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The Beer Castle

January, 2000

By Bobby Bush

Continuing westward, we paused in the resort town of Vail, Colorado. This quaint, but expensive village was once home to Hubcap Brewing, which opened in 1991 and ceased operations in 1999 (but has since reopened as Lakota Chops & Hops Brewpub). I thought I knew my way around, but we had to ask for directions once again before finding Kaltenberg Castle Royal Bavarian Brewhouse at the base of the Eagle Bahn Gondola in Lionshead Village.

Founded in 1998, this magnificent structure is unique. The first genuine Bavarian style brewhouse in America, Kaltenberg is run by the family of Crown Prince Luipold of Bavaria, a major player in south German beer business. Still taking in the structure’s palatial interior, complete with large hand-painted murals and massive copper-clad brewery, we settled down at a long community table for a brew or two. No sampler-size glasses, we used the half-liter glasses as if they were. With noisy accordion player as accompaniment, we first tasted Prinzregent Luitfold Weissbier. A traditional Bavarian wheat, this cloudy gold ale was perfect to style with a smacking citrus bite. Kaltenberg Pils, brewed to Reinheitsgebot purity standards as are the others, was a clear, golden and deceivingly tasty. Its light but complex taste profile concluded with a sudden but hoppy slap. Konig Ludwig Dunkel was surprising bland, in need of more maltiness, while Millennium, a 7% abv dunkelweisen, was all it should be, a caramel-ish dark wheat beer of note.

We shared a fresh soft pretzel, drooling over a menu of Roast Pork in a Kaltenberg Dark Beer Sauce Served with Red Cabbage and Dumplings and Wiener Schnitzel and Schweinshax’n (Pork Shank), to name a few. Authentic in architecture, decorum and beer, Kaltenberg Castle is a beauty of a brewpub.

Our next stop was not on our intenerary. We learned of Gore Range Brewery from a group of tired skiers who plopped down beside us at Kaltenberg Castle. What a rewarding conversation that turned out to be. Located in Edward, about ten miles west of Vail, this non-touristy brewpub opened in September 1997. Noting a sign above the bar which read “Mircobrews, macro-fun,” we went the sampler route. Great Sex Honey Ale wafted a sweet aroma and proved to be a competent mild ale. American-style, Powder Dry Pale Ale was medium bodied and fully hopped, while the clear copper Fly Fisher Red Ale was malty and filling. A full-bodied cream stout, Biker Stout presented wonderfully roasted intrigue, while Brewer’s Choice Millennium had a sweet Krispy Kreme nose. Maltiness dominated but was not obnoxiously sweet in this strong ale.

The menu consisted of pizzas, sandwiches and a nice selection of entrees, including Garlic & Herb Chicken, BBQ Ribs and Peanut Crusted Mahi Mahi. Another sign that caught my eyes was positioned above one of the urinals: “Express Lane - two beers or less.” Gore Range is my kind of brewpub.

Headed east toward Breckenridge, our hostile for the night, we stopped briefly at Backcountry Brewery in Frisco. Founded in September 1996, this snow-bound brewpub sits at a prime corner location, just off the freeway on the two-lane highway to Breckenridge. Showing signs of tiredness, we set right to work. Ptarmigan Pilsner was too fruity for style (I suspect it was an ale rather than proper lager), though it did have an appropriate hoppy finish. Switchback Amber sported a floral flavor with apple notes. Blackberry Brown Ale had a purple-ish tint and a very berry smelling head, though flavor was not overbearingly sweet. Telemark IPA was hoppy throughout, yielding to a slight sour end, while Peak One Porter was pleasantly roasty. Backcountry’s two seasonals were a near flavorless Y2Kolsch and Breakfast Stout, a friendly medium bodied, mildly malty brew.

This being my third or fourth visit to Backcountry, I sensed some deterioration in beer quality. Though they did win a 1998 bronze GABF medal for the seasonal Maibock.

Hang on, this beer bus is still rolling.

(Next installemnt: #2 in Golden)

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

© Bobby Bush

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