Get Your Own Dam Beer
By Bobby Bush
Ready to move on from Denver, with mountain snow showers in forecast, we headed west
on I-70 toward Vail and our lodging for the night in Breckenridge. The we, in this case,
were Cornelia Corey, twice a runner-up in Wynkoop’s Beerdrinker of the Year
competition, her trusty boyfriend Ray and me, ol’ Suds. Though we’d all been there
before, we couldn’t drive by - it’s right off the freeway - and not stop at Tommyknocker
Brewery & Pub in Idaho Springs.
Rustic and homey, this spacious brewpub always has a wide selection of
house-brewed beer. Ten to choose from and unwilling to attack a taster tray so early on
this Sunday morn, we found three that sounded challenging. And they were. Black
Powder Stout was thick in head and body, smooth from nitrogen. Rye Porter was a fizzy
seasonal, thin bodied with roasted flavor that succumbed to a weird sour taste. This
cask-conditioned beer must have been past its prime. A strong ale, Why2K was very
malty with no noticeable alcohol presence. We drank slowly, sharing tastes, then hit the
road leaving behind other tasty brews like Tommyknocker “Red Eye” Lager, Butthead
Bock (a 1997 GABF silver medal winner), Pick Axe Pale Ale, Tundra Beary Ale, Maple
Nut Brown, Jack Whacker Wheat and Lost Dutchman Gold. This was only the start of a
long, long day.
“Get Your Own Dam Beer,” read the t-shirts on the wall. Open since 1997,
Dillon Dam Brewery, nestled not far off the freeway in Dillon, Colorado, is not only
master of tongue-in-cheek puns but also seems to know a thing or two about brewing.
Beneath a woody cathedral ceiling and balcony dining, we found three seats at a U-shaped
bar. For some reason we immediately attracted an audience. Guess they don’t get too
many requests for sampler trays at the Dam.
At any rate, we found the service excellent and beers very good. The regular
rotation consists of the fruity American-style Wilderness Wheat; a crisp Vienna-style lager
called Dam Straight Lager; a dry-finishing Sweet George’s Brown; and hoppy Extra Pale
Ale, which left a bitter aftertaste. The seasonal selections were even more adventuresome.
At 7% abv, Yoltan Bock inspired a tingly warming effect. Closer to Imperial style,
McLuhr’s Irish Stout was thin with bittersweet taste, while Extra Special Bitter imparted a
sour, hoppy aftertaste. Starting with clove aroma, Winter Warmer was brown and thin
with a cabinet full of spices including cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, allspice, ginger, vanilla,
orange peel and honey. It packed a 7% alcohol wallop.
The Dam has more than Dam beer. There’s Dam food as well, with selections
ranging from Asiago and Spinach Dip, Fresh Ruby Red Trout, Herky Jerky Chicken
Caesar, Grilled Portabello Mushroom, Linguine Chicken-Feta Pasta and Sirloin Cerveza, a
10 oz sirloin marinated in ale, rubbed with chile, grilled and topped with green chile and
onion straws. Hmmm. Check out the Dam beer and the Dam food at Dillon Dam and at
www.dambrewing.com on the dam internet.
Dillon also hosts another brewpub, but alas, Pug Ryan’s does not open until 4:00
on Sundays. It was only 2:00.
Just a few miles west, we searched and searched for Great Northern Tavern in
Keystone. Driving through parking lots, following well-intended but misleading
directions, we finally discovered this woodsy brewpub in a small tourist shopping area in
Keystone Village. With an address of River Run Gondola, this circa-1997 brewpub,
located at the foot of busy ski slopes, was warm but empty. Not ones to let library-like
ambiance intrude upon our mission, we ordered up a taster tray and set to work. From the
L-shaped rosewood bar, we started with Western Star Wheat, yellow and yeasty in
Bavarian style. Cascadian Pale Ale was pleasingly hoppy with some caramel notes, while
the seasonal ESB was appropriately less hoppy and medium bodied. Dakota Amber Ale
was malty, very grainy, while Empire Builder Stout presented medium mouthfeel and
(Next installment: The Beer Castle)
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush