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Road Trippin’ On I-70. Last Stops – Backcountry Brewery and Pug Ryan’s.

After a full lunch and some tasty beers at Tommyknocker Brewery in Idaho Springs, CO, it was time to move on to our final destination of Breckenridge, CO.  Breck is only another 40 minutes west down I-70 and there are a few spots worth checking out if you’ve got the time.

First up is the town of Dillon, CO.  Dillon is actually home to two breweries.  Dillon Dam Brewery has been around since 1997 and offers a large selection of beers and a full menu.  There’s only so many hours in a day, so we decided to pass up Dillon Dam on this trip and opted to hit Pug Ryan’s instead.

This was our first time visiting Pug Ryan’s and the parking lot was packed.  We arrived just in time for happy hour and seems like the rest of the town had the same idea as us.  $2.50 pints and 25% off appetizers is tough to beat.  Pug’s has been brewing since 1997 and offers 4 year round beers: Morning Wood Wheat, Pallavicini Pilsner, Over the Rail Pale Ale and a Scottish Ale.  They also keep a few rotating seasonals and on this trip it was the Gorilla Vanilla Oatmeal Stout.  Patti snagged the Oatmeal Stout before I could get my order in, so I went with the Pale Ale.  Both were solid.  The Gorilla Stout is infused with Jim Beam, Frangelico, Meyers Rum and vanilla beans.  Big, bold flavors and really enjoyable.

The place was hoppin’ and we somehow managed to snag the last two seats at the far end of the bar.  The brewery is lined with glass windows overlooking the Dillon Reservoir.  The brewhouse is just off the bar and from our seats, you could reach out and touch the fermentation tanks.   Again, really surprised by the large crowd, especially considering it was the off-season.  I guess that’s a good sign that the locals appreciate this place and business is good.

Pug Ryan’s has been serving food since 1975 and they have a huge menu.  From chicken wings to crab cakes to filet mignon to prime rib.  They really have it all.  We were still stuffed from lunch, so I guess we’ll have to hit them up for food on our next visit.

They’re currently working on expanding and had a large area roped off outside for construction.  All of their beers are available to-go in growlers, along with cans of their Pilsner and Wheat.

After Pug’s, we had time for one last stop, so we rolled down the highway to Frisco, CO.  Frisco sits just outside of Breckenridge and is home to Backcountry Brewery.  Backcountry opened in 1996 as an effort to bring great beer to Summit County.

The brewery is located on ground level, while the bar and restaurant are upstairs.  We walked upstairs and found a large lounge area with a fireplace, couches and TV’s.  Over at the bar we looked over the beer menu.  Their standard lineup covered all the bases.  Wheat, Pilsner, Amber, IPA and Robust Porter rounded out the year round options, but Backcountry really stood out with their seasonals.  On our visit, they were pouring a Double IPA and a Breakfast Stout.

I love a good coffee beer, so decided on the Breakfast Stout.  It was on nitro, which made it very, very smooth.  The beer was pitch black, with tons of coffee flavor, roasted grains and chocolate.  Tasted like a delicious iced coffee.  Patti ordered the Double IPA, which poured a clear, orange color.  Big citrus, grapefruit smell.  Nice hoppy flavor, but nothing that might make your tongue go numb.  Both were very enjoyable.

We caught the tail end of happy hour, which runs from 3-6 PM, mon-fri.  All beers during happy hour are only $2.50!  Kind of nuts to be get a 10% ABV Double IPA for only $2.50.  Between the discounted beers and 1/2 price appetizers, Backcountry might have the best happy hour in Colorado.

The dining room has an area that allows customers to look down into the brewhouse on the lower level.  In the bar, the windows look towards the mountains.  We sat in the windows looking out on the snow-capped Rocky Mountains and really didn’t want to leave.  Although we weren’t ordering food, they offer pizza, pasta, burgers and salads.

Backcountry offers bottles to-go and 2 gallon party pigs.  We agreed that this was probably our favorite stop of the day.  Good beers, great happy hour deals, knowledgable employees and a warm atmosphere make Backcountry a place we’ll be sure to visit again in the future.

So in the past few posts, I’ve mentioned several places that are well worth checking out.  Make a day trip or get away for the weekend and pay them a visit.  You won’t be disappointed.  If you’ve got the time and want to keep chuggin’ west on I-70, there are plenty more that await your discovery.  Seems like every little mountain town has their own brewery these days.  Trust me, that’s not a bad thing.  Get out, explore and enjoy.

Cheers!

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Breckenridge Spring Beer Festival 2012

Just got back from a full weekend up in the mountains.  Patti and I made the trip up to Breckenridge for their annual Spring Beer Festival.  It was our first time attending, but we had heard good things from friends who had attended in the past.  We headed up I-70 on Friday afternoon and took our time exploring some of the little mountain towns on the way.  We hit a few breweries along the way, including some old favorites as well as a few places that were completely new to us.  I’ll try to post some reviews later in the week.

