Thursday, August 28, 2014

Mountain Views and Craft Brews in Dillon, Colorado

When asked the question “Where do you go for a relaxing vacation” many people will automatically answer the beach. I’ve never been one to tan much though, and sand makes my beer a little gritty. When I’m asked that question there’s only one landscape that I can think of. No it’s not in a chair with a built in mini fridge. My relaxing landscape is in the mountains. There is something about scarcely populated mountain ranges, snow kissed peaks, and clean air that calms everything down for me. Add to that clean and clear mountain streams for craft beer production and you’ve created my home away from home.

One of my relaxation havens lies one hour west of Denver in Dillon, Colorado. The town of Dillon has been around for almost 130 years, but I just discovered it 5 years ago (like Christopher Columbus).  Since I have always blabbed on and on to anyone who would listen about adventures in the Swiss Alps, this discovery not so far from the cornfields of Nebraska was a vacation game changer.
Do I look as awkward as I felt?
Dillon is a picture perfect mountain town. Resting on the shores of the Dillon Reservoir (26 shoreline miles of mountain lake beauty), Dillon is packed with activities in the summer and winter. In the winter Dillon is situated in the heart of ski country. With a location only 10 minutes from Keystone, Copper Mountain, and 20 minutes from Breckenridge, Dillon is a hub to test the peaks. In the summer the lake is a great place to kayak, stand up paddleboard, or just skip rocks while taking in the stunning mountain views. Dillon has the perfect balance of outdoor activity paired with charming shops, eateries, and of course breweries. The views are magical and the brews kicked out by Dillon’s 2 breweries (Dillon Dam Brewery and Pug Ryan’s Brewing) make this small mountain town a place you won’t want to leave for a while.
Welcome to Dillon
Dillon Dam Brewery
My first brewery stop 5 years ago (and my first stop again this summer)in Dillon was the Dillon Dam Brewery. The award winning Dam Brewery has been brewing Rocky Mountain alternatives to the norm since 1997. The brewery can have anywhere up to 12 beers on tap depending on season with a regular rotation of 7-8. They brew up to 2000 barrels of fine craft beer per year ranking them in the top 75 (in terms of production) in the US among brewpubs. As the brewery says, that’s a lot of Dam beer.  And if the beer’s not enough, the Dam Brewery has a full service kitchen with excellent pub food and more to enjoy while you stare out the windows at Buffalo Mountain.
As I settled into my seat this year for my reunion with Dam beer I wanted a break from the norm. In the past I had always gone straight to the celebrated Sweet George’s Brown English style ale at the Dam Brewery. When I first had this World Beer Cup Bronze Medalist I was hooked (at a time when I was turned off by brown ales). This brown was lightly hopped and had a great caramel flavor with even a hint of chocolate which turned me from indifference to browns to enthusiast.  This year though I wanted to get a new taste from the brewery and accomplished that with my first offering, the Black Weiss.
Where have you been my whole life Black Weiss
Dam Brewery’s Black Weiss was a real taste treat. First, I hadn’t seen this style of German weiss anywhere before (admittedly not looking for it) so I felt that this was a good place to start. It was a smooth dark weiss with great banana notes and a hint of chocolate biscuit to it plus a finishing taste of cherry. As I was playing pool with my kids (rolling the ball on the pool table) the beer settled and as it settled I also caught a nice clove hint as well. The black weiss was only a seasonal brew but definitely worth snatching up when Dam Brewery puts it back in season. I then moved moved on to one of Dam Brewery’s gold medal winners, the McLuhr’s Irish Stout.
I felt fine drinking a stout (which some label a cool weather beer) as the temperature was dropping into the 40’s-make sure you pack a sweatshirt even in the summer because the night’s still get cool-that night. The McLuhr’s stout was as good as advertised. The head was silky smooth and the caramel and black malt made this slightly dry stout rich without being too thick. It was another fine hand crafted creation from the Dam (it never gets old saying it trust me) team. I could have stayed all night but as travelers with kids I drank responsibly as always. I knew though that I would come back soon as should anyone making a trek to the area.
Hey Pug Ryan's, can I steal your tub?
Pug Ryan’s Brewing Company
We headed back to our condo on Lake Dillon (if we ever become rich our heaven would be owning a condo on the lake) and decided that having a few beers while the moon shimmered on the lake would be a good way to end our evenings. Luckily I had (just 1 week earlier) met the guys from Pug Ryan’s Brewing at Denver Brew Fest! I had tried their 3 wonderful lagers at the brewfest and also learned that for the past few years I had been staying right down the street from the brewpub yet I had never figured it out (sorry about that).
Like the Dam Brewery, Pug Ryan’s has been brewing beer since 1997 in Dillon. In 2012 they underwent an expansion which more than doubled their capacity. They have won numerous awards at elite competitions including silvers at the Great American Beer Fest. Besides the brewpub in downtown Dillon they also own and operate a tiki bar down near the shores of Lake Dillon which is open from late May through the summer. Put that all together and I’d say I had been missing out.
Grab your Deadeye Dunkel and hit Lake Dillon
We popped into the brewpub for a quick look around at the equipment and pub itself before grabbing our 12 pack of outlaw cans (YAY cans). The 12 pack was a sampler of the 3 lagers that Pug Ryan’s brews (Deadeye Dunkel, Hideout Helles, and Peacemaker Pilsner) which felt like a handcrafted celebration of Central Europe. The Peacemaker Pilsner was my first choice as a nod to my Bohemian rooted in laws I was with. The pilsner was a nice light golden color with a classic Czech dry finish. It was nice to see someone honoring this style that goes back as far as modern brewing goes, and it tasted great (don’t say less filling) too.
My next 2 were the helles and dunkel. For me those 2 styles have a lot to live up to as I have always asserted “beer” with helles and dunkels I’ve had in Munich. What I found in the Deadeye Dunkel (nice malty core with a subtle hop profile overlapped with a subtle sweetness) and the Hideout Helles (a light amber bock with a sweet undertone and malt goodness) were great takes on these German lager staples. I found out that the hops for the Helles were from a monastery in Germany adding to the real German authentic, yet still Colorado unique, flavor of both of these lagers. With a seasonal rotation also in Pug Ryan’s arsenal, my time not knowing what the helles (that was lame) I am doing in Dillon will be spent frequenting them as well as the Dam Brewery.
No matter what adventure you’re looking for, you are sure to be able to use Dillon as your base. From hiking to mountain biking, sailing to skiing you will be hard pressed to find a more picturesque spot to start from. Put all that together with the fact that this small mountain town has 2 craft breweries and say goodbye to stress and hello to relaxation in Dillon.