"Beer in Colorado" is dedicated to that divine elixir born of the marriage of water, malt, hops, and yeast as interpreted
by those living in Colorado. Follow the author as he visits every brewery in the state, creates experimental homebrews,
attends beer festivals, tries interesting beers from around the world, and spreads the good word of beer. Prost!

Friday, March 30, 2012

A Tale of Two Breweries

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of ales, it was the age of lagers, it was the epoch of hops, it was the epoch of malts, it was the season of highfalutin, it was the season of modesty, it was the spring that came too soon, it was the winter that never really happened, we had beer before us, we had a lot of beer before us, we were all going direct to Gore Range Brewery, we were all going direct to Crazy Mountain Brewing Company.

2012 has been Colorado’s year of juxtaposition; the good and the bad coexist, the days of three-foot snow dumps are followed by days of midsummer-like heat-waves, and the arrival of the NFL’s best quarterback heralds the departure of the league’s worst.  This state has been breaking even lately and Nicole and I’s weekend in the mountains further supports this thesis.

It started in Steamboat Springs where the weather was paradisiacal but the snow conditions were, like too many Colorado ski slopes this year, utterly barren.  Where the joy of being around one’s family was counteracted by a sibling’s failed 360 spin resulting in a broken wrist.  Where artfully-crafted beers from Upland Brewing Co., Sun King Brewing Co., and People’s Brewing Company (a birthday present brought out to me by my Hoosier parents) shared shelf-space with the so-called “King of Beers.”  The non-attracting opposites continued on Nicole and I’s trip back to Denver where a detour to Edwards introduced us to two breweries that share the same town and nothing beyond. 

First stop: Gore Range Brewery.  Initial impressions are everything and the first thought I had when I entered Gore Range was, “this looks like a Rock Bottom.”  It’s safe, suburban, and overzealous with rustic wood d├ęcor thus creating an inauthentic atmosphere like that found in a Western furniture and home accent shop.  The too-perfect placement of the interior design seemed sterile, robotic, and catering to the stereotypical Vail Valley skier that turns up his nose at dust, disarray, and other evidence of human life.

Thankfully, the beer did something to redeem this place.  We ordered a sampler platter that included GRB Lager, Fly Fisher Red Ale, Powder Day Pale Ale, and Bourbon Barrel Stout. 

GRB is a clear, straw-yellow beer with a grainy, sweet aroma.  The flavor is, likewise, grainy and with a little sweet corn and pretzel thrown in for good measure.  GRB finishes dry.

Fly Fisher has a light amber—like whiskey—color and it smells like caramel corn.  The flavor is quite feeble but what can be tasted is, like in the aroma, caramel-like.  

Though there is a touch of haze, Powder Day is mostly clear and is the color of polished brass.  Light pine notes define the aroma and an equally light pine taste defines the flavor.  The bitterness in this beer is fleeting and faint even at its strongest.

Bourbon Barrel was far and away our favorite and, really, the only beer on the menu that dared to step up to a seasoned beer geek’s standards.  It is a pitch black beer with reddish highlights topped with a thin yet dense head of tan foam.  Bourbon Barrel, unsurprisingly, smells like whiskey and vanilla while the flavor leans more towards the vanilla as whiskey takes a backseat.  It features a silky mouthfeel and a woody aftertaste.

Left to right: GRB, Fly Fisher, Powder Day, and Bourbon Barrel
Based on the four beers we tasted, I’d deem GRB a good summertime beer, Powder Day as a beer you’d use to train a newbie on to hoppy beers, Fly Fisher as an all-around plain and boring beer, and Bourbon Barrel as worthy enough to be counted among some of the state’s best stouts.  It’s a roller coaster of beer quality—anything but consistent.

Pretty sweet patio, though

Gore Range brew room

 We got a quick bite at Gore Range (on a positive note, the chowder is actually pretty tasty) and headed to Crazy Mountain Brewing Company.  To say these two breweries are opposites is to say the least.  Let’s count the differences, shall we?

Gore Range is easy to spot with its large, light-up sign pointed towards a busy road in its strip mall setting.  Crazy Mountain is, likewise, kind of in a strip mall but on the backside, lower level (the building is on a hill) under a martial arts studio and next to an industrial parking lot with barely-there signage.

