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The best thing about microbreweries and small batch plants is they are always tinkering with the formula (or the equipment itself). These people love what they do and do what they love—and it shows (rather, tastes) in their product. For some, the formula consists of years of trying new things and bringing forth a solid stable of drink varieties. Others are just getting started and making it work with the variables of each growing season. All these featured drink makers pride themselves on local sourcing and worldly influences that will not only keep your thirst quenched but also tantalize your taste buds. You won’t have to look hard to find any of these local drinks, and if you want to chat up the masterminds behind them, you’ll find them at many of the festivals like Keystone’s Bluegrass and Beer and Telluride’s Blues and Brews this summer. When you find either the drinks or those who created them, raise a glass (or bottle or can), give a toast and enjoy!

San Luis Valley Brewing Co.

Location: Alamosa, CO
Founded: 2006
Brewing System: Seven barrel
Philosophy: Work hard to value the things that matter . . . God, family, friendships, beer . . .  and the rest will take care of itself.
Hours: Open daily at 11am

What do you do when you’re a poor AmeriCorps volunteer but you have expensive taste in beer? What else, but brew your own. That’s what Scott and Angie Graber did and now they own their own brew pub in the rural town of Alamosa, CO.

If you think you’re familiar with their beer, think again. Since they opened in 2006 they have put together about 50 beer recipes. The founding beers (the ones they brewed in 5 gallon buckets as volunteers) are Hefe Suave and the Alamosa Amber. Those with four others are always on tap at the brew pub. Two taps host seasonal beers which are rotated monthly and they always have two guest beers flowing.

The San Louis Brewing Company has a unique relationship with the Rio Grande Rail Road that comes through town. They sponsor three festivals throughout the year and have even made a custom brew served on the train and is the official beer of the Rio Grande Rail Road, the Scenic Rail Pale Ale.

New Brew: Looking for a beer with a kick of flavor and maybe some beads of sweat to help cool your brow? The San Luis Valley brew crew is introducing a green chili lager called Valle Caliente—Hot Valley. Introduced as a seasonal beer, it gained popularity and is now part of the permanent collection. Billed as a light and crisp Mexican beer, they added a batch of hatched chili to their existing Valle Especial and let the heat soak in. But it’s not recommended for those interested in bland beer. Try it with some tacos and you might be asking for more hot sauce. If you can’t catch them at the Rails and Ales festival in their hometown of Alamosa, CO on 2 July, swing by their website to see where else they will be this summer.

Del Norte Brewing Co.

Location: Denver, CO
Brewing System: 10 barrel
Philosophy: We don’t need no stinking lime.
Hours: Sales Room Fri 3-6:30pm

Back in 2004 Joe Fox and his buddies started to realize the phrase “Someone should craft a fresh local Mexican beer” was being said often enough while eating out at Mexican Restaurants in Colorado to do something about it.

But what makes a “Mexican” beer? The crew uncovered three qualities:

1. They are lagers.
2. They are light lagers brewed with corn.
3. They are lightly hopped to compliment spicy cuisine without competing with the flavor.

Simple enough.

After spending two years to build the business plan and to get going, their first brew was available in 2007 and they now have five varieties on offer, many of which have won awards and some multiple awards. Their most decorated beer, Mañana, touts, among others, the Gold Medal for the 2010 GABF American Style Amber Lager (think “American” as a continent vs the country – that includes Mexico).

Joe and his team have been getting some great feedback from fans, including those who do not normally count themselves as beer drinkers. Joe describes Del Norte brews as a Gateway to craft beer for drinkers by keeping it simple and providing lighter beers with lots of flavor. You can find Del Norte in six states mostly around Colorado, but they also have a strong following in Alaska.

New Brew: Coming out this summer is an as of yet unnamed bohemian style lager with amber copper color that will do well with a nice cool cup of ceviche. Keep your eyes out for it especially at their booth at the Rocky Mountain Freedom Fest in Castle Rock, CO on 4 July.

 

303 Vodka

Location: Boulder, CO
Founded: 2008
Distillery Size: 8 Stills
Philosophy: Keeping it small, keeping it local, keeping it Colorado
Hours: Wed-Fri. 3pm-close, Sat. 12-close, Sun. 10am-3pm

The founding of the Boulder Distillery is well poised to be a movie script. Steve Viezbicke discovered a piece of paper through a tear in the lining of his late grandfather’s steamer trunk. Grandpa Pete Viezbicke Sr. was sent from Poland by his parents to escape the mayhem of World War I. The paper was old and in Polish and translating it through Google they discovered it to be a vodka recipe. This was not necessarily a long lost recipe as Steve’s father and uncle had been distilling their own vodka for years. But it was just the kick and inspiration Steve needed to delve into building a still and trying it for himself.

