brew trek

2012 western slope brew trek – stage 1a

Over the course of our travels to both craft beer festivals and breweries, during the past three years in particular, we’ve had many invitations and recommendations to visit a number of breweries. The majority of invites have consistently come from breweries on the Western Slope of Colorado, and so this year during our annual trip to the mountains to celebrate the Wife’s birthday, we decided to take advantage of them.

Brew Trek Western Slope Brewery Tour 2012

When planning an itinerary for the trip we took into consideration breweries we’ve been specifically invited to, the time of day we’d preferably like to travel through the communities along the way, and what would be humanly possible for us without burning out. With that criteria, a number of breweries unfortunately fell by the wayside, places that will go on our to-do list the next time we travel the region. Brewers like Bonfire in Eagle and Ourayle in Ouray couldn’t be worked in, and even though we wanted to get in to say hey to Eric and Margaret at Tommyknocker, there were only so many hours in the day, especially to cover the miles needed in the days allotted. One brewery that we just couldn’t work in, and I was looking forward to was Revolution Brewing in Paonia, needless to say, it will be at the top of the list the next time.

As it was, we visited 17 breweries and one distillery, traveled 980 miles, and stayed in five different lodgings over the course of 10 days from June 1st through 10th. 12 of the breweries were first time visits for both of us, while this was the first time the Wife had the pleasure of sampling Palisade Brewing.

Gore Range Brewery

Our first stop selected on the drive up, for a number of reasons, was Edwards, home to both Gore Range and Crazy Mountain Brewing. We had been to Gore Range a number of times over the past four years or so with diminishing impressions on each successive visit. Talking to one of the reps from Crazy Mountain at last year’s Rails and Ales, we learned that Gore Range had new ownership and that they were contemplating not even brewing anymore.

Gore Range BreweryEarlier this year, fellow beer blogger ‘The Wookie’ from It’s Just the Booze Dancing, asked for my recommendations on where to visit while he and his family were out here on vacation. I put Gore Range on the list with the caveat that they may or may not be still brewing. He got back to me after the trip both thanking me and relating that GRB was still serving up malty goodness, and that it wasn’t that bad.

There wasn’t any immediate indications that things had changed when we pulled up that morning to have an early lunch and wash away the metaphorical dust of our drive up. But once inside it was clear that things had changed in the subtle additions and notable reductions of the decor. A casual ski bum theme had been prevalent under the previous ownership, some elements adding to the ambiance and others leaving you scratching your head. Among the most obvious changes was the removal of the skiing collages on the doors of the restrooms. The compositions had led to many ‘oops’ moments because of the ambiguity of the images; you really had to look carefully to tell which door to enter since neither door was labeled.

Gore Range Brewery

Even though the previous head brewer stayed on through the transition, it tasted to us like the revamp had included the beers as well; we found them much more flavorful and complex. Maybe the new owners have allowed him to do what he’s always wanted to do, or maybe it’s just a case of a new start, whatever the case, we were much more impressed than in the past. The Shotgun IPA is a balanced, hop-forward example of the style, much better than anything I’d had there before, as was the Wife’s Saison French Ale. The surprise of the visit was their crisp and unique ESB which is much lighter in color than is traditional, but delivers in taste.

Gore Range BreweryThe food was much improved as well. The choice of ingredients and preparation impressed us, being some of the better offered at breweries in the High Country. We came away much more satisfied than on previous occasions, feeling fortified enough to make our way through the traffic circle maze to Crazy Mountain Brewing.

I could be wrong, but it seemed that during the two to three years since the last time we were in Edwards someone had gone crazy with traffic circles, sowing them like wind scattered dandelion seeds. Coming off the highway from the East, you’re greeted with the first of many of the circles before proceeding South when you encounter two more of its brethren immediately thereafter. Thankfully we only had to navigate two of them as we made our way back towards I-70 and CMB. If you’re coming off the highway, it’ll be the first right on the first circle south of the Interstate, keep going until you’re at the lower level of the buildings on the right.

Crazy Mountain Brewing

Greetings from fellow beer travelers hailed us from the biergarten outside as we pulled in, my Avery IPA t-shirt catching their eye. The brief discussion of favorite beers and breweries, mirrored many we had in the week to come. Nearly everywhere we visited, lovers of craft beer were eager to talk and enjoy a pint or two. As with many High Country breweries, skiing paraphernalia adorns the spaces inside and out; an old school chair lift hanging from the ceiling, lazily swings just inside the entrance being a dominant component of the decor.

Crazy Mountain Brewing

Since the space doesn’t have a bar, we settled in at one of several pub tables that provide seating in addition to the large tables and benches in the room. Our table sat in front of a raised stage area where bands can provide a soundtrack for evening revelers.

Crazy Mountain BrewingA large merchandise area also bordered that end of the taproom; Crazy Mountain, like many breweries, realizing that t-shirts and jackets can be more effective marketing than traditional media. Needless to say, we bought the obligatory pint glass, in addition to a couple of shirts. Which brings up a challenge that confronted us as we made our way around the western end of the state: the ever growing number of glasses and apparel we acquired, and what to do with them as we packed and unpacked the car each night. We managed, but it was a good thing we ended the trip when we did, otherwise we would have given the GABF merchandise booth a run for its money.