There's a brewery in there?
Gore Range has a beautifully sculpted wooden arch over the front entrance.  Crazy River has a roll-up garage door with a pile of patio furniture acting as an impromptu barrier keeping a pack of wild brewdogs at bay.

Gore Range features puffy booths and the same wooden chair repeated throughout the brewery.  Crazy Mountain has beetle-kill picnic tables (as well as beetle-kill tap handles and bar tops) and repurposed chairlifts as seating.

Gore Range looks like a family-friendly chain restaurant.  Crazy Mountain—with its pinball machines, mini-fridges, boxes of clothes, and trashcans made of discarded grain bags—looks like the rec room in a frat house.

Perhaps the biggest difference is noticed in the aromas in each place.  Gore Range smelled like, well, nothing; like I said earlier, it’s a sterile environment.  Crazy Mountain, however, is permeated with the sweet smell of brewing: steeping grains, boiling hops, and the unmistakable scent of pride in a beer well brewed.

We ordered a big, big sampler platter and, quite honestly, we were a bit overwhelmed so the following reviews are sparse at best.  Furthermore, since the crew was brewing up a new batch, the whole room smelled like a microwaved bowl of Grape-Nuts so assessing aroma was a near-futile endeavor. 

Lava Lake Wit (5.2% ABV, 15 IBU) is the color and clarity of champagne.  It has a wheat-like aroma and a chamomile and bubblegum flavor.

I’ve already reviewed Mountain Livin’ Pale Ale extensively on my Examiner.com page.  Read it here.  Also, read the Crazy Mountain Amber review here.

Horseshoes & Handgrenades American ESB (6% ABV, 35 IBU) looks like a shiny, new copper penny and is defined by its toffee and caramel flavors.

Hookiebobb IPA (6.7% ABV, 87 IBU) is the color of straw and it is bitter on the back of the tongue.  It is not an overpowering IPA but it lets you know it’s there.  

Cara de Luna Black Ale (5% ABV, 25 IBU) has ruby-red highlights outlining a dark brown body.  It tastes like the average light lager but with a lightly roasted finish.

Snowcat Coffee Stout (5.9% ABV, 57 IBU) is a pitch black beer with blood-red highlights.  It’s somewhat sweet with a coffee-like aftertaste. 

Maria Brugge Belgian Brown (6.7% ABV, 40 IBU) is mahogany in color and tastes of toffee and dark fruit.

Front row, left to right: Lava Lake, Mountain Livin', Amber, Horseshoes & Handgrenades, Hookiebobd, and Maria Brugge.  Cara de Luna (left) and Snowcat (right) in the back. 
We snagged some free stickers, got the card for the beetle-kill carpenter (I got me some ideas), and headed back to Denver.

The purists may say, “it’s should be all about the beer; surroundings be damned.”  I am not a purist.  Some may stone me for spouting such notions but I don’t believe beer happens in a vacuum; I assess my breweries based on the entire drinking experience and that includes the environment and community in which I drink.  Every outside source affects the taste.  For that reason, the beers at Gore Range tasted just a little bit worse than they should have and the beers at Crazy Mountain tasted just a little bit better.  Agree or disagree, that’s how I make my approach.



With all the new breweries that keep opening on the Front Range, Chris and I haven’t made time to visit the mountain breweries. We decided to take the long way home from Steamboat and visit the breweries of Edwards.  First up was Gore Range. The Bourbon Barrel Stout is one of the most velvety beers I’ve tasted; this is the way a stout ought to feel. The rest of the brewery was quite generic. Even the rustic furniture didn’t make it feel very welcoming or home-y. Like most big restaurants, it was a “get in, get out, and be on your way,” philosophy [Even with that philosophy the service was pretty slow ~ Chris].  It was a Monday afternoon so there were only a few occupied tables but I imagine the atmosphere would be very different on a Saturday afternoon during March Madness or football season.

The scene was very different at Crazy Mountain. I was immediately drawn to the old chairlift that served as a bench in front of the brewery. I was welcomed by a yellow lab, Gus, that waited patiently for us to come in and pet him. Once we entered, we were greeted by several dogs that begged for our attention—dog-friendly, indeed. The taproom was comfortable with a laid-back atmosphere; someplace I would hang out on the weekends.  It’s an unassuming taproom but that’s exactly why I liked it.

Good or bad, Gore Range and Crazy Mountain have helped push our Colorado brewery count to 79 and that, I think, is an impressive number.


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