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Home » Featured Trip

Colorado ski country: Great beer, thin air

Submitted by on November 20, 2010 – 10:10 am5 Comments

craft beer in colorado ski country, photo by Gerard WalenSummit County, Colorado, boasts four of the finest ski areas in the country: KeystoneBreckenridge, Copper Mountain and Arapahoe Basin. But what you may not now is that it also contains four outstanding microbreweries.

Road Trips for Beer recently spend some time in the area, and took in the tastes and sights of these establishments that brew amid the grandeur of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains at altitudes more than 9,000 feet above sea level.


Dillon Dam Brewery

Dillon Dam Brewery Colorado, photo by Gerard WalenBy no coincidence, the Dillon Dam Brewery sits near the base of the nearby Dillon Dam on the Snake River, where the pure snowmelt water contributes to the clean taste of its lagers and ales. Seven beers are on tap year round: Wildernest Wheat, Paradise Pilsner, Dam Lyte, Dam Straight Lager, Extra Pale, Sweet George’s Brown, and McLuhr’s Irish Stout. Specialty and seasonal brews by brewmaster Cory Forster are added as he produces them. The two-level bar and brewery offers plenty of room for locals and visitors alike. Free tours of the brewery are offered, but if it’s busy, patrons can take the convenient self-guided tour along an upper-level walkway above the tanks. Signs and photos explain each step of the brewing process. In the center of the tour is a bronze sculpture of Matt Luhr, who was Dillon Dam’s brewmaster until his untimely death from a brain aneurysm in 2008 at the age of 46. Owner George Blincoe’s voice still breaks when he talks about Matt.

Dillon Dam Brewery offers a full menu, a full liquor bar, free wireless access and live music on some nights.
P.O. Box 4845
100 Little Dam Street
Dillon, CO 80435
Phone: (970) 262-7777
Toll-Free: (866) 326-6196
Email: foradamgoodtime@dambrewery.com
Web site: www.dambrewery.com

Backcountry Brewery

Backcountry Brewery Colorado, photo by Gerard WalenHoused in a rustic log, stucco and stone edifice in the equally rustic town of Frisco, Colorado, the Backcountry Brewery opened in 1996 after a group of locals decided to open, well, a brewpub. The Backcountry offers a wide range of styles: Wheeler Wheat, Ptarmigan Pilsner, Telemark I.P.A. (a GABF gold medal winner), Switchback Amber and Peak One Robust Porter. Head brewer Alan Simons also taps his seasonal creations, such as a traditional May bock lager or a Hefe bock. Customers can chill with friends at the pool tables in the Buffalo Mtn. Pool Room, or just enjoy the fantastic view of the surrounding peaks from a spot in the bar area.

Backcountry Brewery offers a full menu, a full bar and free wireless.
720 Main Street
Frisco, Colorado 80443
Phone: (970) 668-BEER (2337)
Email: info@backcountrybrewery.com
Website: www.backcountrybrewery.com

Breckenridge Brewery

Breckenridge Brewery Colorado, photo by Gerard WalenBreckenridge Brewery, or “Breck” as the locals call it, is the most well known of Summit County’s craft breweries, distributing its beers to 25 states outside of Colorado. The company operates three other Colorado brewpubs, but the one in Breckenridge is the original. It serves five year round beers: Agave Wheat, Oatmeal Stout, Avalanche Ale, Trademark Pale, Vanilla Porter and Lucky U IPA. It also produces variable seasonal, and some small-batch beers can be found only in the brewpub. It’s the oldest of Summit County’s craft breweries, opened in 1990 by self-professed ski bum and home brewer Richard Squire.

Breckenridge Brewery offers a full menu and daily specials.
600 South Main Street
Breckenridge, CO 80424
Phone: 970-453-1550
Website: www.breckbrew.com

Pug Ryan’s Steakhouse & Microbrewery

Pug Ryan's Colorado, photo by Gerard WalenOf all the brewpubs in Summit County, Pug Ryan’s décor is most reminiscent of an authentic ski lodge, with plush chairs near a fireplace, skis and other gear hanging on the wall, and dark wood wall covering. Unless you’re there from mid-May to mid-September: then you can quaff a cold beer or a rum runner at the brewpub’s tiki bar.  Yes, the brewpub gets tropical during the warmer months on its spacious deck right on Lake Dillon. And you can enjoy its creatively named brews through all seasons: Morning Wood Wheat, Over the Rail Pale Ale, Great Scott Scottish Ale or Pallavicini Pilsner (named after an Arapahoe ski) , all created by head brewer David Simmons, who started at the restaurant as a busboy before the owners decided to add a microbrewery to the mix.  Simmons also brews limited releases of specialty and seasonal brews, such as a whiskey barrel-aged stout and a saison.  All of the beer sold for consumption outside the brewpub is in cans.

