"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!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Epic Beer Weekend: Part II

Please read Part I of this epic quest before continuing.

We woke the next day after arriving in Alamosa and readied ourselves for Rails & Ales Brewfest.  Nicole’s uncle drove us to the train station, we picked up our tickets, got wristbanded, and received our commemorative drinking vessel.  At most beer festivals, you receive a taster glass—something small, something that easily fits into a back pocket.  Not at Rails & Ales.  Here you get a whole pint glass!  Down here burly mountain folk drink like lumberjacks, wimpy taster glasses need not apply.  I, myself, was none too pleased to have such a large glass because it is my drinking philosophy to have a little bit of everything, not a ton of a few.  However, as this was an outdoor event, it was possible to pour a little on the ground to stay reasonable.  I made sure to pour some for the homies, too. 

Our transport awaits

The iron horse chugged up to the station blasting steam and black smoke—a factory on wheels.  We sat, waited until we felt the gentle tug as the locomotive slowly built speed until we were blazing across the parched valley floor like a live-action Wile E. Coyote.  We gazed out the window as the dusty, scrubland transitioned into the rocky foothills and into high country forests and meadows.  We watched as cowboy/police officers patrolled the aisles with ten-gallon hats, metal-studded leather gun holsters, and a severe Walker, Texas Ranger delusion (then again, rumor has it that last year there was both a streaking incident and a person jumping from car-to-car while the train was in motion; a little intimidation keeps the rowdies down).  After two hours of lazily watching the world pass and chatting with fellow riders we arrived at our remote, meadow destination.

The train crashed and killed everyone aboard; we just pulled up to heaven’s front door.

Snowcapped 14ers to the left, a frolic-worthy alpine meadow to the right, dense, coniferous forests to the front and back, and the sparkling jewel in the middle: 24 craft brewery tents, reflecting sunlight from their plastic roofs, seducing us like sirens to their hoppy and malty wares.  21 of the tents housed Colorado breweries and 11 of those were from at least as far south as Colorado Springs; this wasn’t the usual crowd you see at typical Denver-based festivals (Great American Beer Festival excluded, of course), this was a chance to taste some rare, isolated breweries of Colorado.

It’s hard to recount any beer festival in a neat, continuous narrative—too much happening at once.  It’s best (i.e. easiest for me) if I write vignette-style—several mini-stories that, when read together, paint an entire scene.  Enjoy these snack-sized stories.

Towards the beginning of the festival we met Mr. Grumpy Pants of the Ourayle House Brewery but, much like The NeverEnding Story, this was an incident of false advertising; he’s actually a charming, soft-spoken individual. 

Cornhole (don’t call it “bags”) is the greatest lawn game to be invented and, to our fortune, AC Golden Brewing Company brought a set themed to Colorado Native Lager.  Nicole and I played two games and lost both and—salt in the wounds—Danny Wang of CAUTION: Brewing Company—who hosts cornhole championships at his brewery and to whom I waxed macho on my bag-tossing skills—witnessed me in poor form.  I’m usually much better, I swear!  Cornhole and beer creates a lopsided bell curve: the more I drink the better I play until I have that one beer that puts me over the edge and shreds my abilities like a duck through a jet engine.

Ska Brewing brought an orange cream stout which they don’t haul out for just any old occasion.  Unfortunately for me, I was one person too late; the old lady right in front of me got the last pour.  However, kind soul that she was, she splashed a little of hers into my glass after hearing my disappointment.

Nicole and I chatted with two gentlemen with ties to Rocky Mountain Brewery in Colorado Springs, one being the father of a brewer.  We talked about how we like Colorado Native Lager but we don’t like how sneaky it is; it’s a Coors product but “Coors” is nowhere to be found on the packaging.  Stop trying to make consumers think you’re a mom and pop brewery, Coors!  We also talked about Colorado Mountain Brewery which is also in Colorado Springs.  Apparently, the Colorado Mountain guy used to work for Rocky Mountain and now there’s bad blood because he basically stole their name and opened in the same town.  Not cool, dude.

