Thebeerchaser Does Colorado – Breckenridge – The Final Chapter

Breckenridge - A Colorado city with great views and great brews.....

Breckenridge – A Colorado city with great views and brews…..

We finished our twelve-day trip to Colorado last fall with a week in a Breckenridge condo, after visiting Boulder, Fort Collins and Colorado Springs.  Breckenridge, since its ski areas opened in the early 1960’s, has shed its reliance on mining and this bustling burg of about 5,000 people, is now a tourist mecca.

Breckenridge - where the skiing is superb and the beer is brewed with "altitude."
Breckenridge – where the skiing is superb and the beer is brewed with “altitude.”

 While known primarily as a winter ski resort, it is also an inviting destination when the lifts are not running.  Hiking, cycling, fishing and, of course, since this is Thebeerchaser blog, let’s not forget, lively and interesting eateries and watering holes in which to raise a mug.

A short hike on the Iowa Hill trail in Breckenridge

A short hike on the Iowa Hill Trail in Breckenridge

Based on multiple recommendations, our first night, we ate at Angel’s Hollow, in a quaint old house and which not only had outstanding food (Janet said the best minestrone soup she has ever had) but an interesting bar with friendly people from all over the US.

The Angel's Hollow

The Angel’s Hollow

 

 

 

 

 

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They included Joe, Paul, Shannon and Len, who were drinking beer with straight shots of Jamison’s as a chaser.  They wanted to buy us shots and to join them –  I did and Janet declined!.  Angel’s Hollow is also known for wonderful margaritas – understandably.

Nothing like a few shots of Jamison to break the ice......
Nothing like a few shots of Jamison to break the ice……

 

It’s co-owned by a husband and wife.  Lee, the husband is also the cook – a good one who takes no guff from unruly patrons – possibly because after attending culinary school in New York, he cooked for the Hell’s Angels for several years.

A May 2015 Yelp comment summed up this bistro quite well:

Lee, the bartender and cook (not mellowed by Hells Angel's gig)

Lee: co-owner, bartender and cook (not mellowed by Hells Angel’s gig)

 

“Amazing drinks! Killer margaritas! The music is super loud and awesome! The bartender is the most bad ass dude I’ve met in awhile and it’s like a big party in a log cabin!”

The Breckenridge commercial area is pretty compact – and not far from the slopes – so tourists are advised to refrain not only from drinking and driving, but drinking and skiing. 

Janet "pouring" over the extensive list of craft beers - notice the "PumKing" tap

Janet “pouring” over the extensive list of craft beers – notice the “PumKing” tap

 

Another nice little bar – also on Main Street – Apres Handcrafted Libations – beckoned us for a nightcap and presented a lot of choices.

“30 rotating craft taps, 40+ rotating craft bottled/canned beers, craft and small batch whiskey and the finest handcrafted cocktails in Breckenridge.” 

 

Instead of a cocktail, we split a New York beer – Southern Tier “Pumking” Ale – a great choice with a neat tap…P1020984

The next night we ate at Ollie’s Pub and Grub – a good brewpub with stand-out hamburgers – advertised as “The Best in Breck,” – and if not, they had to be close.  As usual, we sat at the bar which makes it easier to strike up conversation and met a friendly couple from Texas.

Ollies - the best burger in Breck?

Ollies – the best burger in Breck?

A short road trip the next day took us over the pass to Vale – which seemed more effete than the amiable village of Breckenridge and returned through Dillon.  The recommendations of locals held sway and we had lunch and a beer at the Dillon Dam Brewery -opened in 1997 and now with thirteen of its own beers on tap.

It advertises itself (I’m somewhat skeptical) as “The largest brew-pub in the Colorado Rockies” – but regardless if this claim is accurate, they keep their promise of brewing “Dam Good Beer” – most notably, the award-winning Chili Lager.

Dam Good Beer found here....

Dam Good Beer found here….

Two other breweries while in Breck were on the agenda for short visits – the Breckenridge Brewery and the very new Broken Compass Brewery (it was just opened in May 2014) and was pretty sparse using a ski lift seat as one of the benches……)

The former was opened in 1980 by a “typical ski bum – with one significant difference. He had a knack for making extraordinary home brew……..Breckenridge Brewery has grown from a small 3,000-barrel-a-year brewpub (and)…we now craft well over 62,000 barrels of fresh beer annually, and we operate five brewpubs and ale houses in the state of Colorado.” 

