Mountain Breweries: Small Towns, Big Flavors

A tale of my visit to two local breweries in the mountains of Colorado.

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There are few things as pleasing as a nice cold beer after a long hike.

After a tiring trek up Mount Shavano, located in the collegiate range of the Colorado Rockies, my friends and I headed to Poncha Springs and Salida for a pint (or two or three).

First stop, Elevation Beer Company.

Located in Poncha Springs, Elevation is fairly new to the Colorado craft beer scene. It first opened it’s doors in May 2012 as a 15-barrel brewhouse. It specializes in barrel-aged adventurous beers that will “elevate” your perceptions of specialty brews.

The brewery is housed in an old warehouse, with a decent-sized tap room serving year-round and seasonal beers on tap. The beers are categorized the same way ski runs are: Green, Blue, Black Diamond and Double Black Diamond. As you might imagine, the green beers are your milder varieties, such as Ambers or Kolshs. The blues are your IPAs and Porters. The black diamonds are a bit more experimental and adventurous, and include Tripels, Saisons, Imperial Porters and Barleywine. The double blacks are not for the faint of heart, or the lightweights. These pack a lot of flavor, and ABV, into one glass. img_4093

Each of us selected one beer to try (I went with the Arete, American Barleywine…amazing!), and settled at a table to enjoy. A food truck outside was serving some delicious small bites, and we grabbed a couple baskets of pretzel bites to pair with our brews.

Since we wanted to try a few more beers, but knew we’d be on the floor if we ordered full pints, we decided to get a taster of five. img_4099

Starting from I and going counter clockwise around, we have:

Third Base – A Belgian Tripel ABV: 9.86% “This beer pours a crystal clear gold with tight Belgian lacing  and a white head. Notes of spice, orange peel, lemon, and earthy hops hit the nose. On the palate, the beer is slightly sweet with Belgian yeast and a slight warmth of alcohol.”

Raspberry Gulch – Fruited Imperial Saison ABV: 8.12% “Raspberry Gulch is a fruited saison brewed with a traditional yeast strain from Belgium and nearly 18 pounds of raspberries per barrel. With notes of jam, hay and spice.”

Signal de Botrange – Farmhouse Ale aged in Chardonnay barrels ABV: 9.86% “Made in the tradition of the farmhouse beers of the Wallonia region of Belgium. Eclectic, funky and original. This beer was aged for twelve months in Napa Valley Chardonnay barrels giving it flavor and aroma notes of Chardonnay wine, oak, acidity, and subtle floral hops. The mouthfeel is light, refreshing and dry with a medium to light body.”

Apis IV – Belgian Quadrupel ABV: 10.9% “Our newest year-round beer, Apis IV is a dark Belgian-Style Ale brewed in the Trappist tradition with local honey. Notes of plum, fig, and molasses with a medium to heavy mouthfeel, high carbonation and subtle floral hop notes.”

False Summit – Quadrupel Ale aged in bourbon barrels ABV: 11% “Aromas of dark fruits, vanilla, and bourbon seep off False Summit’s milk chocolate head.  As the beer warms, notes of caramel, oak and dark Belgian candi sugar come more prevalent. We named this beer False Summit as some may be disheartened to find that this is not a barrel-aged version of our famous Apis IV, yet this barrel-aged quadruple, like the final stretch of a mountain’s peak, is as enjoyable if not more rewarding then what came before.”

The Apis IV and the Third Base were probably my two favorites. The Raspberry Gulch was a little too fruity for me, but my friends liked that one. To each her own.

On our drive back to Denver, we stopped at Mad Jack’s Mountain Brewery in Bailey, CO. The small brewery was formed in 2010 by husband and wife team Jack and Allison. During a few years living in Germany, they fell in love with the beer flavors and culture, and wanted to bring that back to Colorado.img_4116img_4118

The brewery and tasting room is fairly new, and when we stopped in, there was only one Mad Jack beer on tap, the Mad Jack Porter. The man behind the bar – who I assume must have been Jack – assured us that many more beers would be coming soon. For now, we would try this one. The Porter was delicious, with a rich chocolate flavor that wasn’t too overpowering. We also tried a sample of a few other local Colorado beers they had on tap.img_4119

Since our visit to Mad Jack’s, they have released a variety of others including a Pale Ale, an Oktoberfest and a wheat ale – according to Untappd. I’m sure there are many more to come from this place, and I look forward to trying them in the future.

This is what I love about Colorado and it’s beer scene. No matter the size of the town, or where it is on the map, you are likely to find an awesome local brewery happily brewing up some hoppy goodness. I have a lot more exploring – and tasting – to do.

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