Now living in Boulder, Steve and his wife Terri source potato starch from the San Luis Valley and started putting their flagship product, the 303 Vodka, on the shelves in 2008, just three years after the Polish recipe was translated. They didn’t stop with vodka. Terri, being from Napa Valley where wine comes in a number of varieties, simply asked if they could use the potatoes and stills to make anything else. Yes. Normally made of a grain, whisky, too, could be made from the potatoes and so their second product was launched 303 Whisky. Don’t be a skeptic. Give it a try!

Latest Concoction: Rob’s Mountain Gin is fresh on the shelves as of March 2011. The Boulder Distillery is teaming up with Growing Gardens in Boulder to make a totally Boulder County Gin by using only Boulder County juniper berries and herbs grown in the Growing Gardens greenhouse. Profits from the sales will go back to Growing Gardens.

Meet and greet the Boulder Distillery gang as they are sponsoring the Poudre River Reggae Fest at the Mishawaka Amphitheater on 29-30 July.

 

Colorado Cider Co.

Location: Denver, CO
Founded: 2010
Making System: 20 barrel
Philosophy: All juice. All apples. For adults.

Cider is not brewed, nor is it distilled. It is simply made. Press some apples, ferment the juice and voila, hard cider! As it turns out you only have to distinguish “cider” from “hard cider” in the U.S. thanks in part to our little bout with prohibition nearly a century ago. Traditionally (in England and other countries) just saying “cider” implies it is an alcoholic beverage and it is commonly found in pubs right there with the beers where drinkers can alternate between a beer and a cider. Maybe this “drink rotation” method lets you drink longer? Give it a try!

Thanks to a micro-climate region on the Western Slope where the conditions are just right for growing apples a Colorado Cider Company is possible. The chief maker, Brad Page tries to source as many Colorado apples  from the Western Slope as possible. But late or hampered growing seasons sometimes make it difficult to get enough of the right apples. This year he used a lot of Jonagold apples – a dessert apple occasionally found at the grocer. Sometimes he uses other familiar dessert apples varieties but these sweeter apples don’t always yield the flavor he’s looking for.  He was able to procure some traditional English Cider apples with great names such as Kingston Black and Yarlington Mill from a grower in New England.

Latest Concoction: While Brad is no newbie on the drink making scene (a founding brewer at Coopersmith’s Pub in Ft. Collins), the Colorado Cider Company is fresh out of the gate and carries a simple two choice offering: Glider Cider and the less sweet Glider Cider Dry. Both complement a summer BBQ menu nicely and more cider varieties will begin to crop up as the experimenting continues. You can find both founding drinks in 22oz bottles on tap (see www.coloradocider.com for  locations). Colorado Cider will also be at the Cider Days Festival in Lakewood in October.

Dillon Dam Brewery

Location: Dillon, CO
Founded: 1997
Brewing System: Five 30 barrel fermenters
Philosophy: Something for everyone
Hours: Every day 11:30 a.m. to midnight

Dam Good Food, Dam Good Beer and Dam Good Fun, had been the slogan and mission of the Dillon Dam Brewery ever since the landmark opened in February of 1997. So it should come as no surprise that while the experience at the Dillon Dam Brewery certainly revolves beer, but it’s truly focused on food and simply having a good time after hitting the resorts or trails up in Summit County. Dillon Dam brews a lot of beer— nearly 2,000 barrels each year—with all sorts of eclectic variations. Don’t look for it in the store unless you’re in the mountains or at Little’s in Denver or Coaltrain in the Springs. It’s best to come up to the brewery to taste what’s on tap.

“Our brewing philosophy is ‘something for everyone,’” says brewmaster Cory Foster. “We do it all—from the lightest lager to the most complex whiskey-barrel-aged chaos that we can come up with. We want people to say, ‘Maybe we better stop by and see what they’ve got brewing.”

That desire to keep customers coming back and entertained is essential to the food here, too. You will find the classic burger and other traditional pub favorites here, but there are also quesadillas, wraps, soups, salads, steaks, seafood and pasta. It’s a huge menu, designed to offer something for everyone—there’s a kids’ menu, a weekend brunch menu and even find gluten-free items. A daily lunch special and dinner specials keep the locals happy.

And the beer? It’s all about creativity. You’ll always find eight beers on tap, plus a couple seasonal choices. Every second Tuesday of the month is Tap It Tuesday where they tap a 5 gallon keg of something really unique from the Brewmaster’s special stash. This summer, the brewery will feature Double Black II Stout, a bold, tasty imperial India stout as well as its Hefeweizen, a summer favorite.