Thebeerchaser at the Breckenridge Brewery

Thebeerchaser at the Breckenridge Brewery

 

Broken Compass Brewery was founded by some home brewers with backgrounds in chemical engineering and sustainability.  The brewpub is pretty meager (see the picture below) and ambiance is lacking but……

Ski-lift chairs for furniture
Ski-lift chairs for furniture at Broken Compass

 

 

 

 

They have expanded from six to twelve beers and the reviews on the beer are good.  We met a sister and two brothers who were on a road trip from Florida to spread their mom’s ashes in the Rockies.

The last bar visited in Breck was also the most interesting and has a rich history as per the description by Dr. Thomas Noel, author of Colorado – A Liquid History and Tavern Guide to the Highest State, in his description of the Gold Pan Saloon:

Quenching the thirst of miners, skiers and residents since Rutherford B. Hayes was President!

Quenching the thirst of miners, skiers and residents since Rutherford B. Hayes was President!

“In 1880, the town had eighteen saloons and three dance halls on Main Street…..The number of saloons and mines began to taper off by 1910 when Breckenridge went into total hibernation.  

The town shrank to less than 300.   The drowsy decades ended with an avalanche of development triggered by the opening of the Breckenridge Ski Area…..in the early 1960’s.  By 1990, the town had grown to 1,285 nearly its mid-1880’s peak population.  A dozen new saloons opened, but none outshone the old Gold Pan, which has quenched Breckenridge’s thirst since 1879.” (emphasis supplied)

P1030061And I would suggest that although the bar with the same name on Mt. Rushmore Street in Custer, South Dakota, also has some stories to tell, the Breckenridge version has a more esteemed position in its contribution to the annals of American saloons.

While it is in a clapboard building and does have some flat screen TVs and pool tables, the authentic historical trappings in the two rooms (one for the restaurant and one for the bar) of the saloon are compelling.  And remember – it stayed open even during Prohibition.  P1030059

 

Dr. Noel describes the classic wooden backbars in many of America’s older bars.   The Gold Pan is no exception as described on page 32 of his book: “The Brunswick-Balke-Collander Company of St. Louis made the classic altar of Bachhus with egg-and-dart trim and Ionic columns framing a huge mirror whose centerpiece is a rusty gold pan with broken clock hands.”

Inscription in the historic backbar

Inscription in the historic backbar

 

And perhaps the stories and conversation I heard are more contemporary then those described by Tom Noel below, but they are still engaging.

My friendly bartender told me how any such job in Breckenridge is cherished –  “We work in the off-season to buy our season lift tickets…” and how the City Council is trying to adapt to marijuana initiative: “They don’t want a recreational marijuana dispensary on Main Street, but is that hypocrisy or a contradiction given the number of bars not only on this street, but the two adjoining ones running through town.”                                      P1030055

And I listened to what had to be a regular complaining to his companion about Washington politicians:  “Perhaps Obama and Congress should come out and go skiing.  Then they can see what it’s like going downhill like the rest of America.”

This compares to Dr. Noel’s personal experience in the Gold Pan in the 1970’s – his first visit:  “Before I knew it, the shaggy, huge bartender was yelling at one of our party:  ‘You calling me a liar?  I didn’t short change you, you bitch!  Here’s your money back, all of it.'”  He then kicked all Noel’s party out of the bar.

Thanks to Dr. Tom Noel - rich stories of Colorado's watering holes

Thanks to Dr. Tom Noel – rich stories of Colorado’s watering holes

Admittedly, that’s not as pugnacious as the story he relates about a more congenial Gold Pan employee named Travis who gave the following account – and given the wonderful sagas in Dr. Noel’s book (available at Amazon and one you should acquire) it is fitting to end the narrative of our twelve days in Colorado in which we visited eighteen bars and brewpubs with one final story from the good University of Colorado professor:

“The meanest S.O.B. in here was a little guy who was part Injun.  One night I saw two rednecks hassling him.  He keep telling ’em to bug off, but they wouldn’t.  They were big guys.  Finally, he had enough.  He jumped on one of the guy’s lap, grabbed his ears and bit the tip of his nose off.  He spit it out and yelled, ‘You’re lucky I’m not hungry!'”

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Part III -Thebeerchaser Does Colorado – Fort Collins and Colorado Springs

P1020999
Colorado aspens in the fall
Thebeerchaser and spouse, Janet, road-tripping in Colorado
Thebeerchaser and spouse, Janet, road-tripping in Colorado

 Followers of Thebeerchaser blog may remember the first two narratives on our Colorado trip in the fall of 2014 – a general description of the fifteen-day trip and reviews of venues in the Boulder area.

Posts about local Portland watering holes and a twelve-day trip to the Southeast (Atlanta, Asheville, Charleston and Savannah) have delayed the final posts on our trip to the highest state, but establishments in Fort Collins and Colorado Springs are below.