It used to be that if you were a brewery located in a secluded, mountain town you didn’t need to push the envelope; you could get by with four or five standard styles of beer (a wheat, a pale ale, an IPA, a porter or stout,…etc.) because you were the only brewery for a few hour’s drive.  Technically, that’s still true which, I suppose, means Three Barrel Brewing Company in Del Norte and Revolution Brewing in Paonia deserve even more applause for their forays into off-the-beaten-path beers: a sour beer and an apple juice beer, respectively.  For all my hippie readers who might be wondering, no, Revolution does not plan on making a beer with that famous Paonia product.

After drinking the beer, my favorite activity at beer festivals is collecting schwag.  At Odell Brewing Co.’s tent, they were giving out tin signs but you had to answer a trivia question first.  I was in my element; I love beer and I love Geeks Who Drink pub quizzes.  I was ready.  The question: “Why do we call it 5 Barrel Pale Ale?”  I flashbacked to when Nicole and I visited CAUTION and Danny told us they were brewing on Odell’s old five barrel system.  Needless to say, I walked home with a new Myrcenary tin sign.

At any festival, the commemorative glass will become quite sullied.  When I went to get an Oskar Blues Brewery beer, I asked if they had any water with which to rinse my glass.  With a wink and a smirk, my server turned to the AC Golden (AKA Coors) rep and asked if he could use some of her beer to wash out my pint.  Hilarity ensued until the AC Golden rep took my glass and dunked it in Oskar Blues’ cooler water.  Eh, whatevs; I’m sure the water's clean enough.

On-mountain entertainment included The Rifters and Chuck Pyle—both of the country/western genre.  I must admit that, while the style of music is one of my least favorite, when the concert’s in this environment, country/western is the only music that makes sense.  I love me some punk rock but the juxtaposition of screeching guitars and unnatural hair color with the Sound of Music setting just doesn’t jive.  It was while sitting and grooving on the honky-tonk that I realized why Rails & Ales gives out whole pint glasses rather than tiny tasters; nobody wants to get up every 30 seconds for a new beer when you’re sitting back, enjoying the show.
The Rifters doing their thing

Aside from a whole lot more beer drinking, that was Nicole and I’s experience at Rails & Ales.  Every time I attend a new festival I always try to rank it in my list of favorites.  I keep Great American Beer Festival at the top because, although it’s impersonal and devoid of live music and scenery, its sheer size trumps all.  I generally put Telluride Blues & Brews Festival in second because of the picturesque peaks and entertainment but, then again, Rails & Ales has that, too.  I suppose the entertainers’ names are bigger at Telluride but the visiting artist has never determined how much I enjoyed a beer festival.  I suppose, also, that the mountains around Telluride are sharper and more dramatic but the festival grounds have easy access to town while Rails & Ales enjoys complete, natural seclusion.  It’s a close call but I have to say that I’ve a new number two.

A thing of beauty (the mountains are neat, too)
We hopped the train and headed back down the mountain.  Rails & Ales may be over but we still had some more beer to drink.  Stay tuned for the conclusion of the Epic Beer Weekend.



I’m always eager to see what types of beers breweries bring to festivals. I don’t want to have a beer that I can easily buy at the liquor store or a restaurant; I want something unique and exciting. Luckily, many of the breweries at Rails & Ales are from small Colorado towns we haven’t yet visited.

When we got off the train, we had a bird’s eye view of the beer tents in the meadow below. We made a plan concerning which breweries to hit first which included Eske’s Brew Pub & Eatery, Mr. Grumpy Pants, and Odell. Eventually, we made our way to Horsefly Brewing Company’s tent. I had the Jazzy Razzy which, as the name implies, is a raspberry beer. With my glass held up to the sky, I looked at the bright pink liquid—It looks more like a wine cooler than a beer. When I took my first sip, it almost tasted like an Izze soda. This is one of the most refreshing beers one can have on a hot day and probably my favorite beer at the festival.  I wish I had gone back for a second taster come to think of it.

It came to the point where I had tasted enough beer so I found a grassy spot in the meadow and enjoyed the music for a while. When the train came back for us, I mentally prepared myself for two hours of being cramped in a train with a bunch of people sad that their endless flow of beer was being left behind. I was also grateful that the people sitting with us were not the rowdy types. We shared stories of the day as we headed down the mountain.


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