There are many things which make America a wonderful country (I’m not an American by the way, just to clear that up at the outset). These include the stupendous beauty of large swathes of the country, the genuine friendliness of the people, and the easy accessibility of really good hamburgers.
While all of these were good reasons for me to look forward to our recent two week drive through the American west, another key attraction for me was the choice and variety of great American beer (by which I mean beer that tastes of something, not the ubiquitous flavourless carbonated p*ss which continues to try to take over the world) served in friendly and interesting bars.
- Coors beers (Tripwow)
And I’m delighted to say that I wasn’t disappointed – while I didn’t exactly adopt a rigidly scientific approach, I did manage to sample a reasonable number of brews across four states, some of which had me vaguely wondering if emigration to the US could really be that complicated.
By way of background, I’m not a beer techie, so I haven’t really got much to contribute on brewing processes, cask versus keg, chilled versus room temperature – all those things proper beer geeks get really worked up about. In the UK, I really like British ales, which I think suit our climate and temperament, regardless of whether they come from a national producer or a local micro brewery. However, in the US, most of the draught beers I drank came from local breweries, serving their local area, and happy to do so. Much of what I drank was pale ale, for the very simple and (to me) compelling reason that I really really like pale ale, and it was my holiday.
Rocky mountain oyster stout Wynkoop Brewery
We kicked off in Denver, which as the city in which Coors is based, has a long beery association. I managed not to drink any Coors at all while I was there (with one exception noted later) but we did visit the Wynkoop Brewing Company for a long lunch.
There are lots of local craft breweries in Denver – the Wynkoop is one of the oldest. The choice of beer to accompany lunch was a tough one. I started with Silverback Pale Ale, which was an excellent pint and beautifully hoppy, but reasonably strong at 5.5%, so in the interests of staying awake for the afternoon I switched after a couple of pints to Railyard Ale, an amber beer which was marginally lower in alcohol. Railyard is apparently one of their most popular session beers and I can see why – easy to drink and tasty without being the strongest flavoured beer in the world.
My other half went for a three taster flight – Wixa Weiss, Patty’s Chile Beer, and Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout. The Wixa Weiss had (Julie said) aromas of banana and tobacco, and the chile beer had a definite chile flavour without any of the heat. Interesting and slightly weird but wouldn’t fancy spending an evening supping it. The stout did in fact contain Rocky Mountain Oysters (aka bull testicles) and apparently began as an April Fool joke on YouTube but stayed on the menu as a result of customer demand. I’m not a big stout fan but Julie liked it – coffee and chocolate, she said, and no apparent testicle flavour. (Editor – for more strange beer flavours, see 10 Strange Beer Flavours). The Wynkoop Brewery is well worth a visit, not just for the beer – people are very friendly and it’s a beautiful old building in a converted warehouse near the railway station.
Gunnison Brewery (http://www.gunnisonbrewery.com)
Next beery highlight was in Gunnison, a small Colorado town up in the mountains, and home to both the Western State Colorado University and to the Gunnison Brewery, a tiny brewery operating on a site in the town main street, with a bar restaurant attached. They brew small amounts of high quality stuff, using (they say, and I believe them) local ingredients when they can.
We called in for a couple of pints before dinner across the street, and liked it so much we came back after dinner for more. In hindsight, we should have eaten there too – if their burgers were as good as their beer, we would have had an amazing meal. Highlight for me was Apollo’s Remedy, an American Pale Ale, which was one of the best beers I drank on the whole trip. Refreshing, tasty, hoppy, served in a friendly bar full of what looked like a mix of students and locals – lovely stuff indeed. My only regret is that, given that the Gunnison Brewery is so small (albeit perfectly formed), I’m not likely to see Apollo’s Remedy in my local in north London anytime soon.
Durango steam train (Wikipedia)
Heading on from Gunnison, we hit Durango, a self-consciously old western town but home to a number of local breweries. I was slightly hamstrung by the fact that our accommodation, very comfortable as it was, was about 12 miles out of town, and I was the only driver, so my beer consumption was limited.
But a couple of highlights were the Jackrabbit Pale Ale at the Carver Brewery Company and a pint of Ska Pinstripe at the Olde Tymers Cafe. Carvers is the sort of place I wish was round the corner from where I live – great range of beers, excellent food (my rodeo buffalo burger was fantastic) and very friendly staff. The Jackrabbit ticked all the pale ale boxes on a hot day- I could quite happily live there. The Pinstripe, an amber ale, went very well with my Cobb salad in the Olde Tymers. My main regret about our visit to Durango was that there were so many other microbreweries we didn’t visit – but we’ll be back some day and we’ll stay in the centre of town…
Dam Bar and Grille (with replica dam)
We spent a couple of days near Lake Powell, in northern Arizona, where I found the best beer of the holiday, Lumberyard IPA. Lake Powell itself we decided we could take or leave to be honest, in comparison to some of the other great places we visited, but Page, the local town near the lake, was a very friendly place with a couple of good bars and at least one really excellent Mexican restaurant.
I found Lumberyard in the Dam Bar & Grille, in the centre of Page and all I can say is, if you ever visit, have the baja burger and fries and a pint or two of Lumberyard IPA and you will leave a better, happier and more spiritually uplifted person than you arrived. Best burger of the holiday plus the best pint – what more can I say? Lumberyard, brewed in Flagstaff, Arizona (another very fine beer town), was probably the hoppiest, bitterest beer of the holiday (my other half wasn’t keen on it for this reason) and pretty strong with an APV of 6.1% but I l loved it. I was even happier when I found out they served it in the Lake Powell resort where we were staying, thus removing the complication of the car.
I’ve restricted myself here to thoughts on the local draught beers we tried but there were lots of other good beery things on our trip – the first pint of orangey Shocktop on arriving late at night at our hotel in Denver to find they’d screwed up our reservation, the off licence in Page where you could assemble your own 6 pack from a huge range of bottled craft beers, the consistently good Coors Blue Moon Belgian White beer (though I know the purists aren’t keen…) and finally Uinta Wyld Extra Pale Ale, a lovely Utah beer which we never found on draught anywhere but a few bottles of which actually made me want to visit Mormon-dominated Salt Lake City.
I’m not an uncritical admirer of the US, and I wouldn’t claim after a couple of holiday there to know the country well. But I do know there are lots of things that Americans are good at and one of them is beer. E pluribus cerevisia.