Professor Tom Noel's book - an invaluable Beerchaser reference
Professor Tom Noel’s book – an invaluable Beerchaser reference

  Chicago Tribune Beer and Travel Writer, Josh Noel, in an article originally published in 2010 asked and answered the question: “The air is clean and the skiing is great, but do you know what really inspires fervor in the Rockies?  —Beer.”   

(I wonder if he is related to Dr. Thomas Noel, the author of Colorado: A Liquid History and Tavern Guide to the Highest State, cited in Thebeerchaser’s previous Colorado posts as well as below?)

Josh Noel’s article describes New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins as “(setting) the standard for craft beer success. (There are now 280 breweries in Colorado)  Founded in a basement in 1991, it has become the nation’s seventh-largest brewery on the strength of its Fat Tire Amber Ale and more daring offerings…”   

A chance Oregon meeting of my wife, Janet, and New Belgium Executive, Shawn Hines (he’s worked at NB since 2003 and his official title is Field Branding Manager and Pharoah of Phlow) when he and his wife, Allison, were wine tasting in Oregon’s Yamhill Valley, yielded an invitation to visit New Belgium’s brewery and two passes to the very popular New Belgium tour.

New Belgium - a great employer and major player in the US Micro-craft industry
New Belgium – a great employer and major player in the US Micro-craft industry

 

And according to multiple sources, based on its enlightened management style and benefits, New Belgium is THE place to work in Fort Collins.  Outside Magazine named it the No. 7 in its list of Best Places to Work in 2014 and it has cracked the Top 20 list six times – named No. 1 in 2008.

The impressive Fort Collins brewery - and Asheville N.C. comes on line in late 2015

The impressive Fort Collins New Belgium brewery – and Asheville N.C. comes on line in late 2015

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Any job opening has a flood of applications and there are great promotion opportunities.  Our charismatic tour guide, Marie, is living proof.  She started as a fork-lift operator in the warehouse and has now worked there almost ten  years.

Marie told us that her forthcoming one-month paid sabbatical is standard for ALL employees after ten years, as is a Fat Tire Bicycle on their first anniversary and an all-expense trip to Belgium to learn more about the brewing legacy after five years.

New Belgium guide, Marie and Janet Williams

New Belgium guide, Marie and Janet Williams

They also have a great benefit package with one unusual perk: “Co-workers also receive a 12-pack of Employee Beer each week and an opportunity to enjoy (1) shift beer after docking out after their shift.” (I guess “opportunity” means it’s not mandatory!)

I can taste the Fat Tire now.....

I can taste the Fat Tire now…..

The majority of time slots for the tour are filled for the next 2.5 months and it was interesting plus a chance to taste about seven of the beers during the 90-minute walk through their facilities.

New Belgium will open a new brewery in Asheville, North Carolina in late 2015, which will enhance its scope and distribution.  The company also has an outstanding reputation for its sustainability and environmental ethics.

Automation at New Belgium

Automation at New Belgium

Marie enthusiastically explains barrel aging on the tour

Marie enthusiastically explains barrel aging on the tour

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fort Collins, home of Colorado State University is also a typical college-town with great bars.  While time limited our selection we visited a wonderful  historic bar – The Town Pump, established in 1909 and right on College Avenue downtown.

The Town Pump - since 1909
The Town Pump – since 1909

 

According to Dr. Noel, it’s the oldest watering hole in Fort Collins and sits in an historic structure built in 1897.  “It’s a tiny, dark, old-fashioned saloon.  An armadillo greets customers from atop the miniature back-bar, and numerous other stuffed animals watch glassy-eyed from the walls …….(including) a horned bobcat on the back-bar.”

Authentic dive-bar character...
Authentic dive-bar character…

We were there on a Friday night when it was jammed with college-kids, regulars and tourists (like us).

Checking ID's on Saturday night at the Town Pump

Checking ID’s at the Town Pump

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Noel does a good job integrating history in his reviews and stated, “During Prohibition, this was a drugstore with a speakeasy in the basement.  Booze came out of the closet for good in 1936, when the drugstore was reborn as the Town Pump.  Because Fort Collins was a semi-dry town until 1969, this place was allowed to serve only 3.2 beer.”   P1020958

This fact and the idiosyncratic law prohibiting most grocery stores from selling anything but “near-beer,” evokes the quote from Prohibition years, “Whoever called it near-beer, was a poor judge of distance.”

While there were a number of other great options, we had to limit our other Fort Collins venues to dinner and beer at The Mayor of Old Town.  This pub, which was on the 2012 Draft Magazine 100 Best Beer Bars and Craftbeer.com’s Top Fifteen Beer Bars in America the same year, is locally owned.

