When I think about artists and their expressions,” said Tomme Arthur from Port/Lost Abbey Brewing, “I am reminded that art is in a constant state of evolution. Brush strokes get refined, subject matter improves and the essence of the artist and his perspective is suddenly brought to the front with amazing clarity.” Brewers, like musicians, are artists and as enthusiasts, we are always looking for the freshest and most creative “expressions.”
You don’t swill mass marketed beer and you don’t listen to Top 40 music. So this summer, when plotting your getaway, soak up the best of both worlds and head somewhere with a soul-lifting music fest staged adjacent to wellsprings of spirit-enhancing brews. Here are four such destinations that are melodically and zymurlogically in tune.
Located in the southwest corner of Colorado and tucked into a picturesque box canyon―there’s only one road into town and it dead-ends―Telluride is a perennial world-class playground. This former gold-mining town discovered that outdoor sports is the real goldmine. It’s a ski resort all winter long and from the moment the mountain town thaws to the last long day of warmth, it hosts an endless array of festivals celebrating everything from hot-air ballooning to plein air painting, to a gamut of music fests including jazz, Americana and bluegrass. Best of all, this year marks the 17th Annual Telluride Blues & Brew Festival.
Telluride, set into the San Juan Mountains, not the Rockies, has a small airport serviced by just a couple commercial carriers (United, Frontier, US Airways) but driving there makes for a breathtaking road trip. If it’s not ski season, a mountain bike or your own two feet are the best way to get around, or the gondola that soars up to Mountain Village, one of the ritziest enclaves in the country. Just ask homeowners Oprah and “TomKat.”
For all the pizzazz, a friendly local I met at a Blues & Brews past named Lordog (most locals are friendly and most go by one-word nicknames) says, “There three main staples for getting a beer in town and they go from dive to divier to diviest.” Up in the village, there’s Hop Garden (Mountain Village Boulevard), a biergarten with 10 taps at almost 10,000 feet. Down in town, the most craft-centric watering hole is Smuggler’s Brewpub (225 South Pine). The first of three locations including nearby Montrose and Grand Junction, Smuggler’s brews up the (excellently named) Rocky Mountain Rye served alongside meat, meat and more meat (ribs, steaks and the hearty Mountain Burger). The New Sheridan Chop House and Bar (233 West Colorado) on the main drag has been serving drinks at the same location since 1895 (when it was rebuilt after a fire, hence “new” Sheridan) from the same hand-carved bar, making it a must-see/must-drink. For more off-the-beaten-path imbibing, stroll over to the Cornerhouse Grille (131 North Fir Street) housed in an actual house. It’s no wonder Lordog loves their house burger. Here you’ll find local brews on tap such as Ska Brewing from Durango.
Of course, if money is no object and you’d rather not dine with any locals, there’s 221 South Oak (221 South Oak Street) where the $42 Elk Short Loin is to die for. Be aware the emphasis is on their wine menu.
Both to earn these hearty plates and to burn them off, other than shaking your beer-loving mash off at an all-day or three-day music fest, head for the mountains. “The first trail you should hike (if you are new to altitude and not in good shape),” says Lordog, “is Bear Creek. You can hike right from town and it’s around a five-mile loop. The scenery is unbeatable.” For a whole day out, point your boots toward Sneffels Highline, “especially in July for the wildflowers,” he says.
When it’s time to rest your weary head, the budget traveler would do well to check into the Victorian Inn (401 West Pacific Street, rooms start at $118) whereas those with five-star bank accounts would enjoy the new Capella (568 Mountain Village Boulevard, rates as high as $1115), the only stateside branch in this international chain of jet set digs. Of course, don’t overlook the Sheridan if you want to sleep with some history.
Come morning, “if you can’t get behind the wheel,” Lordog suggests you “breakfast at Maggie’s [217 East Colorado].” But if you’re able to motor, she’ll direct you to the Blue Jay Café (22332 Highway 145, Placerville) 20-minute drive down the valley. Since this is Colorado, the breakfast burrito comes with either a beefy red chili or a chickeny green chili, both legit.
Before you leave town, make sure to pop into The Sweet Life (115 West Colorado), a burger joint and sweet shop where many locals have flavors named after them, so be sure to order a scoop of “Lordog’s Candle Scramble,” no matter what’s in it.
And since this is a beer trip, whether you’re driving home or simply returning to the airport, if you head north to or through Montrose, stop in at the tiny Colorado Boy Brewery (602 Clinton Street, Ridgeway) and/or the even tinier Ourayle House down in Ouray (215 7thAvenue, Ouray). If heading south toward Durango, which itself is beercation-worthy, the towns of Dolores and Silverton have eponymous brewpubs.