Arapahoe Basin is one of country’s legendary ski mountains. A-Basin, as we locals call it, boasts the highest skiable terrain in North America with a base at 10,780 feet and summit elevation over 13,000. A-Basin also has the longest ski season in the country opening in October and closing in June. Last year people skied A-Basin in July. Opened in 1946 with a day-pass costing $1.25 and a single tow-rope, Arapahoe Basin has grown into one the world’s best ski mountains with over 900 acres of skiable terrain and high-tech chair lifts that move 10,700 people per hour. Sadly, these facts are useless to me because I don’t ski. I came to A-Basin to drink beer.
The 11th annual Festival of Brewpubs is held from noon to 4 p.m. the Sunday of Memorial weekend and features some of the best beer Summit County has to offer. Leigh Hierholzer, Director of Marketing and Communications for Arapahoe Basin, invited me to this Rocky Mountain tradition. Six breweries represented their trade at the festival. They were: Avery Brewing Company, Breckenridge Brewery, Backcountry Brewery, Dillon Dam Brewery, Pug Ryan’s Steakhouse and Brewery, and Odell Brewing Company. Along with all this great beer was an outdoor BBQ and live band called the New Classics.
According to Hierholzer, when A-Basin started the event, they only invited Summit County breweries, of which there were many. However, in the last few years, they opened it up to outside brew pubs. She also said they have had up to nine breweries at the event, but they try to keep it around seven to fit the size of the base area. She also pointed out the Festival of Brew Pubs was not a traditional beer tasting where only 1oz. pours were the norm. Guests who paid the $25 admission received a 14 oz. plastic mug and brewers filled it to capacity every time. Between all the breweries, there were 16-20 different beers total. Here was what we sampled.
Avery Brewing Company from Boulder was one of two non-Summit Country breweries at the event. Started in 1993, their slogan was “Hop Freaks Unite!” Avery brought with them their White Rascal Belgian-style White Ale and their IPA. The IPA, which my husband liked, was 6.5% ABV and 69 IBUs. I preferred the White Rascal, which was unfiltered with 5.6% ABV and 10 IBU. The White Rascal also contained coriander and Curacao orange peel.
Backcountry Brewery from Frisco, CO, was a four-time Great American Beer Festival winner and they brought four beers with them: Peak One Porter, Ptarmigan Pilsner, Switchback Amber and the Telemark IPA. I enjoyed the Switchback Amber, a German Oktoberfest-style beer that had 13.5% ABV and 28 IBU’s.
Breckenridge Brewery, founded in the 1980’s, was one of Colorado’s oldest brew pubs. Best known for their Avalanche Amber Ale, they brought their Vanilla Porter and Lucky U IPA on this trip. The Lucky U IPA was super-hopped and a favorite of my husband while I enjoyed the Vanilla Porter, which contained vanilla beans from Papua New Guinea and Madagascar.
Dillon Dam Brewery Pub had a slogan of Dam Good Food, Dam Good Beer and they brought several beers to this event including their Extra Pale Ale, IPA, Sweet George’s Brown, McLuhr’s Irish Stout and a Mexican-style lager Dam Chili Beer. This outfit had several award-winning beers, such as the Irish Stout. However, I was enamored with their Dam Chili Lager, a seasonal beer. This beer was made with Jalapeno, Habanero and Serrano peppers. You would think this beer would knock your socks off, but it was surprisingly sweet. You can smell the peppers as you tip the glass to your nose, but a full-bodied lager with just a hint of spices is what you taste. This was a pleasant surprise find at the festival.
Pug Ryan’s Steakhouse and Brewery, located in Dillon, CO, was established as a steakhouse in 1975 and began brewing in 1997, only the second brewery in Summit County at the time. Their Helles Bock won silver at the Craft Brewers Fest and a gold medal at the GABF. Their A-Basin beer samples included the Pallavicini (Pali) Pilsner, the Gorilla Vanilla Porter, the Over the Rail Pale Ale and the Scottish Ale. This ultra-smooth, dark brown beer won silver at the 2011 North American Beer Awards.
Odell’s Brewing Company from Fort Collins was the other non-Summit County brewery and they brought their IPA and their famous 90 Shilling Ale (something we have on tap at home) to the festival. Their IPA is a little too hoppy for me, but their flagship beer 90 Shilling was what I started the festival with. 90 Shilling had 5.3% ABV and 27 IBUs.
Located on the south side of Loveland Pass, Arapahoe Basin is a true skiers’ mountain with only 10% of the terrain considered “Beginner.” Fancy hotels or restaurants won’t be found here either. And at 10,000 feet, dress appropriately. Despite the sunny day, it got a little chilly. Fortunately, the Arapahoe Sports Shop had a 50% off sale. Now I’ll be ready for next year. And so can you. A-Basin has a full slate of summer activities for the non-skier, including the July 1 Trail Run, Yoga on the Mountain and a Clam Bake in September. For those who strap on the sticks or the board, you’ll have to wait until October.