Do a search on Youtube for “Schlitz Rafting Beer Commercial with Dick and Joe” and you’ll be treated to one of the most ridiculous beer-lifestyle spots outside of the Saturday Night Live spoof for Schmitt’s Gay Beer. The copy that the voiceover guy reads is piece of work: “The river’s running high and wild…carving a path out of the earth…. Whitewater. Alive. Free. And you can never tame it.” But he is onto something. Lovers of craft beer and outdoor enthusiasts have been one and the same since the get-go. Most of the pioneers of post-Prohibition brewing are in fact or in heart grizzled nature buffs who carved out career paths that enabled them to make a natural and thrilling product far away from the mainstream. Not unlike wild rivers themselves.
And like the beer we love, some of these rivers are easy to navigate, some are too challenging for most, they’re each about 95 percent water (remember, it’s air that makes rapids white), and, thankfully, these liquidy adventures can be sourced from all over the country. The brawny winter we had should keep water levels high later into the season but the deeper into summer, the more relaxed (read: “family-friendly”) running these rivers get. To get your raft ’n craft package for one price, check out this summer’s return of Whitewater Warehouse’s “Oregon Craft Beer and Rogue River Rafting Trip,” a three-day excursion in near Medford with Eugene-based Ninkasi Brewing. For $950, you get your rafting, lodging and food-and-beer pairings accompanied by Ninkasi president Jamie Floyd and Ginger Johnson, the southern Oregon resident who created Women Enjoying Beer. To reserve your spot for an adventure, call 800-214-0579. To put together your own river and beer soaked trip, consider these three locations.
Gallatin River near Bozeman, MT
“Lewis and Clark stood on the banks of the river they named Gallatin (after the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Albert Gallatin) in 1805. They were at the confluence of three rivers in a place now called Three Forks, MT, at the headwaters of the Missouri River.” This history lesson comes courtesy of Reno Walsh, a veteran guide and enthusiast of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem who leads the Yellowstone Hike, Bike & Beer Adventure for Zephyr Adventures (zephyradventures.com). Cutting to the present, Walsh adds, “Incidentally, this river is going to rage this year. There is more snow in Yellowstone than anyone can remember.”
Yes, the river’s source is Yellowstone National Park, which is probably the most gorgeous place on earth, but it houses no breweries. As the river meanders through the Gallatin Canyon, the upper stretches are primarily home to canoeists and fly-fisherman. The movie A River Runs Through It, based on Norman MacLean’s novella, was filmed here.
Highway 191 parallels the river through the entire canyon and Walsh suggests stopping into the Cinnamon Lodge (37090 Gallatin Road, Gallatin Gateway, MT, 406-995-4253), operated by Ryan and Morgan Ayres, for a beer since they have many local craft beers on tap. If you pass through this area on your way to your river rafting trip, Walsh points out that “the lodge is known for its Montana Mexican food and if you need a room for the night, spending the evening by a campfire in front of your riverside log cabin isn’t a bad way to do it.”
A bit farther down the canyon is the town of Big Sky and the Lone Peak Brewery (lonepeakbrewery.com; 58 Market St.) where owners Steve and Vicky Nordahl serve their fresh beer (Steve is the brewer) and good grub. Walsh recommends their Lone Peak IPA and Buck Snort Porter, which would do well to wash down an Angry Bison Burger.
Speaking of local fauna, instead of looking downriver the whole time, don’t forget to look up. “This area is also home to big horn sheep, elk and mountain lion. The climbers on the steep canyon walls don’t have a bad vantage either.”
Past the portion of the canyon that is a rafter’s paradise, the river nears the town of Belgrade, home to the Madison River Brewing Co. (madisonriverbrewing.com; 20900 Frontage Road, Building B). “Stopping in to the brewery either before or after you hit the river is always a good idea,” says Walsh. “Howie and his crew serve up some award-winning beers. You can’t go wrong with the Salmon Fly Honey Rye and if you like a beer with a lot of hop flavor, then go for the Hop Juice IPA.”
Which is how we arrive at Bozeman, a small town except in the context of Montana. Beer travelers will want to make their first stop the Bozeman Brewery (bozemanbrewing.com; 504 N. Broadway) in The North Side, aka the Bozone. While Bozone brews are on tap practically everywhere in town, naturally, the freshest taps are at the brewery. Order a pint of the amber, hefe weizen or porter, or try whatever’s in season. “The brewery is a hot spot for locals so you might find yourself with standing room only,” warns Walsh, continuing, “Keep in mind all Montana breweries are open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. only and you are only allowed three beers per brewery per day!”
