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Colorado Mountains

September, 1999

By Bobby Bush

Tommyknocker Brewery & Pub is in the unlikely town of Idaho Springs, CO. An old mining town with plenty of reminders of its wealthy past, this tiny town now serves as the gateway to Breckenridge and Vail, popular year-round tourist destinations. Founded in December ‘94, Tommyknocker- named for miner’s protective elves -caters to both tourists and locals alike.

One of two large dining areas shares space with a long wooden bar and the copper-clad brewery, which is separated from the restaurant by three pool tables. With a Sunday lunch crowd shuffling in, we took our appointed places at the bar, aiming to sample all eleven Tommyknocker brews.

What a selection! The unfiltered Jackwhacker Wheat was brewed American style with lemon grass added for spiciness. The light Tundrabeary Ale, infused with raspberries and blueberries, was sweet and fruity. The Kolsch-style Fools Gold Ale was cold conditioned, giving it a lager-like cleanness and snappy hop finish. Pick Axe Pale Ale, a ‘97 GABF silver winner, was a smooth, triple-dry hopped IPA. In Oktoberfest style, Red Eye Lager was caramel-dominant with obvious lager yeast tones. Maple Nut Brown Ale took bronze in ‘96, but was thin this time, with low malt taste.

Wait, there’s more delicious brews. Butthead Bock, a dopplebock at nearly 8% alcohol, was malt power in action, while Porter was disappointingly thin and flavorless. Black Powder Stout, with thick foamy head, took forever to settle. But its creamy, roasted and chocolate flavor profile was well worth procrastinating. Strong Ale was presented in cask and forced- carbonated versions. The regular Strong was notable only for its 8.2% kick, while the cask was much more dramatic, its malty body yielding to a warm berry aftertaste.

There’s another Tommyknocker in Casper, WY. A third just opened in Phoenix. See www.tommyknocker.com for more info.

Further west on I-70, we pulled off at the Breckenridge exit and into the quaint town of Frisco, home of Backcountry Brewery since about 1996. Crowded for a Sunday afternoon, we secured the last bar table available and perused the beer menu. Deciding to forgo Ptarmigan Pilsner and seasonal Ickabod’s Pumpkin Ale, we began with the hoppy body, bitter finishing Telemark IPA and barely-hopped Switchback Amber, an “Oktoberfest ale,” whatever that oxymoron means. Brewed from six malts, the brown-headed Peak One Porter offered dreamy roasted malt depth, while the Fall-Line Blackberry Brown Ale, similar to a Belgian Framboise, sported a pinkish head and huge berry flavor. We skipped the seasonal Jack Frost Dopplebock (7.5% abv) and pined for the absent GABF’98 bronze-winning Maibock, another seasonal. Visit www.backjcountrybrewery.com for a virtual tour.

On up the road in the skiing village of Breckenridge, resides the 9,600 feet high, eponymously named brewpub. Open since 1990, Breckenridge Brewery is also a popular spot and its one of the high country’s first brewpub. Again, space at the bar was scarce, but we squeezed in to enjoy a clean, golden IPA, which, because its diminished hop essence, made a nice session beer. The seasonal ESB was over-carbonated, citrusy and entirely too cold, as all of these beers were. Passing on Mountain Wheat and Avalanche Ale, we found Vanilla Porter to be malty with a sly vanilla hint in its black, medium body. The Oatmeal Stout was tall, dark and handsome, featuring a deliciously complex roasted coffee quality beneath its brown head.

The Breckenridge folks also own a bigger brewpub and separate regional-scale microbrewery in Denver. Once full of imperialistic desires, over the past two or three years they have closed Breckenridge brewpubs in Birmingham, Buffalo, Omaha and Dallas. The Breckenridge wagons have been circled so they can do what they do best- brew. The micro in Denver is distributing bottled beer nationwide. Look for their distinctive label wherever fine beers are sold and at www.breckbrew.com.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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