By Matt Myers
Our mountains and our beers have so much personality and history and flavor that we attempted to divine which of our beers were most like our Colorado Mountains. So with some assists from Haydn over at Hops App in Boulder, Beer Advocate for their ratings and ABV%, the brilliant brewmasters from all reaches in the state, the tectonic plates for creating these incredible peaks, and some Colorado buddies, we have put together something that, like so many things in my life, I may be 100% wrong about. Like that shirt for 6th grade school pictures as just one example. Cheers.
We're starting off with one that might not make sense, just so you know what's brewing. How can a Breckenridge brew possibly have its beer spirit animal in a resort other than Breck? Follow along. Porter is a fairly uncommon style of beer in a market dominated by IPAs, and this beer has been further narrowed by that sweet, sweet Vanilla. The Breck Vanilla Porter and Snowmass are of their own kind. Snowmass is over 3,000 skiable acres and more than 4,400 feet of vertical drop, making it the tallest top-to-bottom ski hill in CO, and she's all the way over the pass and then back south a ton. Yes, sir. You have to put in some effort to find and enjoy this beer and mountain. (Breck Brewery, please forgive us if we have brought shame upon your great house. We meant it as a compliment.)
A Basin and Dale's have a lot in common. Both hard working, quiet, and solid. If you know skiing or beers, then you have mad respect for both. If an outsider doesn't like Dale's, then we probably won't like him. If an outsider doesn't know about or like A Basin, well good. That's more skiing for us. Dale's is also a year round beer and you literally cannot ski for a longer season than Arapahoe Basin's sometimes mid-October to mid-June joint. They both just get it done and that's how we like it. Hat tip to both.
St. Bretta is a unique beer compounded with citrus that is likely a little bigger dollar sign than most of us want to pay for regular beer drinking. Beaver Creek, often thought of as Vail for Vail, is just next door to Vail, but on up a notch from its neighbor, if you can imagine. Both St. Bretta and Beaver Creek are not the most widely known, but for those who can afford it, this is the only place that will do.
A little riff on that great Richard Linklater film set in 1976, Dazed & Confused, Colorado's beer cousin "Hazed & Infused" is a throwback to simpler times when drugs were normal and sex wasn't all diseasey. Hazed has a distinctly hoppy finish, and as EVERYONE in Colorado will tell you, hops and marijuana are from the same plant family. (There is tons of footage on the cutting room floor where Slater expounds on Martha Washington's IPA brewing skills, probably.) Wolf Creek, by it's own right, is still getting things done in throwback style. Not with consequence-free sex and psychedelic drugs, mind you, but skiing here is just skiing. And the skiing is far out. They don't complicate life beyond it. They think about the environment first, skiing second, and that's pretty much the whole formula. Wolf Creek gets snow like nowhere else in CO, and here, too, you can also find Boulder Beer Company's flagship beer in deep supply.
I'm certain Boulder hipsters will snarl no matter which beer I choose for their local hill, Eldora. Tastes change so quickly here that keeping up is impossible, but Avery's IPA comes to mind as loyal, local favorite for some time. If you haven't heard of Avery IPA or Eldora, it's probably only because you unfortunately live out of state. Eldora is just a quick drive into the mountains from Boulder, it has very solid skiing, and a great price tag. This isn't a place you're likely to ski if just in for a ski trip, but, like Avery IPA, if you do, you will be impressed with the little hill you've never heard of.
If you haven't skied Telluride or slugged some Oak Aged Yeti, you need to fix that mess of a life you are living and get on the righteous path. Pronto. Telluride is a year-round town, with some of the fiercest, fastest, balls-out skiing you can find in a big resort, and Great Divide's Yeti is all the beer you could ever ask for. Dark and rich, both dessert and man's drink all at once. The oak chords strum something intense, as if you are drinking a bourbon milkshake made in Kathmandu by all those Golden Child extras. There's so much terrain in Telluride that you can get lost trying to get back to the soulful, bluegrass lovin' part of town, down below the toney village.