From the Bozone, head down to Montana Aleworks (montanaaleworks.com; 611 E. Main St.) where over 50 local draft brews from tiny Harvest Moon in the town of Belt to the beer that made Montana famous, Big Sky’s Moose Drool Brown Ale, are complimented by an excellent menu. Walsh suggests their famous fish tacos or Montana Meatloaf, made with bison, pork and beef then wrapped in bacon! “Albert McDonald and his team are passionate about their beers and good service.”
Walsh notes that another good stop is the Bacchus Pub (bacchuspub.biz; 105 W. Main St., Suite 1A) tucked into downtown’s historic Baxter Hotel. And finally, if you’re not too tired after playing on the river all day and drinking fresh, local beer all night, pop into The Filling Station, aka The Filler, for some iconic honky-tonk at Bozeman’s best. Be forewarned that in true honky-tonk fashion, they have a few local craft beers on tap but most likely patrons will be enjoying tallboys of Old Mil and PBR more than anything else.
When you’re ready to call it a day before heading back out and doing it all over again, there are sleeping options for every budget. The River Rock Lodge (riverrocklodging.com; 88 Big Pine Drive,Big Sky) in Meadow Village appeals to the luxury traveler. Magnuson Grand City Center (507 W. Main St., Bozeman), located well within walking distance of downtown, is designed with the budget traveler in mind. And of course, inside Gallatin National Forest, there’s great camping along the Gallatin River including Moose Flats and Red Cliff. It definitely makes the beer taste better.
Rio Grande River near Santa Fe, NM
The Rio Grande is famous as a portion of the natural border between Texas and Mexico (hence the John Wayne movie named after it despite being filmed on the Colorado River). But its headwaters are farther north and provide for stellar rafting roughly halfway between the mountainous town of Taos and the high desert town of Santa Fe.
While most visitors to Santa Fe are drawn to its significance as an artistic center and visit the New Mexican Museum of Art (nmartmuseum.org; 107 West Palace Ave.), the Georgia O’Keefe Museum (okeeffemuseum.org; 217 Johnson St.) and its famed adobe architecture, it is splendid as an easel for Mother Nature (desert, mountains, river) and an emerging brewing scene in the Southwest.
John Seiner has been leading various outdoor adventure trips for over a decade including guiding for Kokopelli Rafting Adventures (kokopelliraft.com), which he purchased in 2004. Fortuitously, the offices are located very near the Second Street Brewery (secondstreetbrewery.com, 1814 Second St.) and, confusingly, they opened a second location, The Second Street Brewery at the Railyard (1607 Paseo De Peralta No. 10) that is not on 2nd Street. (Here, you can ask for free samples of meads by Falcon Meadery [falconmead.com] from Santa Fe.) Seiner says he quaffs Rod’s Best Bitter, named after brewer Rod Tweet himself, but he’s quick to note that they are famous for their IPA and the Belgian-style Festivus Ale is incredible. The six to eight house beers do well in washing down pub grub such as fish ’n chips and their New Mexican cuisine, of which Seiner notes that their Green Chile Enchiladas are fantastic. However, if red chilis are more your flavor, The Shed (sfshed.com, 113 ½ E. Palace Ave.) downtown is renowned for theirs, but libations lean toward margies over good beer.
Another brewpub with dual locations is the Blue Corn Café (bluecorncafe.com; 133 Water St. in downtown and 4056 Cerrillos Road on the Southside), with the latter one being a little less tourist-oriented. Head Brewer Brad Kraus makes a variety of styles with the Atomic Blonde and Honeymoon Wheat among the more popular. New Mexican fare rules the day so fans of blue corn, green chili, and reddish-black chipotle will have plenty of options to choose from.
But the beer about town you’re mostly likely to encounter comes from Santa Fe Brewing (santafebrewing.com; 35 Fire Place), now celebrating its 23rd year of brewing. While they recently opened up a second tasting room, drink their famous Chicken Killer Barleywine from the source at the brewery or you can now more easily take some of their beer on the rivers since they just started canning. It just so happens that Adam Bishop, their brewer who created Happy Camper IPA, was a river rafting guide back in Georgia before moving to Santa Fe, where he hopes to run some trips again. Bishop says the other canned beer is their seasonal, an extra hoppy pilsner. They don’t serve any food, so BYOGC (bring yer own green chili). It’s located about eight miles southwest of downtown where New Mexico State Road 14 becomes known as the Turquoise Trail, a scenic byway popular among roadtrippers keen on avoiding the monotony of Interstate-25 to Albuquerque.
