American Beer Month
Talkin' beer in Salida
JULY 1, 2000 - Despite the surrounding distractions, mostly delightlful, the focus was clearly on beer during the fourth Colorado Brewers Rendezvous in Salida, Colo.
A Phantom Canyon brewer
"It's gotten a lot bigger fast," said Bill Graham of Ska Brewing in Durango. But no too big. The 1,500 beer drinkers who congregated over the course of four hours seldom had to wait in line for beer from one of 35 breweries on hand.
With mostly brewers pouring beer, when customers had a question they received informative answers. Those could be short -- "Want a sweeter beer, try this, a more bitter one, try this" -- or longer, such as when the discussion turned to the effects of altitude on brewing.
Most Colorado breweries operate at a mile high or higher, but Boomtown Brewpub in Leadville -- which opened earlier this year -- is nearly twice that at 10,300 feet (or thereabouts, apparently depending on the day and who does the measuring). While altitude doesn't affect brewing as much a baking, because the boiling point in Leadville is somewhere in the 190s (Fahrenheit) hop utilization is lower.
Put simply, that means you don't get as much pucker per pound of of hops that you'd get at lower altitudes. Brewer David Lawrence, who previously worked at mile-high Wynkoop Brewing Co. in Denver, makes the transition look easy. His pale ale is brimming with hop flavor.
It's not surprising that in just four years this has turned into a such a popular event. It's a Colorado Brewers Guild event and officially was one of many across the country that kicked off American Beer Month. Brewers like it for the same reasons as consumers -- Salida is a delightful small mountain town long on outdoor activities.
The setting for the festival itself rivals any in the country. The park is in the historic downtown area -- a railroad town, Salida was founded in 1880 and became instantly famous for its rough-and-tumble saloons and brothels. Many of the brewers set up right along the fast-moving Arkansas River, which is dotted with rafting gates.
Gigantic trees provide plenty of shade -- and a certain amount of protection from the festival's annual thunderstorm. A playground to the east was packed most of the afternoon, as parents alternated pushing their children on swings and tasting new beers.
The festival attracts a diverse crowd. Just 15 minutes before it was to end, a man and woman walked up with two small children in tow. "You've still got root beer haven't you?" the man asked. He also bought a festival glass and two beer tasting tickets for $5 (the basic admission). Additional four-ounce tastes are 50 cents.
The event works well both for those who come -- sometimes traveling hundreds of miles -- primarily to sample the beer and for tourists who happen to wander in. Late in the day, a man on vacation from Illinois stopped to look at his glass. "I found this good wheat beer," he said, taking another sip. "It's from over there," he said, motioning to the table where Tabernash Brewing was pouring its popular Weiss.
He looked again at his glass when he was asked if noticed the American Beer Month logo on it. "You know, I hadn't," he said. "Never heard of it (ABM) but if I can find beer like this all month I'll be happy."
Colorado brewers pose for a group photo before the festival begins