So why put one of the most popular beers in the country up with one of the least known ski areas in the state? You're not the boss of me. Go make your own list. The way I see it, Sunlight is a good hill, accessible, and fun, but it's a beginner's hill. Anyone at any level can chew up this whole place in an afternoon and have fun doing it. Blue Moon is much the same way. It's popular and loved because it's relatable to most any pallet. It's not the beer for me or most beer drinkers, and it's a waste of fruit, but she do sell. After too much of either, you'll be hunting more challenging terrain.
I might be getting too cute pairing a Milk Stout with Buttermilk, but just hear me out. Around here, people can get pretty snobby about this beer. "You don't know anything about Milk Stouts, if you aren't drinking Left Hand Nitro." Hand on heart, I've heard someone say that. Right before I keyed his Subaru. But he was right. This is a great beer that we know and love around here, and if you know Aspen Buttermilk, you know that the anointed swear by it, even over the monster lurking next door in Snowmass. The espresso/coffee currents in here are both a jolt and a comfort to the senses. If you find your way to either, you'll be glad you did. Both full of body and hard to resist. Basically, the Sofia Vergara of Colorado skiing and milk stouts.
Hands down, Avery's Maharaja is the best beer made in the universe. It's like drinking a unicorn of championships. It is a huge beer, complex, and stout at 10+% alcohol. All things considered, you can't get better than Steamboat for a skiing experience. DEEP snow, tons of terrain and vertical drop. Great nightlife, restaurants, and hot tubs, with a laid back vibe that was once standard at all resorts. Everyone who's been to Steamboat has a story about how much it snowed. Mine? 50 inches in 4 days. We were jumping off 12-foot cliffs with no injuries, and we suck. Steamboat is the whole package. It's work to find it, hard to get here, and a challenge to take it all in, just like with the Almighty Maharaja. But it is Shangri-La in a bottle.
Winter Park is a bit of a centaur, with the welcoming, all-terrain skiing head of a man on the Winter Park side, and the difficult, gruff, locals-only horse legs feel on Mary Jane. All at once, a complete hill that offers every possible thing a skier or boarder could want, combined with both the good (skiing in Colorado) and the bad (Colorado snobbery we refuse to admit exists about skiing, beers, and many other things) about our great state. Colorado Native Lager--some caramel, a little grain, some Colorado grasses--is pure Colorado and trying to remain true to its local roots, but struggling to find a righted market in Colorado after the corporate takeover from Coors. It is a solid beer, only sold and brewed in CO, which helps keep the "gapers get out" edge that Mary Jane exudes on their glorious, glorious bumps. Bumps forever. Bumps all day.
Powderhorn is a bit isolated from the rest of the ski areas in the state. In an area most consider to be desert, this hill does just fine without the spotlight. With as many skiable acres as Wolf Creek and quite a bit bigger than Crested Butte, she might surprise you. Odell's Isolation Ale is not the first beer you think of coming out of their shop, but it has decent body, solid balance, and it isn't a heavyweight Winter Warmer that leaves you full at just one.
I can feel all of the beer drinkers and skiers in the state loading up their retorts about what can be said for Fat Tire and Breck. Fat Tire pretty much put Colorado microbrews on the map, so let's show some respect. (And for those of you just joining us from out of state, you are the ones drinking all of the Fat Tire. We moved on years ago.) Sure, it has wide appeal because it's very accessible and not that complex, but dammit it's popular. Just like Breckenridge. Breck just gets so much attention and draws such huge crowds. People visit from Texas and Florida and Oklahoma every year and think it's the only place to ski in the state, and that Fat Tire is the only beer to drink. Breck and Fat Tire both have their moments, but you won't find knowledgeable beer drinkers ordering Fat Tire or skiing Breck. At least not on the weekends. Yeesh. Y'all have just trampled a good thing up here, and you suffer those long lift lines as if there aren't 23 other fantastic mountains in CO with fewer people. There is a richer life yet to be lived beyond.
