brew trek
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

2012 western slope brew trek – stage 5

The day broke cool, a welcome change from the scorching temperatures we had been experiencing up north on the six previous days of our tour. It also broke early. Almost too early for a vacation, but we had someplace to be and positively couldn’t be late.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge RailroadWhen we began planning this trip months ago, one of the activities at the top of our list, other than the breweries, was to take a ride on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you’ll know our love for riding the rails, both from the fact that my Grandfather and Great Grandfather worked for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, and our affection for traveling in a leisurely way.

The railway offers various seating options for the three and a half hour, 45 mile trip, and to be honest, all are fairly pricy. With adult tickets ranging from $83 to $179 each, it can be beyond the means of many travelers, but is well worth it if you can afford it. Our decision to splurge on the top of the line Presidential Class seats was perfect for our tastes. Consisting mainly of pairs of single seats facing each other with a petite table between, we felt like 19th century robber barons riding the rails with obscene amounts of legroom.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge RailroadOnce out of town, the landscape grew more rugged as the train made its way precipitously above stretches of river gorge, and idyllically through alpine meadows. It became easily apparent why the railroad and its route became the location of choice for movies ranging from the 50s version of Around the World in Eighty Days to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. All of this and more we learned from the car’s attendant/tour guide. Helpfully pointing out when the best photo ops were coming up, as well as telling stories about the railroad and the terrain, he also effortlessly served drinks and snacks in-between.

And while the scenery was beyond belief, there’s only so much awe-inspiring you can take on a trip that long. I, and it appeared the rest of the passengers, were ready as we descended into Silverton. We swarmed off the train like children released for Summer Vacation, streams of people fanning out into the town, each on their own personal quest for what they wanted to see and experience. The Wife and I were no different, making a beeline for Avalanche Cafe and Brewery.

Avalanche Brewing Company

As noted in the previous post, Avalanche had just closed when we had passed through the day before, it being beyond the normal operating hours of 7 am to 3 pm. This day a mix of locals and tourists were scattered between the indoor and patio spaces, there to grab a bite to eat and enjoy a freshly crafted beer from both Avalanche and other local breweries that filled out the tap list. Seats at both the bar and tables gradually filled up as our fellow train passengers discovered the quaint cafe/brewery decorated uniquely in ski and mountain memorabilia.

Lucas of Avalanche Brewing CompanyAssistant brewer Lucas was our server for the afternoon, answering questions and pouring pints expertly. A veteran of the Western Slope brewing scene, Lucas brewed at Palisade Brewing prior to hooking up with founder/head brewer Austin Lashley. The brewery, like many across the state, owes some of its viability to Colorado’s Beer Guru Extraordinaire, Tom Hennessey of Colorado Boy Brewery. In exchange for a surplus espresso machine, Austin acquired brewing equipment from Tom, as well as taking his immersive course on operating a brewery. That, and Austin’s prior experience at Ska Brewing add up to outstanding beers.

The only two in-house brews on tap that day were the White Out Wit and P.O.W. Porter, the taste more than making up for lack of variety. Although hoppier than is normally the case, the Wit was balanced and flavorful; it hit the spot after the long ride up. The Porter’s roastiness warmed the palate as the chill of the morning was giving way to a pleasant afternoon. Both beers were exceptional, as good or better than many we’ve had across the state, combined with the food and laid back vibe, Avalanche holds its own.

Avalanche Brewing Company

Our meal was the equal of the brews, made with fresh ingredients and just as much attention to detail. The Wife’s White Bean Chicken Chile satisfied the palate as well as the appetite.

With a limiting two hours to explore, we bid adieu to Lucas to stroll around the town. Other than the typical curio and souvenir shops, the main attraction was the Old West architecture standing in various states of repair. From complete restorations to dilapidated glory, the structures reflect what must have been a vibrant and boisterous mining town in its heyday. With the daily influx of tourists, the berg is still a lively and active community, just not to the extent of when Silver ruled the mountains and the streets were filled with opportunists carving out a new society on the frontier.

Silverton Colorado

Near the end of our allotted time, we stopped in at the Montanya Rum tasting room, another fine example of the distilling boom currently infusing the state. The distillery has expanded from its roots in Silverton, with the operations now located in another mountain town with mining roots, Crested Butte. Like nearly every other spirit we’ve had from Colorado, we fell in love with the quality and taste of their products; unfortunately they couldn’t sell us a bottle that day. Luckily, we were able to locate a bottle the next day at a local liquor store on our way out of Durango.

Montanya Rum

Even though there was quite a bit to see from a different perspective, the ride back down was a little tiring. It did force us to relax and settle into a mindset from an era where no one got anywhere all that fast. The railroad does offer an alternative, faster way back involving buses, but that didn’t appeal to us, we were in it for the total experience.

The longer duration also cultivated an appetite, our stomachs growling with anticipation for our planned meal at Zia Taqueria’s main location on North Main. We had been disappointed the previous evening when we had arrived at Ska just a little too late for Zia’s tacos, so we were ready for taco goodness that night. It also didn’t hurt that the one brewery we had omitted in our last visit to town three years before, Durango Brewing, was just a couple of blocks away.

Durango Brewing

The tempting aromas of pub food fell on “deaf noses” when we entered the brewery, stuffed to the gills from tacos as we were. But we were thirsty. And we were accepting the invitation of the brewery to stop in, since they had pointed out our negligence after our last trip to town.

Durango BrewingDecked out in a railroad motif, the tap room feels intimate even though there is quite a bit of square footage both inside and out. A replica of the side of a box car fills a wall opposite of the entrance, the rich red effusing a warmness beyond the bar. With a full house, the wait staff wasn’t quite as welcoming, but could be excused with the mob of patrons, especially with a table full of drinkers letting everyone know, loudly, how great they think Texas is.

The beers effectively drowned out the Lone Star hoopla, each sip delighting our taste buds. Our initial beers, the intense Hop Hugger IPA, and award winning Durango Dark Lager were perfect. The IPA’s piney hoppiness slaked my thirst almost as well as my perennial favorite, Ska’s Modus. It’ll be on my radar whenever I’m restocking the fridge.

You can taste the accolades in every sip of the Dark Lager. Its light mouthfeel is compensated with a rich, full taste on the backend, making it a pleasing, easy drinking beer. The quality of all of DB’s brews were evident in every taster of the flight we ordered. The standouts for us being the Purgatory Pale Ale and Doppelbock.

As we settled in for the night, memories of a rich, full day assuaged us. The end of our stay in Durango was nearly at hand, and the anticipation of the breweries and communities to come enticed us.

Next up: Pagosa Brewing in Pagosa Springs and Moonlight Pizza and Brewery in Salida.

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 September 15, 2012 at 4:16 pm. It’s filed under Brew Pub, Brewery and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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