100 Beers on Tap at the Mayor of Old Town

Like many on the Draft Magazine list it has over 100 beers on tap and is more about beer selection than ambiance although they did have good pub food and the service was excellent notwithstanding the bustling Friday night crowd.

The Mayors Bar

The Mayor’s Bar

And as we headed south to Colorado Springs, we left what has been named The Napa Valley of Beer”– the area between Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins. This moniker is understandable, because it has the Coors, New Belgium and Avery breweries in addition to “six-dozen other award-winning brewpubs and micro-breweries.” (Denver Visitors’ Bureau).  It’s also called the Denver Beer Triangle.

While Colorado Springs does not compare with Fort Collins’ charm or the number and quality of bars and brewpubs, the trip there was memorable with great scenery including the impressive Garden of the Gods Park.

Thebeerchaser rests during our hike

Thebeerchaser rests during our hike

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We also visited the 18,500 acre US Air Force Academy and marveled at the renowned Chapel as well as being impressed when we witnessed the 4,000+ Cadet Wing assemble and march to lunch.

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My interest in visiting the underground bunker at Cheyenne Mountain and see the nearby NORAD headquarters was squashed when I learned that they no longer have tours – somewhat understandable given the state of security in today’s world.  I guess I will have to be satisfied with what I remember from the portrayal in Dr. Strangelove and Fail-Safe – movies from my youth.

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An impressive architectural vision - the Academy Chapel

An impressive architectural vision – the Academy Chapel

The Cadet Wing assembles

The Cadet Wing assembles

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In downtown Colorado Springs, we hit the Ritz Bar and Grill – this time on a Saturday night and it was rockin’.  We were attracted by the historic building and although I love beer, a good martini is an invitation not to be denied.

As Dr. Noel states in his book:

“Colorado’s largest martini can be found in the Art Deco watering hole.  Bright neon lights, marble counters and chrome fixtures are nifty……This bright high-ceilinged space in the turn-of-the-century Carleton Building retains its Roman tile floor from its former life as a music store (also a beauty saloon and barber shop according to the bartender).”

Blair and her outstanding dirty gin martini (up with olives..)

Blair and her outstanding dirty gin martini (up with olives..)

 

And Blair, our friendly bartender, mixed a great martini. The description from the Ritz website is a good description:

Saturday night at the Ritz

Saturday night at the Ritz

“The friendly, nostalgic atmosphere of the Ritz Grill has been a longtime favorite of the downtown crowd. The Ritz has been a Tejon Street hot spot for more than 15 years, and has gained notoriety for its food, cocktails, and live music……After 9 pm, the Ritz begins its transformation into downtown’s premier nightclub. Friday and Saturday, the Ritz features the best in Colorado live music with absolutely no cover charge.”

Although the menu and the food at the Ritz looked very good, we wanted to hit one more establishment before heading back to Breckenridge the next day, so we had dinner at the Phantom Canyon Brewing – a few blocks from the Ritz.

This inauspicious brewery and pub advertises as the oldest brewery in Colorado Springs – opened in 1993 – also in an historic building on the National Historic Register.

Opened in 1993

Opened in 1993

The structure, built in 1901, was the Cheyenne Building and originally the local offices of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad.  It was renovated in 1909 and re-opened as the Cheyenne Hotel.

An historic 1901 building

An historic 1901 building

They have a typical pub menu (we had delicious hamburgers and pizza ) and thirteen of their own draft beers plus a good selection of bottled beers.  We enjoyed the Inside Out Pilsner and a zesty 42 Seconds (Peppercorn Saison) which lived up to its billing -“brewed with rye and a four peppercorn blend that gives it a nice spicy character.”

And on the second floor is “the most elegant Billiard Hall in Colorado Springs” – with ten pool tables, dart boards, a jukebox and flat screens scattered throughout.

The Phantom Canyon bar

The Phantom Canyon bar

 

 

 

And one more excerpt from Tom Noel’s book:

“The unusual 1902 Brunswick backbar came from the Depot Bar in Pueblo;s Union Station.  Besides oak arches framing its mirrors, the bar has stained-glass Art Nouveau panels that are electrically backlighted, giving it a holy glow.”

The next morning we headed back to our Breckenridge condo for the final part of our Colorado stay.  The time on the road, while not lengthy, brings to mind a great quote on road trips from novelist, Lee Child in his book, Never Go Back:

“There were cities and there was countryside. There were mountains and there were valleys.  There were rivers.  There were museums and music and motels and clubs and diners and bars and buses.  There were battlefields and birthplaces and legends and roads.  There was company if I wanted it and there was solitude if I didn’t.”

An ode to Road Trips

An Ode to Road Trips