never made the same connections. Basically it goes back to my bar patrons versus table patrons ratio; generally the more patrons at the bar, the more interesting the experience. The better the vibe. More drinkers at the bar usually indicates individuals who know and love craft beer, bartenders who know not only what they are serving but are also knowledgeable about other breweries, or combinations of both.
Having gone outside to take a call, when I came back in she enthused about the talks she had with both the bartenders and our fellow patrons while I was away. She had experienced the vibe. As we relished the tasters we found out that the brewery had recently changed hands, the new owners really wanting to create a unique range of beers; the quality of which I can attest to.
After a final roader enjoyed in the beer garden as the setting sun lit up the buttes (I really wish I had something more than just the camera on my phone at that time) we pried ourselves away for the final leg of our journey that night. From our chat on the way to Glenwood Springs, I knew that she would remember Palisade Brewing as fondly as I would.
The wife and I always plan our frequent in-state trips to places we haven’t been before, or places I haven’t been to since I was a kid. The next one will definitely be to the Grand Junction area, there are a few breweries that I didn’t have the time to get to there, but mainly so that she can experience the authentic gem that is Palisade Brewing.