Pug Ryan’s offers a full menu and a full liquor bar.
104 Village Place
Dillon CO 80435
Website: http://pugryans.com

The sense of community amongst the brewers, owners and other employees in Summit County’s beer scene shows itself in stories told of reaching out to help each other. The grain shipment’s late? The brewer down the street will be glad to loan you some until it arrives. Bottling machine broke down? Someone has a spare part you can use. And when Dillon Dam’s Luhr died, the community rallied to support his employer, and hundreds attended a memorial service. This glue that holds the beer scene together extends to customers who are welcomed as friends, even if they are strangers.

All of Summit County’s more-than-a-mile-high breweries distribute their beers at stores outside of their brewpubs, so you can bring home fermented memories of your Road Trip for Beer back home.  And you can be assured that there will be at least one or two taps of tasty Colorado craft beer in most any pub, bar or restaurant you visit in the area.

Keystone Bluegrass and Beer Festival poster, photo by Gerard WalenIt should also be mentioned that Summit County is home every August to the Keystone Bluegrass and Beer Festival at the Keystone Resort.

Area lodging is available at all price ranges, but you might want to consider splurging to stay at one of the resorts, especially if you are there to ski before your beer explorations.

As always, drink responsibly. The roads in Summit County can be especially hazardous in freezing temperatures. Use a designated driver, take a cab or use public transportation – which is especially nice in Summit County because it is free!


  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Gerard Walen, Beer Lover. Beer Lover said: Colorado ski country: Great beer, thin air: Summit County, Colorado, boasts four of… http://bit.ly/bnGXz1 <via @roadtrips4beer […]

  • Gerard,

    Obviously as you might have guessed, I’m a big fan of Colorado. I’ve been coming to this state since I was about 5 years old, and with a huge passion for the out doors, mountain biking, camping etc…I…ok I’m getting ahead of myself, all we need to know is that I love this state. 😉

    Unofficially, I’ve loved Colorado as a beer state since I was in my teens even if I wasn’t always enjoying craft beer.

    Officially however, I never started enjoying craft beer in Colorado until I was 21. No, sooner than that of course. That would against the law of course.

    Ok anyway….

    I find that Colorado is one of those few states that when you drink a great local brewed craft beer in a great setting within the state…you feel like you’re a part of it. Like you’re drinking it all in as hang out on the porch gazing out at the Rockies or staring up at the night sky. It could be that pioneer spirit (that’s an idea by @hookedonwinter aka PJ not me by the way, that I’m taking a liking to) that so many Colorado brewers share, or it could be just the over all environment of the place.

    Either way, Colorado is on my personal list of top beer states, and not just because they brew excellent beers there. To be a top beer state or city I think, requires personality, character, history, passion, weirdness and a bit of charisma.

    For me…this state makes that list. 🙂

    P.S. Other than Boulder and here, have you done much traveling around Colorado before? If so, where?


  • Gerard says:

    Thanks Ilya,

    I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment.

    Colorado is one of my favorite states, too. I first visited as a youngster back in the early ’70s. My older brother Jim was in the Army, stationed at Fort Campbell in Colorado Springs, at the time. He took us all camping and fishing up near Silverton, and sleeping under the stars in the Rockies is when I fell in love with Colorado. Also where I learned that if you sleep under the stars in the Rockies, even in the summer, you will awaken in a frost-covered sleeping bag. 🙂

    I was so enamored that I later moved to Denver and lived there from 1980-82 (BCBR, Before Craft Beer Revolution). I returned to Florida to help out my mom after my dad unexpectedly passed away, fully intending to move back after a few years. But then, you know, shit happened.

    I did not return until 1999, when I flew up for a job interview at the Boulder Daily Camera. Did not take the job; they did not want to pay enough to actually live in Boulder, unfortunately, but I had some free time to visit friends and drive aimlessly through the mountains.

    Returned for a weeklong family vacation in Estes Park in 2006, then again this year for BBC10 and the Summit County beer-venture.

    I’ll be back!

  • @Gerard

    So you HAVE had plenty of time in that state! Awesome! 🙂

    That’s a really neat story there, one that has you in and out of the state most of your life. Perhaps one day we should plan a trip beer, food and mountain bike trip out there!

    One of my favorite things to do when there (other than mountain biking and beer) is to just drive around the state, stop at all the little towns with all the great history behind them and just experience the state. It’s one of those few states that you can experience so much difference within such a short distance. Which by the way, the residents that live in Silverton year round…they’re not right. Something is just not right with those folks. :/

    On a slightly different note…

    Reading this I’m thinking, have you ever considered writing the story of your life as it relates to craft beer and so on? Something I would personally, love to sit down with a beer and read through! Maybe as in a few parts series or something.


  • Gerard says:

    I don’t know, Ilya; some parts of that story are kinda fuzzy.

    Other than the mountain biking (my knees are too old), sounds like you enjoy doing the same things I do in Colorado. Love those little mountain towns, and enjoying cold beer at bars where gold miners slammed down shots 150 years earlier.

    We could have a grand old time on a road trip there.

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