Considering the put-ins for all the rafting trips are a good hour’s drive north of Santa Fe, there are some interesting breweries around Taos not to be missed! Most notably, fans of monastic beers need to check out the new incarnation the Abbey Beverage Co., set inside The Monastery of Christ in the Desert (christdesert.org/abbey_beverage_company). From Interstate 84 North out of Santa Fe to Highway 285, a 13-mile tumultuous dirt road leads you far off the beaten path, just as the monks want it. Here, brewmaster Kraus from Blue Corn is helping start up this tiny operation. Sure you can find their beers in local markets and liquor stores, but when’s the last time you’ve been to an actual monastery where they grow their own hops for their own liquid bread? You can even reserve a room here, but keep in mind it’s more for those seeking monastic simplicity and solitude than a raucous beercation.
Back in civilization in the town of Taos, Eske’s Brewpub (eskesbrewpub.com; 106 Des Georges Lane) is what Seiner calls a “really small, neighborhood-style pub.” Tucked away in an adobe building, their beer list ranges from the 3.75 percent ABV Rio Refresco to the intermittently available Bert & Ernie Barley Wine. However, when in Rome―or in this case New Mexico―try the Taos Green Chile Beer, winner of a bronze at the Great American Beer Fest. Enjoy it beneath the strands of chili lights on the patio with regional cuisine and local characters.
The last brewery is possibly the most unexpected and certainly the most convenient. Blue Heron Brewery (blueheronbrews.com; 2214 Highway 68, Rinconada) opened in late 2009 a mere mile away from Kokopelli’s raft take-out. Husband and wife owners Scott and Kristin Hennelly (he brews, she runs the place) are popular with rafters since the 100-gallon brewery is located right on the water, making it easy to cool down a bottle of La Llorona Scottish Ale or a growler of Prieta Real Imperial Stout in the river.
When the trip is over and it’s time to head back down to town, Seiner recommends checking into the Sage Inn (santafesageinn.com, 725 Cerrilos Road), possibly because rafters get 15 percent off when they stay there. This comfortable hotel is conveniently located in the Railyard District within walking distance of the Santa Fe Plaza where, not incidentally, Albuquerque’s Marble Brewing Co. just opened up a Taproom (marblebrewery.com, 60 E. San Francisco St.) with a balcony overlooking the square. It’s also an easy walk to Cowgirl BBQ (cowgirlsantafe.com, 319 South Guadalupe St.), formerly the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. Seiner says of this classic joint that you shouldn’t come to Santa Fe without going to this crazy local bar with live music and a beer garden. They serve up great BBQ and New Mex Tex as well as brunch on the weekends, including blue corn and piñon (think Southwestern pine nuts) pancakes. Otherwise, stumble into the Tune-Up Café (tuneupcafe.com, 1115 Hickox St.), one of Santa Fe’s most popular downtown diners. Local favorites include the chorizo Breakfast Burrito and the Tune-Up Breakfast with chile relleno and roasted tomato salsa.
Chattooga River near Athens, GA, and Greenville, SC
Think river rafting and it’s hard not to think of the movie Deliverance while dueling banjos haunt your inner iPod. In the movie, Burt Reynolds and company decide to ride the untamed Cahulawassee River (starring the Chattooga River in its career-defining role) before the river (and Ned Beatty’s character) is dammed. The Chattooga is part of the natural border between Georgia and South Carolina, running equidistant between Athens, GA, and Greenville, SC. The region is described by some as hillbilly, not terribly conducive to craft beer culture, but not totally devoid either.
Athens resident, Classic City Brew Fest creator and writer for Southern Brewing News Owen Ogletree admits that nowhere in rural Appalachia will you find a stellar outlet for craft beer, but luckily the culture in Athens is picking up steam. Home of the University of Georgia with a beautiful campus situated on the river walk, this college town has long been renowned for its music scene. It spawned REM, whose guitarist, Peter Buck, used to own the famed 40 Watt Club (285 W. Washington St.) where contemporary college darlings like Of Montreal got their start.
Beer here starts with Terrapin Brewing (terrapinbeer.com; 265 Newton Bridge Road), which offers tours that last roughly two and a half hours. Keep in mind that time includes an ample session for tasting their beers such as Hop Karma Brown IPA and anything from their Side Project Series, like their Indiana Krunkles, for example, which is a wheat IPA.