Crazy Mountain Brewing

Due to the number of beers on tap that day, the Wife and I broke from the routine of first ordering an IPA and stout and went directly to ordering a flight. The nine beers we savored each had its own merits, the lineup spanning a number of styles, some overlapping, but each unique. We were both impressed and can truly say that CMB has one of the best overall tap lists in the state.

Crazy Mountain BrewingTwo standouts for me were the Hookiebob IPA and Mountain Living Pale Ale, the IPA an excellent example of a West Coast IPA, while the pale ale having more hoppiness than is usual, almost bordering on an IPA. The Wife fell in love with the Lava Lake Wit, finding it crisp with a just right chamomile flavor up front. She was also enamored of the Cara de Luna Black Ale, which we had tasted previously at a festival; the German and Belgian hops admirably balancing out this full flavored dark ale.

We fought each other in trying to get the last sip of the Horseshoes and Handgrenades ESB, a five malt wonder having just enough hop bite. Since they just began bottling it, it’ll be a staple in our fridge once we find a liquor store that carries it.

Marisa Selvy & Holly Velvis of Crazy Mountain BrewingNeither one of us cared for the Old Soul Belgian Strong Golden Ale, not that it’s a bad beer, the style is just not to either of our tastes.

Our server for the day, Holly, was both knowledgeable and friendly, inviting me back into the brewery to take pictures. She showed me around both the Wild Goose canning line and the new 22 once bottling line recently purchased from a brewery in Vancouver and being installed that day. The 17.5 barrel brewhouse sits nestled amongst a forest of fermenters that hints at a need for more space sometime in the near future.

Crazy Mountain Brewing

Crazy Mountain BrewingThe clientele came and went over the course of the two hours we spent there that day, ranging from fellow craft beer travelers to locals and even a woman with tykes in tow to pick up a keg for  a party. The kids especially loved the chair lift, watching the ever changing view as it swung slowly around while the keg was rounded up.

Eventually we had to get back on the road, filling up two of our growlers before we left with Hookiebob and Cara de Luna to enjoy at the cabins we’d be spending the weekend at with the family. We left knowing we’d found another gem to add to our increasing list of special breweries; places where the beer, staff, and vibe combine in ethereal craft beer nirvana.

Next up, Carbondale Beer Works and Avalanche Ranch Cabins.

2012 Western Slope Brew Trek

Stage 1a Stage 1b Stage 2 Stage 3

Crazy Mountain
& Gore Range

Carbondale Beerworks

Palisade
& Kannah Creek

Horsefly
& Colorado Boy

Stage 4 Stage 5 Stage 6 Stage 7

Ouray, Silverton,
Ska, & Steamworks

Avalanche
& Durango Brewing

Pagosa Brewing
& Moonlight Pizza

Amica’s
& BierWerks

This entry was published on June 24, 2012 at 6:05 pm. It’s filed under Brew Pub, Brewery and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

5 thoughts on “2012 western slope brew trek – stage 1a

  1. The trip sounds like heaven. My wife and I drove across the country last year and found people in the middle (not left or right coast) to be friendly and warm, while the driving was non-stressful (when compared with security checks at airports and check-ins, etc.). Throw in breweries to stop at and the effect is one of sheer bliss. There needs to be a smart phone app (Yelp is no help) or a nationwide beer atlas for finding these gems; my iPhone’s “map” feature does find some good ones, others are missing. The apps that I have so far found list only the majors. Absent are these diamonds in the rough that you are writing about.

    • I found an app that is available on both iPhone and Android called BreweryMap, it’s not completely accurate, but is a good starting place. I used it last year when we went to Maine and combined with research I did before the trip, it worked fairly well. You can find it at http://www.brewerymap.com/.

      When we’re traveling in Colorado though, I always use the Beer Drinker’s Guide to Colorado map. It comes with a ton of coupons for free beers and merchandise, and well worth the price. They also have an interactive map on their website that I plan out our trips with. It would be great if they expanded around the country for everywhere else outside “The Napa Valley of Beer” :)

      • Thanks, and thanks for the tip on the app. I’ll give it a try. When you’re out this way I’ll show you the beers of Napa Valley (I live an hour north of the Napa Valley).

  2. The Wookie on said:

    Will —

    First thanks for the “brew travel” tips earlier in the year. We had a great time and, as per my earlier comments to you, Colorado is one of the great brew Meccas. As must do trip for any respectable beer geek.

    Second, we loved GRB. I know you recommended it with some reservations but is was perfect stop with the family. We loved the food and the brew was solid. Glad you liked the changes.

    Third, we didn’t hit Crazy Mountain while we were out there but I picked-up a six of Mountain Living Pale Ale. I would recommend this to anyone who loves a full flavor but well balanced brew.

    Lastly … Edwards … Traffic Circles …. WTF. I thought is was just me but there are a ton of them. Those things have to be a pain in the ass when they are all iced up during winter storms.

    Cheers,
    The Wookie

    PS — This post may have just shamed me in writing my noted from my trip to the Beav. The guys have been nagging me to post my reports.

  3. Glad you liked the post, and that you got to taste Crazy Mountain’s beer; I really have to do some legwork to find out who carries their beer here in Denver.

    I look forward to reading your post on your trip out here!

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