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!'”

P1030042P1030065

 

 

 

 

 

P1030053

 

 

 

Beerchasing in the Highest State – Part I

P1020965

Colorado – I have to admit that until last fall, my only knowledge of Colorado breweries harkened back to college years at Oregon State University.  You were a hero with SAE fraternity brothers and could be a babe magnet – at least temporarily –  if you came back from a road trip with a few cases of Coors – brewed in Golden, Colorado.

Coors - the Silver Bullet to popularity in the late '60's

Coors – the Silver Bullet to popularity in the late ’60’s

Coors was then not sold in Oregon because it wasn’t pasteurized.  As a result of its unavailability, it became a delicacy similar to Cuban cigars with the advantage that you were not supporting a communist dictator when you purchased the product.

A state rivaling Oregon in breweries and scenery

A state rivaling Oregon in breweries and scenery

 

 

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In September 2014, my wife and I spent twelve wonderful days in Colorado, six of which were in a Breckenridge condo.  While we both love Oregon, I was convinced that if we had to choose another home, it would be this state with its majestic mountains, lush forests, lakes, rivers and canyons – and oh yes – bountiful breweries, which although they are not natural wonders, can still make one’s pulse surge with anticipation.

New Belgium Brewery - one of Colorado's best

New Belgium Brewery –  the first in the US to purchase 100% of its electricity from wind generated power

Rocky Mountain National Park's amazing Trail Ridge Road

Rocky Mountain National Park’s amazing Trail Ridge Road

We saw spectacular and fascinating scenery ranging from the Trail Ridge Road, which bisects Rocky Mt. National Park – 48 miles long with eight of those above 11,000 feet (Mt. Hood’s summit is 11,249) – to Garden of the God’s and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

The Chapel at the US Air Force Academy

The Chapel at the US Air Force Academy

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Our visit concluded watching the Oregon State Beavers beat the Colorado Golden Buffaloes football team in Boulder on a beautiful day. (Please limit your comments re. the Beavers’ final Pac 12 record.)

The Beavs beat the Buffaloes in Boulder - note the orange contingent on the right

The Beavs beat the Buffaloes in Boulder – note the orange contingent on the right

My fondness for Colorado was heightened by the number of breweries and great bars we visited – 18 in twelve days.

Portland purportedly has more craft breweries per capita (76 in the metro area) than any city in the world, and the state of Oregon has a total of 181 – at 6.3 per 100,000 adults – first in the US.

This compares to 175 in Colorado – 4th in the US at 4.7 – where they range from Adolph Coors  Co. – the largest in the world and the formidable New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins to many micro-breweries – eight of which we were fortunate to visit and taste their product.

Don and Janet Williams with our tour guides - the Sengers

Don and Janet Williams with our tour guides – the Sengers

Our philosophy was that the 1.6 breweries per capita fewer in Colorado was the equivalent of being in a bar which had 75 different beers on tap rather than 100 and we would explore notwithstanding the #2 ranking.

We had a great time both at the beginning and end of our trip with good friends, Barb and John Senger – Barb is an OSU grad and both are retired school administrators and were accomplished tour guides.

Their extensive preparation for a Beerchaser tour was evidenced by the copy of an outstanding reference guide awaiting me on arrival – Colorado, a Liquid History & Tavern Guide of the Highest State by Dr. Thomas Noel, a professor at the University of Colorado.

An essential resource for Beerchasing in Colorado
An essential resource for Beerchasing in Colorado

 Dr.Noel states in his introduction that he began surveying bars early when he was  nineteen years old – forty-four years younger than when I commenced Thebeerchaser Tour of Portland Bars, Taverns and Pubs.   His ultimate mission makes me consider returning to graduate school – a dissertation in history at UC as follows:

 

An historic example of the venues explored by Dr. Noel and Thebeerchaser
An historic example (in Breckenridge) of the venues explored by Dr. Noel and later by Thebeerchaser

 

 

 

 

For that research, I systematically visited every licensed and unlicensed after-hours club, bar, lounge, nightclub and tavern in Denver – some six hundred establishments…..Since completing the Denver bar survey of 1965 to 1978, I have not been idle.  I have expanded the study, hoping to visit every bar in Colorado.”   

What vision and perseverance!

The good professor promptly returned an e-mail I sent and in his response granted me permission to use excerpts from his book in my blog posts.  He also informed me in his reply that he also authored another book of interest to Beerchasers – Denver: The City and the Saloon. A pearl of wisdom from Dr. Noel:

The tavern as an institution, as well as a building type, is underappreciated.  This book gives a voice to people – and an institution – that usually escape dry history books.  Bars have made and shaped history.  They themselves have revealing histories and are great places to collect tall, short and winding tales.

A notable validation of Dr. Noel's premise from the historic Sink Bar

A notable validation of Dr. Noel’s premise from the historic Sink Bar

Based on my Beerchaser Tour over the last 3 + years, Dr. Noel’s quote hits the mark regardless of whether the venue is in Colorado, Oregon, Amsterdam, Anchorage, Prineville or Port Townsend.

So during our twelve-day trip, what were the eighteeen bars and breweries we visited  and which will be highlighted in three or four subsequent Beerchaser posts?

 

From the Avery Brewery in Boulder

From the Avery Brewery in Boulder

Boulder  Crystal Springs Brewery, The Sink, Avery Brewery, Gravity Brewery, Post Brewery

Fort Collins – The Town Pump, The Mayor of Old Town Bar, New Belgium Brewery

Breckenridge – Angels Hollow Bar, Apres Handcrafted Libations, Breckenridge Brewery, Broken Compass Brewery, The Gold Coin Saloon, Ollies Pub and Grub  P1030035

Colorado Springs – Phantom Canyon Brewery, The Ritz Bar

Dillon Lake –  The Dillon Dam Brewery

P1020937

From Choice City Butchers and Deli in Fort Collins

 

 

 

 

 

One acknowledgement before concluding this post which I would be remiss in omitting.  Our host, John Senger, in addition to having a great feel for selecting quality bars and breweries, also distinguished himself with the quality of his hand-crafted martinis – a libation for which Thebeerchaser is an enthusiastic advocate.

Complementary.  Gin - up with olives!

Complementary: Gin – up with olives!