Walk two blocks up the hill you get to the Copper Creek Brewery (140 E. Washington St.). Athens’s only brewpub has four beers on tap, “Usually standard styles like pale ale, IPA, brown and something light like a Kölsch or dark like a stout,” says Ogletree. He also mentions that the bar is covered in pennies, in lieu of making it out of copper, which turned out to be cheaper. “One penny is tails up. I’ve never found it; it’s a huge feat if you do.” The attractive spot with the brewing tanks aesthetically displayed slings good pub grub and sandwiches. Tuesdays mean $2 pints and the first Wednesday of the month is cask night.
The best beer bar in town, according to Ogletree, is the Trappeze Pub (trappezepub.com; 269 North Hull St.). A couple of guys who love craft beer created it because they couldn’t get anyone to start a beer bar, so they broke down and did it themselves. While others said such an establishment that didn’t cater to the cheap booze crowd couldn’t make it, it now stands as one of the most successful bars downtown and even recently expanded. In addition to finding a wide array of beers flowing from over 30 taps (it’s naturally heavy on Terrapin brews) you’ll also find goods from Atlanta’s Sweetwater and the new Wild Heaven Brewing from Decatur, such as Ode to Mercy, an imperial brown brewed with coffee roasted from 1000 Faces in Athens.
Speaking of beer joints cleverly riffing off of the original Trappist Abbey, the Trappe Door makes a day trip across the South Carolina border in order. The Trappe Door (trappedoor.com; 23 W. Washington St.) in Greenville emulates classic Belgian gastrotaverns in look and feel and the menu includes 11 taps of Belgian or Belgian-style craft beers plus over 150 bottles, heavy on the monastics. Lending to that perfect feel, it’s located in the basement below Barley’s Pizza, under the same ownership no less. Barley’s (barleystaproom.com/greenville; 25 W. Washington St.) is a small Southeast chain and their beer list is a veritable scroll longer than the Dead Sea’s, but goes better with New York-style pizza.
There are two breweries in Greenville starting with Blue Ridge Brewing (blueridgebrewing.com; 217 North Main St.), whose pale ale Ogletree admires. He knows the 16-year-old brewpub is popular for serving wild game (you can literally order a flight of meats from antelope to wild boar), but, being a vegetarian, he sticks with their decent veggie burgers. And a few miles outside the downtown area, Thomas Creek Brewery (thomascreekbeer.com; 2054 Piedmont Highway) is the father-son operation of Bill and Tom Davis since 1998, brewing up some rafting-themed beers as Class IV IPA and, well, Up the Creek Extreme IPA (gushing with 12.5 percent ABV and with a raging torrent of 111 IBUs).
Back in Athens in the trendy Five Points neighborhood, Aroma’s (aromaswinebar.com; 1235 S. Milledge Ave.) is a wine bar that caters to beer lovers as well with an extensive bottle list and 10 taps. As it happens, the owners also run the Five Points Bottle Shop (1655 S. Lumpkin St.) a growler filling station where you’re sure to find stuff from Georgia breweries including Red Brick Brewing. In fact, it even doubles as a homebrew supply shop, not that you’ll have time to use your mash paddle before paddling down the river.
As for lodging, consider the Hotel Indigo (athensdowntownhotel.com; 500 College Ave.) near the university. It is LEED Gold-Certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and offers what they call a “sensibly chic eco-boutique,” which means that since you’ll be preserving nature including the wild river you’re here to ride, but also that you’ll be pampered before or after roughing it along said river.
If it’s the day after your rafting trip or you oversampled local beers the night before, recharge your battery at Weaver D’s Delicious Fine Foods (1016 E Broad St.) less than a mile walk away from the hotel. Named after proprietor Dexter Weaver, it’s open for all three meals but what could be finer than country ham and grits to start your day? Weaver D’s motto is “Automatic for the People,” which is where that local band got the title for their classic 1992 album. Even REM surely knows that a hearty Southern breakfast will help you “Find the River” and keep you energized to paddle all day lest you find yourself “Nightswimming.” In fact, make sure you and your crew stay in the boat as your hurtle past boulders like Deliverance Rock (see sidebar) or else “Everybody Hurts.”
Brian Yaeger recently moved to Portland where he homebrews and is exploring the beers of the Pacific Northwest.