With the explosion of craft beer’s popularity, the brew bar has been set high over the past decade when it seemed it couldn’t reach new heights. The caliber and variety of brews coming out of established and new breweries is stupefying, and from our perspective, Colorado is at the center in terms of both quantity and quality.
It only makes sense that one of the newest breweries from the ‘Class of 2012’ that is garnering some of the highest praise is named Elevation. Not only are they lifting the level of quality and innovation in Colorado beers, they’ve also managed to lift the typical taproom experience.
This past November we finally had the opportunity to stop in at Elevation Beer Company after having to pass them by during three previous trips in the area. The occasion was some much needed R&R at the Antero Hot Springs Cabins. We had relished our last stay there back in June during our Western Slope brewery tour, and the private hot springs were a sorely needed salve to cure what ailed us from our day to day life.
After an afternoon spent catching up with a friend at Amica’s, we made our way down the highway connecting Salida to Poncha Springs, pulling off a little past halfway. Sitting in a spacious industrial park, Elevation occupies a typical looking warehouse structure that doesn’t even hint at what hides inside.
Even though the doors had just opened that day, patrons already occupied the bar and tables in the taproom, savoring their pints. Late afternoon sunlight streamed in, dramatically illuminating the impressive bar made from reclaimed timbers and recycled materials, tractor seat stools beckoning us to while away the time. Much of the seating, booths, and tables are also made from recycled wood, enhanced by deep earth-toned paint sparingly and tastefully complimenting the natural materials.
We had no sooner taken our first delicious sips, expertly delivered by Hannah, our server for the day, when she introduced the head brewer, Christian, who promptly gave us a tour of where the magic backstage happens.
The 15 barrel brewhouse almost looked lonely in the room, the anticipation of new 30 and 60 barrel fermenters scheduled for delivery leaving large amounts of floor space empty at that end. But as we proceeded into the rest of the operation, pallets of grain, a small bottling line, and a tremendous amount of casks began to encircle us. Elevation’s commitment to barrel aged beers is evident from the casks stacked four high across most of the Eastern wall of the facility. Christian told us that dedication extends to collaborating with Deerhammer Distilling in nearby Buena Vista as well. It’ll be awhile before EBC can use their barrels, but the spirit of support with Deerhammer, as well as the other local breweries, will continue to grow.
Our initial Fresh Hop IPA and Nitro! Imperial Stout being depleted, we made our way back into the taproom for a flight. The Fresh Hop was just as scrumptious as when I had tasted it at GABF previously, the hop taste and aroma filling the palate; a top notch example of a green/wet hop beer and probably one of the best in my opinion, it’ll be hard to wait until they brew it again next year. The Wife’s Nitro! was a smoky, complex stout that satisfied with hints of vanilla and coffee tones.
The excellence of the beer just kept on increasing as we made our way through the flight. Not one brew was lacking in any way, each a unique and outstanding draugh, satisfying with every swallow. From their cornerstone Apis IV Belgian quad, to the 8 Second Kolsch, we gleefully sipped our way through both complexity and flavor. And while each beer could easily be labeled a favorite, two of them stood out for us enough to nab a few bottles for our stay at the cabins. I instantly fell in love with one of their signatures, the First Cast IPA, perhaps one of the most unique beers of that style I’ve ever had. It impressed me so much with its uncommon blend of Chinook, Summit, and Zythos hops, that I had to put it on our Top Ten Draught Beers of 2012, and have been seeking it out ever since. The Wife, meanwhile, was enamored of the Signal de Botrange, a Belgian golden ale reminiscent of a farmhouse. Its smooth, slightly sweet simplicity has been garnering praise from all who’ve savored it, and deservedly so.
As the last rays of the day departed, more Elevation admirers trickled in for their own personal beloved beers. Xandy Bustamante, one of the four principals of the brewery, also arrived to share in the conversations occurring throughout the room. Everyone involved with Elevation is genuine and friendly; from Sheila Bustamante who we met at GABF, to Christian, Xandy, and our server Hannah, we experienced nothing but honest interest in what they do and who they meet. They made everyone who came through their doors welcome and well served.
All good things must come to an end, and after a few hours, the hot springs of our accommodations were calling to us to come and soak and relax. But before we left they had one more surprise in store for us. We were lucky enough to be present when their newly released Downpour Imperial Red was tapped for the first time. Nicely balanced between both hoppiness and a full malt backbone, just as tasty in the bottle as it was that day on tap. The red was named after an employee bonding excursion, in which it had rained the entire duration of the outing, hence the name Downpour.
That visit to Elevation Beer Company imprinted itself so much that we will go out of our way to stop in the next time we’re in the area. The beers, taproom, and staff made it an easy inclusion on our Favorite Colorado Breweries of 2012, and I dare say it would rank high on any list we made of our all time favorites.
So, the next time you’re heading to the High Country, you may just want to rethink the route you’ll be taking. If there is even a possibility that you can pass through Poncha Springs, do it, and do it soon.