Durango Mountain Resort is the ski resort formerly known as Purgatory. But don't worry, they have "Purgatory" on their logo, and a restaurant named "Purgy's", and all the locals still call it "Purg", so there's no way you could ever get confused. Down in the town of Durango, about 25 miles south of PURGATORY, are several great breweries and beers, but Ska's Modus Hoperandi stands out as their leader. Who can say it better than Ska: "A mix of citrus and pine that will remind you of the time you went on a vision quest with your native American cousin and woke up in a pine-grove full of grapefruit trees." Durango Mountain flows right in step with the Modus vibe with its lengthy, sidewinding, hilly blues, stretching outward, searching for Truth. And as they say in Durango, once you're here, you're here. You'll love skiing here. And drinking Ska draughts.
Many of you have seen Loveland on your way up to Summit County, but few outside of Colorado have skied it, for they seemingly can't unhear the siren's song of Breck & Vail. Loveland is perhaps the most popular local's hill. It skis big and fast, it's priced to beat the rest of Summit County bloat, no crowds, and a very long season. If you don't have a Colorado license plate, you probably don't know about Persica from Crooked Stave, and you might not even have the taste for it. It is unusual and every bit of excellent, with the highest Beer Advocate rating of any beer on our list. I'll not spoil one of our home joints by describing it. If you're interested, come find it. Most have to get tired of skiing Breck and Snowmass and Vail before finding comfort at Loveland. And you may, too. But pot is also legal here, so we are just way ahead from you in so many ways.
Lookit, if you have to research Silverton to see if you should ski here, then you just aren't ready. Silverton is gnarly, you have to take a guide, and you shouldn't go near this place. Likewise, Odell's Myrcenary Double IPA is a beer that just doesn't mess around. 9.3% alcohol, if you're not a REAL beer drinker, you should try something not on the ninja shelf. While Silverton is no frills--one picnic table and a porta-terlet for a base area--Myrcenary is a little more cared-for up in the beer heaven that is Fort Collins. But the Myrc bite, full dress camo, and chest hair should be a warning to all.
You might think that pairing up Vail with a CAN of beer is irreverent, but it's a pretty high compliment where we sit. Vail is the biggest ski resort in the state with almost 5,300 skiable acres. The next closest, Keystone, is 3,100. Vail might be the most well-known ski resort on the planet. It's huge. It doesn't apologize. It's Vail. Take it or leave it, probably because you can't afford it. By the same stroke, Ten Fidy, from Oskar Blues, so named for its gimungous alcohol volume at 10.50%, is a big honkin' beer that we are surprised even fits in a can. It's dark and frothy and delicious, and it will knock you over just being itself. We give Vail a hard time about everything, and they aren't known for their sense of humor, but they can take it. So here you go, Vail. You have our respect and our high marks for skiing. We just hate the crowds. And the cost. And I-70. And most of the people.
Ski Cooper is the smallest ski mountain, by acres, but there are plenty of season passholders satisfied with the deep snow and cat skiing on this bantamweight, alpine gem. Upslope IPA comes from Boulder, and they are no stranger to local competition. Upslope self-bills as "premium beer without being pretentious." Ski Cooper has the same vocation, and stands up just fine in the shadows of neighboring Vail.
Aspen and its turning aspen trees in the fall are known across the country, nay, the world. The golden color of those spade leaves have a mystique that's hard to define or ignore. AC Golden Brewing Company crafts the Hidden Barrel Peche that lives and drinks much like Aspen Mountain. With is golden color and sweet peach flavor, it is a beer for the whole tongue. While everyone knows Aspen, everyone skis Snowmass, and the Hidden Barrel Peche is one you aren't likely to find without looking. No loud label made by Ralph Steadman, friend of long-time Aspen local Hunter S. Thompson (rest easy, old boy). This beer is just waiting for you to discover it. Just don't move in and make this place a wealthy mess. Please and thank you.