We stayed in the quiet, resort town of Keystone, CO.  Keystone is just a short, 15-minute drive from Breckenridge, CO and turned out to be the perfect place to call home for a few days.  Hot tubs, no neighbors and no crowds.  It was just what we needed.  We’re not skiers, so we kind of prefer going up there in the off-season.  In our 5-story building, there were only 3 other cars in the garage.  Perfect!

We finished off our day with some bacon-wrapped filets and a bottle of Avery’s Uncle Jacob’s Stout.  Beer was delicious.  Bourbon, vanilla, chocolate, sweet – but not overly sweet, 17.4% ABV is well hidden.  Surprisingly smooth at this point in its’ young life, but should age very well.  If you missed the release at Avery last weekend, keep your eyes peeled for the remaining bottles to start showing up around town soon.  Grab some while you can.

 

The Breckenridge area has a public transportation system that could rival New York City.  I couldn’t believe how many busses they offer to get you around town.  During the off-season, the Keystone area even has a bus that you can call to arrange pick up and drop off for personalized service.  It’s convenient and free.  To Breckenridge however, we caught the Swan Mountain Flyer.  This bus runs once an hour from Keystone and makes the loop into downtown Breckenridge.

We caught the 11:30 bus to head to the festival, which opened at noon.  We arrived in Breckenridge at around 12:10 and started our walk to Main Street Station.  Along the way, we ran into Jason, the head brewer over at Lone Tree Brewing.  Sadly, he wasn’t pouring any beers at the festival, but was just out enjoying a rare and well deserved day off with his girlfriend.

The festival offers both a standard tasting ticket, as well as a VIP ticket.  The standard ticket sells for $25 and offers admission, unlimited tastings and music.  The VIP ticket sells for $65 and comes with a commemorative stein, private buffet and lounge area, along with unlimited tastings and music.  Patti had found a deal online for more than half off VIP tickets, so we snagged a pair.  We got up to the festival entrance, traded our tickets for a map and stein and headed inside.

Once we got through the gate, the first table we came upon was Oskar Blues.  I had to get the day started off on the right foot, so I reached for a pour of Deviant Dale’s.  A great accompaniment to the band covering Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” in the background.

Main Street Station is surrounded by several buildings that are condo’s on top, with restaurants and stores on the main level.  Between the buildings is a large, open space, that’s used for different events throughout the year.  It’s a great area for a mid-sized beer festival.

Working around the outside edge of tables, were many out-of-state breweries, including Sierra Nevada, Widmer, Red Hook and Alaskan.

Towards the back were some of the smaller, local places.  A few of which I had never even tried like Bonfire (remember the Tebrew beer from last year’s Tebow mania?), Crazy Mountain and Palisade.  This was my favorite area of the festival.  The tables were situated along the river, with a beautiful mountain view in the background.  Lots of new beers to try, a great view and a whole row of bathrooms nearby.  Hey, you gotta know where your bathrooms are at a beer fest.  Good combination folks.

Back towards the middle of the festival were the big boys.  Avery, Odell, Great Divide, Bristol and more.  Great Divide tapped a keg of Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti at 2PM, which went well with the cooler, afternoon temperatures and the light snow that started coming down.

The VIP ticket also gave us access to a private buffet that was catered by Kenosha Steakhouse.  They brought some tasty BBQ for the meat lovers, plus some lighter sandwiches, wraps, appetizers, salad and even desert.  The lounge area had comfy couches and chairs, so festival attendees could sit down and enjoy their food.  There was even a table full of beers donated by the breweries.  I snagged a Dale’s Pale Ale to go with my plate of pulled pork.  As someone who was kind of on the fence about spending the extra money for VIP tickets, I’d have to say it was worth it.  Even if we had paid full price, the unlimited trips to the buffet, the quiet area to sit and eat, the big table full of beers and the private bathroom, made it all worthwhile.

25 breweries in total made the trip.  It was well balanced between novice, gateway Wheat and Pale Ales, up to big Double IPA’s and Stouts for the true beer nerds in the crowd.  I tried alot of new beers and discovered some new breweries that don’t distribute out my way.  Towards the end of the festival, I snagged a nearly full stein of Great Divide’s Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti and went to listen to the live bands on stage.

The clouds eventually started to roll in and the sun gave way to snow, but it only added to our experience.  You’ve got to expect snow in Breckenridge in Spring.  We made the walk back to the bus station and caught our ride home.

As much as I love the Great American Beer Festival, these little beer fests around the country are a great way to get out and truly appreciate the beer scene, without feeling too overwhelmed.  Nice and relaxing, not too big of a crowd, good music and plenty of good beer and food to go around.  I’d definitely give it a thumb’s up.

Breckenridge also hosts a Festival in Summer, which is coming up on Saturday, July 14th.  I would expect to see a much bigger crowd, but they run a good show.  It might be worth checking out.

Random pics from the festival:

Cheers!