Soft cover, $16.95, 270 pp
Sometimes it seems that sports and beer are inseparable. Television inundates us with commercials showing spectators flagging down beer vendors. Placards advertising national beer brands festoon the outfield walls of ballparks. What would the Beer Belly Softball Leagues be without a keg of brew handy? Beach volleyball? It can’t be played without a cooler of frosty ones nearby.
Another set of sports, however, because of the inherent risks, requires unadulterated faculties. Water sports come to mind, as does one of the more popular and fast-growing participation sports in the country, mountain biking. Like backpacking, mountain biking provides an intimate link to nature and is a great adrenaline rush.
Could there be a better time to enjoy a good beer than after a great ride? But where do you ride? Brewpubs are plentiful, but if you are not a local, nearby mountain bike trails can be elusive. Not to worry. Bike and Brew America by Todd Bryant Mercer combines the two infatuations in a regional guidebook, this one focusing on the Rocky Mountain region, that will satiate the cravings of any hammerhead/hophead. Mercer is a lifelong athlete who personifies the modern activity enthusiast. Swimming, climbing, diving and now mountain biking are part of his eclectic persona. It comes as no surprise, then, that he approaches beer with a “quality first” attitude. This is quite evident in his book, which includes well-organized and comprehensive bike/beer collaborations throughout Colorado, Utah, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. Although Mercer is currently writing Bike and Brew America books that cover all regions of the USA, it is fitting that his first is about the Rocky Mountains. This is the quintessential mountain biking area in the United States, and it is conveniently sprinkled with outstanding brewpubs, however remote.
Each state is represented by no fewer than three and by as many as 15 trail/pub parings. And while there are literally dozens of each that could be found, Mercer, by virtue of his passion and investigation, has winnowed the options to a reasonable and manageable number.
The book features 34 areas overall. The author spares no detail in his assessment of each. Trails are described in terms of length, difficulty, and aesthetic quality. He lets you know what you are getting into so you can plan accordingly. Whether beginner or expert, there is something here for you. Also included are other trails in the area that might be desirable side trips or more suitable for other members of your party. Map suppliers, contacts, and local bike shops are listed to help make the experience less tenuous. A basic map is also included (with clever local symbols) to help you “find the sweet line” to both trail and pub.
Pubwise, Mercer is just as astute. He treats selected brewpubs with equal aplomb and “atmosphere” blazes the trail in his descriptions. Often overlooked but of utmost importance, ambiance can make or break an experience. A few paragraphs then present the bar’s general menu, with well thought-out observations on each brew, including flavor profile, historical notes, and significance in local culture. Mercer even gives the rundown on beer prices so you can plan your day around a happy hour if you want to. In a nod to those who want to search a little further, Mercer finishes the brew section with a sentence or two about other local beer emporiums, including tap houses and beer halls as well as brewpubs. He understands that your quest for beer is varied and encourages exploration.
As a guide book, this fills a great niche for those whose idea of a vacation is a bit more adventurous than sitting poolside or snapping photos from the SUV. But beyond that, there is something more basic about the pairing of beer and bikes. The sheer exhilarating pleasure of discovering and conquering a mountain bike trail is not unlike the satisfaction of uncovering a gem of a brew.
Nothing clears the trail dust from the throat like a pint of fresh beer. Are you ready for a cold one?