brew trek

2012 western slope brew trek – stage 6

Stage 6As we left Durango on that Friday morning in early June, we had been on the road for exactly a week; enjoying breweries, hot springs, and warm welcomes from everyone we had met on the Western Slope of Colorado. For the first time in those seven days we were heading east after days of driving west and south.

It was a fairly easy drive from Durango to Pagosa Springs, the traffic blessedly light, and the temperatures moderate. Our first destination that morning was Pagosa Brewing Company, and unlike our previous trip together through the town, we arrived while they were open. The last time we had driven by, our timing was off for every brewer we tried to stop at, including Pagosa, but this day we pulled up just in time for lunch.

Pagosa Brewing Company

The brewery can almost be described as a compound with the wooden fence that completely surrounds the grounds, an old school aluminum trailer squatting next to the entrance. Any apprehension is quickly eased once inside the fence, smiling hostesses greeting all who wander in. We had had enough of the early Summer heat by that morning to forgo the numerous tables arranged outside, even with the awnings and umbrellas providing shade. So naturally we moseyed up to the bar inside to join another couple already there sampling the wares.

Ammon & Kysa of Pagosa Brewing CompanyOur servers for the day, Kysa and Ammon, quickly drew our first pints with genuine smiles, continuing the trend of excellent wait staff everywhere we visited. The entire trip underscored how much the bartenders and servers add to a brewery experience, the best beers in the world can taste flat and lifeless if delivered by a sullen, begrudging waitron. Conversely, good beers can be elevated that much more by informed and friendly service.

And our first beers tasted divine, even though we had been on the road for a relatively short time as compared to other days of our journey. My Spring Hop Ale was smooth and good, if not quite as hoppy as I prefer, while the Wife’s Soaker Stout had a huge mouthfeel with its pleasant roastiness. The best was yet to come though, after the almost obligatory pizza was consumed.

Pagosa Brewing Company

The amount of pizzas we’ve eaten in our travels is starting to boggle the mind. With a growing number of breweries installing brick ovens, we could almost rename the blog Brew and Pizza Trek. And as with PBC, the results are favorable in the majority of taprooms.

Pagosa Brewing Company

As we sipped our after lunch flight, we struck up craft beer conversations with the other couple sitting at the bar when we had entered. We compared notes with Mike and Amy, also from the Denver Metro area, pointing each other to breweries yet to be explored. One thing we all agreed upon was the merit of the Honeymoon Ale, a Belgian Honey Bier that was sweet on the uptake and sharp on the back palate. Brewed together by the couple who own and run Pagosa Brewing, it is a collaboration that entices with unique flavors.

Amy & Mike - patrons at Pagosa Brewing CompanyThe Powder Day IPA and Eagle ESB on nitro were among the highlights of the remainder of the flight. All told, the range of styles and quality of PGB’s brews impressed us, well worth the stop. The conversation with both the patrons and staff a nice layover on the drive to our ultimate destination for the day. We found out during our chatter that Kysa, who was raised in Pagosa Springs, at one time was one of only two female assistant brewers in the state, joining the ever growing number of women involved in producing craft beer across the country. Needless to say, she had insightful details on all of the beers we tasted, enhancing the experience.

With many miles yet to go and the day wearing on, we bid adieu and headed out for parts North.

The northern San Luis Valley is one part spectacular views, one part monotony; the peaks of the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan mountains loom in the distance while the highway runs straight and true nearly its whole length north and south. It’s not until you approach the lower reaches of Poncha Pass that curves appear and the immediate terrain roughens.

South Park spreads out before you once over the pass, the rolling plain of the basin feeling almost intimate after the wide open spaces left behind to the south. The options for craft beer increase as well with breweries in Poncha Springs, Salida, and Buena Vista.

Antero Hot SpringsSince one of the reasons we had taken this trip was to ostensibly celebrate the Wife’s birthday, our accommodations at both the beginning and end of our trip were catered to her; and she loves natural hot springs. Antero Hot Springs Cabins sits midway between Poncha Springs and Buena Vista, a few miles west of 285, near the lower reaches of Mount Princeton and close to perfect. Each of the three cabins boasts its own hot spring pool, screened by trees and privacy fences.

The urge to not mention Antero was great, a possessive feeling to keep secret this Shangrila nagging at me. But the word is already out, as confirmed by the owner who can barely keep up with the overwhelming bookings. The well appointed cabins were the perfect refuge to while away the two days we spent there, relaxing from the many miles we had traveled.

Moonlight Pizza & Brewing

The first night we were in no mood to cook and so headed into Salida for the town’s latest purveyor of craft beer, Moonlight Pizza and Brewery. Although the restaurant has been a local staple since 1994, it was only last year that they added a brewhouse, giving the town the distinction of two great pizzerias offering beer brewed in-house. Amica’s and Moonlight seemingly are two sides of the same coin, drawing fierce loyalty from their loyal patrons in the community, but each has its own unique identity and style. Whereas Amica’s specializes in the artisinal pizzas in vogue at the moment, Moonlight offers more traditional pizza pies. One thing they share though is incredible brews.

Moonlight Pizza & Brewing

Families and couples filled the dining room and outdoor patio when we arrived that Friday night. The sense that Moonlight is a treasured local destination was pervasive. Children relishing pizza night, young couples chatting, and travelers like ourselves all enjoying the start of the weekend as the sun went down and the air cooled.

Moonlight Pizza & BrewingWhile our mood was up, our bodies were feeling the effects of the journey, both of the day and of the week. And as such, the normal routine of a pint and a flight fell by the wayside. We limited ourselves to a few pints of the IPA and Moonlite Cream Ale while we sat at the small bar waiting for our pizza. The Wife’s Cream Ale had a surprisingly full bodied taste for being such a light beer; just the right kind of sessionable brew for her mood that evening. My IPA was equally full bodied, with the added benefit of overly generous hops. And I enjoyed it all weekend long, having one of our growlers filled before we returned to the cabin.

We were satisfied and content after finishing off our last slice. With a chewy crust that was crisp in all the right places, the quality of the ingredients was evident in every bite. The casual ease in service enriched the night also, always at hand when anything was needed, the pints and pizza served congenially.

It was the perfect night out before we became homebodies at the cabin and its hot spring for the remainder of our stay. A stay that thoroughly replenished our tired bodies before we had to head back to work and home.

Next up: The trip home with Amica’s in Salida, and Bierwerks in Woodland Park.

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 October 13, 2012 at 1:28 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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