In 1983, my family moved from Cleveland to Denver. I was seven years old.
My parents both grew up in Cleveland. If I count correctly, at least three generations on either side preceded them in Northern Ohio, before you get back to the old country. Except for my Uncle Dave who was in the Air Force and now lives in Columbia, SC, all of my parents’ brothers and sisters still live in Ohio. Looking back, it took some guts for my parents to leave all they had known for 32 years to embark on a journey West, just the two of them and a couple young kids.
All I really remember of my first six years in Ohio was playing River Raid on the Atari with my friend Eric, getting popped on the chin by a see-saw in kindergarten, and my sister falling off our second story deck when she was two, yet somehow landing square on her back in a sandbox without getting hurt.
I was a little sad to leave my friends Eric and Jeff when my parents said we were moving to Colorado, but I think I was up for the adventure. When we flew into Colorado for the first time and I saw the mountains as we descended into Denver, I was immediately struck with awe. I was amazed at how big they were. I’d never seen anything so magnificent. Instinctively, I felt a primal fear of those jagged, snow-capped peaks, yet even at seven years old I was drawn to them.
Even though we only spent three years in Colorado, the experience had a profound effect on the rest of my life. I’m still a Broncos fan, I love going up to the mountains and I enjoy cold weather.
Turns out I have another connection to Colorado that didn’t surface until I was in my late 20s: beer. All I knew of Colorado beer as a kid was the one time we went on a tour of the Coors brewery in Golden. The only thing I recall of that tour was that it stunk to high hell in the brewery. I didn’t know what was going on, but it wasn’t natural. Maybe that’s why I ended up waiting until I was 21 to drink my first beer.
My, how Colorado beer and I have both grown.
As fortune would have it, a few weeks ago Nicole and I went on a pilgrimage to the Mecca of beer during Craft Beer Week. As our plane approached Denver, I looked over the port-side wing and felt the same nervous excitement when I saw the front range as I did when I was seven.
The plan was to spend a few days in Denver seeing the sights (read: breweries) with our good friends the Harrisons before heading out for a mountain get-away at the tail end trip. The Harrisons are beer appreciators themselves, and Alexandra was in between semesters and had ample time to serve as our beer sherpa. In fact, the first thing we did off the plane was head to a downtown King Soopers to pick up some Deschutes and Odell’s.
Being mid-May when we left South Carolina, it was in the high-80s with the ever-present humidity. As we cracked open a couple Deschutes Hop Henges and sat on the front porch at the Harrison’s near-downtown craftsman, the sun was shining and it couldn’t have been more than 70 degrees. It was a little slice of heaven.
However, after that sunny afternoon, it must have begun the rainiest week in the history of Colorado. It rained at least 6 of the next 7 days. It felt more like spring in Oregon. But we wouldn’t let it hold us down.
We visited Great Divide, Oskar Blues, Left Hand, Avery, New Belgium and Odell over the course of four days. Each brewery and tasting room had its own character, from the tour-centric grandeur of New Belgium to the urban warehouse feel of Great Divide.
Oskar Blues tasting room, also known as the Tasty Weasel, had pinball, shuffleboard and four skeeball lanes with 200-barrel fermenters in the background. I continued my cornhole spiral at Left Hand, taking a beating at the hands of Alexandra and Emmett. Odell had a well-polished tasting bar, no doubt inspired by the friendly Ft. Collins beer arms race with New Belgium.
My favorite brewery to visit was Avery. Their tasting room has a mind-blowing 20 taps and a cask, including at least 8 beers that I had never tried. I ran the gamut on the rarities and one-offs that I could not find at home. My favorites were their sour and a bourbon barrel smoked beer. All-around it was outstanding. I always liked Avery, but after suckling on the teats of the brewery, my esteem has risen to new heights. Thank you, Adam Avery.
On Wednesday of the week we loaded up a rental car and headed west on I-70. After surviving a snow-storm, we emerged on the other side of Vail in Edwards, the location of Crazy Mountain Brewing Co.
We stopped in around lunch time with a French bread loaf and salami, grabbed a couple pints of IPA and enjoyed the view of the Vail Valley. We also had the good fortune of meeting brewer and co-owner Kevin Selvey and Crazy Mountain’s agent, Jay. Jay also happens to be the inventor of the beer buckle. And yes, I will be wearing one at Brewgrass in September.
Our final beer stop of the trip was at Revolution Brewing in Paonia. After driving through a couple of broken-down mining towns that bordered on creepy, we came into Paonia, a surprisingly quaint and active town of about 1,000 people. We learned that in town there’s a cool bar that has live music on weekends, an independent movie theater, a farm-to-table restaurant, and a brewery.
About 20 minutes from our final destination in Crawford, we rolled into Revolution weary from five hours in the car. It was about four in the afternoon and the tasting room bar, which is in an old church, was already full with about eight patrons locked in conversation. I totally expected one of those scenes where everyone goes silent and stares when the outsiders come in, but everyone kept on rolling. We were greeted with a smile from the woman behind the bar and were served a pint of Colorado Red and Miner’s Gold.
We relaxed for a couple pints and filled a couple growlers to take on to our cabin in Crawford. After all, we couldn’t risk being snowed-in for a couple days without some local beer to stave off the cold. It was still only mid-May, after all! (We woke up Thursday morning to snow. It was May 20. Didn’t see that coming…)
After nine days in Colorado, drinking some of the best beer in the world, immersed in the most gorgeous mountain vistas, it was tempting not to get on the plane Sunday back to South Carolina. I dreaded the warm humidity hitting me like a wet blanket when I got off the plane. However, I boarded the flight, knowing there is unfinished business back home. I have debts to pay and beer to evangelize. My people are in Colorado, but I’m a missionary in South Carolina.
I now understand Grizzly Bear. I’ve been to the pinnacle and as much as I try to cling to it, it remains allusive. Yet how can I go anywhere else and be satisfied?
Colorado… what now?