Beer. Beer, beer, beer. I love beer. I’m not talking about guzzling gallons of light (or LITE) yellow swill, I’m talking about beer of many colors, flavors, and styles. I’m talking about American made (and owned) high quality craft and micro brewed beer. My job title is Beerbarian after all, I’d better like the stuff in a real serious way. Fortunately, I’m not alone. In an industry that is seeing falling sales numbers as a whole, the micro and craft brew industry is up nearly 40%. It’s the big boys taking the hit, which is opening the market more and more to creative brewers to bring more amazing beers to us.
Enter Zephyr Adventures’ Colorado Beer Adventure. Colorado is one of the best places in the US for experiencing craft beer. More than 140 craft and microbreweries are in the state, with the majority of them in the northern CO region. Sounds like a road trip is in order, right? On Oct 8th 2012, the first Colorado Beer Adventure got underway.
There were nine of us, with a stalwart pledge to imbibe as many different styles of delicious locally brewed beer that 5 days would allow. We also had a goal to earn those beers through some bicycling and hiking through Rocky Mountain National Park along the way. More on that later.
We started in the beautiful town of Ft. Collins. Located near the WY border, Ft. Collins is a really hip town. Home to Colorado State University, and more than a dozen breweries mostly located along the amazing cross-city bike path, it was a prime place to begin. Our stay in Ft. Collins included sampling beers at Funkwerks brewery (who later that week won Small Brewery of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver), O’Dell’s Brewery, and an amazing tour of the New Belgium Brewing Co, maker of the famous Fat Tire Amber. We also managed to have one of the most epic breakfasts ever. We bumped into the owner of Choice City Meats (conveniently located at the base of our hotel) while late night “sampling” at some of the local craft brew hubs. He invited us over for a breakfast for beer lovers. He has 15 extremely hard-to-find beers on tap in his old-style butcher shop and deli. We had everything from Rattlesnake-Rabbit-Jalapeno Sausage to Corned Bison and Hash, to Wild Boar and Cherry Sausage paired with a couple of small glasses of some truly amazing beers. Just the thing for a good hike in Rocky Mountain National Park later that day!
Estes Park, gateway to RMNP, proved to be a beautiful town, full of charm and, of course, great beer. But first, we needed to earn that beer and work off some from the night before. We headed into RMNP for a beautiful hike up to The Loch for a little lunch (prepared by Choice City Meats!). Three miles in on a crisp autumn day, we had the beautiful colors of fall all around us for a snack at The Loch. Then out of nowhere, a large cloud appeared in the clear blue sky from around the mountain. A brown cloud. We quickly gathered our lunch and made our way back toward the trail head, which, unfortunately, was exactly where the cloud seemed to be coming from. Fortunately, from where we were, we could still get cell service, and called the ranger station and found out that the forest fire was near, but not at, our trailhead, and we needed to waste no time getting the heck out of there. We earned our beer that night.
Throughout the trip, we drank a lot of beer. But the point of this for those who are not familiar with the intricacies of craft beer is not to drink gallons of it; instead it is to try new and exciting beers we have never tried before, often in very small amounts. We’re not swilling it as fast as we can to get that “funny feeling.” We’re learning things about malts, hops, food pairings, local styles, ingredients, and funky experiments. We tried Wheat Beers (Belgian, American, and German-styled), Ambers (Nut Browns, Scottish Ales, and Altbiers), Stouts (Milk Stout, Smoked Stout, Chocolate Stout). Heck, we even had beer brewed with chili peppers (it goes GREAT with a burrito!) and we all learned something: Great beer comes in all shapes and sizes…and great beer is a great way to make great friends.
Doug Bailey was one of our Zephyr guides on our recent Colorado Hike, Bike, Beer and Brewpub Adventure. He couldn’t be more perfectly suited to this role: he owns his own adventure travel business (Beartooth Bike Tours), has worked as an adventure guide for many years, and also works at a brewery (Red Lodge Ales)!
If this kind of vacation sounds like heaven to you, consider joining us on our July 19 – 24 Yellowstone & Grand Tetons Multisport Beer Adventure next summer!