The second biggest ski resort in the state, the Colorado pioneer of night skiing, never-ending blue and green trails, and a backside that would make a certain Kardashian think herself hideous, Keystone is just one of Colorado's solid winners. Keystone plays a lot like Great Divide's Titan IPA. Solidly built, but not so big you can't take a full day of it. A strong, hop bitterness that bites like the night winds flying down Schoolmarm with sparks coming out from your skis. Titan has been traveling well of late--I found it at the Wegmans in Gainesville, VA--and everyone seems to be taking notice. You should, too, on your way to joining the 2 Mile High Club. (Think gondola. Now you've got it.)
Granby Ranch, the former SolVista, is located just a short drive west of Winter Park, and is more of a beginner's hill, weighing in at 406 skiable acres. A quiet and enjoyable place to learn to ski or huck it on some terrain parks, but not a place to get very radical with the smallest vertical drop in the state. Elevation's 8 Second Kolsch pairs nicely here, as this is a beer that beer drinkers of all levels can enjoy. If you still have high school friends drinking Bud Light and refusing to give it up (Steven), the 8 Second Kolsch is a great gateway beer to get them on the path. They won't even realize the complexity of the flavors involved until it's too late. Suckers.
Copper is a fun mountain that has the unfortunate position of being located between Breck & Vail. On its own, it's a good hill, a snowboarder's heaven, and a Colorado citizen's dependable precinct for skiing with fewer people while still having something special to carve. Another awesome piece from Fort Collins, Funkwerks Tropic King has this—we swear—kinda copper, kinda golden look to it, and just chock full of fruits and pine notes, creating a saison profile all its own. Similarly, Funkwerks is stuck between two Colorado legends: New Belgium and Odells, but with beers like Tropic King, they are proving that the older brothers are now looking over their shoulders.
Maybe you've never heard of this beer. Maybe that's because it's brewed in an old gas station. It's not even that well-known in Colorado, but it can hold its own. Monarch is a bit of a mystery to me. It's one of the best hills and skiing experiences I've ever had, and it's the other direction from the routine, I-70 nightmares, with a backdoor to Breck and a front door to Wolf Creek. Yet I meet long-time skier after long-time skier who has never been to Monarch. Perhaps Hog's Head and Monarch just don't market well, but they both have amazing products, with low-to-no frills game, and they are cheaper than all the big players. Consider this, two days of skiing at Monarch for the price of one day at Vail with similar drive times. If you are sick of the traffic, do yourself a favor and ski here. Don't drink and drive.
Aspen Highlands doesn't carry many acres in its holster, but it is mighty steep. Terrain difficult enough to find and hard enough to handle that this place isn't just for the casual skier; it requires a deft touch or dim mak, if you know your Bloodsport. Which is why we Wonder Twinsed the Highlands up with New Belgium's La Folie - Sour Brown Ale. This is a finely-crafted beer for what it's up to, but it is not for the casual beer drinker. You have to want to be here.
Crested Butte is one of these miracle, year-round towns (except for that one spring month when the snow is melting) that just has excellent skiing, restaurants, and nightlife. It's the whole package. They are building a Performing Arts Center, so one can only assume apres ski concerts are coming. Crested Butte is making a hard charge at being our favorite, and one of our favorite beers is Odell IPA. Just like CB, it is for any occasion. No matter how you feel or what you want to drink, Odell IPA is never the wrong answer. Solid alcohol, easy to drink, but tough enough that you get something from the experience. Everyone wishes they made this beer. You will feel the same about Crested Butte. On the small side for one of the majors, it will take all day to ski everything, and the everything they have is pretty impressive.
For the media, if you have any questions about this piece, please write to Matt Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is happy to accept your praise and have a bad connection during your criticisms.