Durango, Colorado. Napa Valley boasts top wines; Durango toasts sensational local microbrews. Self-proclaimed as the “Napa Valley of Beer” and “City of Brewerly Love”, Durango, population of approximately 16,000, is home to four microbreweries/brewpubs. Durango breweries took their place on the map in 1986 when Carver Brewing Co opened their doors to become the second operating brew pub in the state after prohibition was repealed. Durango Brewing Company started in 1990 and was one of the first microbreweries in the state. SKA Brewing Company opened in 1995 and Steamworks Brewing Company began operations in 1996. According to SKA Brewing Company’s Dave Thibodeau, “The microbrew revolution took hold in Denver and the momentum carried throughout the state. Durango is the perfect fit for microbreweries and brewpubs and we brew some of the best beer right here in the southwestern corner of the state.”
Due to the readily available “first use” water, Durango is ideal for brewing beer. “Beer is 98% water so the quality of water has a huge impact on the quality and flavor profile of a beer. Durango’s water is soft and ideal for brewing.” says Kris Oyler owner of Steamworks. “Folks live in or move to Durango for its uniqueness and they generally are looking for something different, including the beer they enjoy. They prefer a well made, fresh, locally crafted beer.”
Each brewery has their own specialty: Steamworks’ niche is brewing lager beers. The Steam Engine Lager is “arguably the best American – Style Amber Lager in the world” according to Oyler, as it has garnered two Gold Medals and a Bronze Medal at the Great American Beer Festival over the years and also has taken a Silver Medal at the World Beer Cup. Steamworks maintains anywhere from eight to eighteen styles of beer on tap. Steamworks has a bottling line as well as a restaurant that offers a wide variety of menu items featuring locally raised beef and produce.
Durango Brewing Company has its award-winning and local favorite--Wheat Beer. According to Ian James, Brewer at Durango Brewing Company, “We are unique because of our hands on brewing practices.” Durango Brewing Company focuses on hands-on beer production so it is still an art. “There is a lot hard work that does into making quality beer and we don’t let machines do the work for us.” says James. “Beer making is an adventure; Durango attracts people who like good beer and adventure.”
Local ingredients are key for SKA Brewing Co’s True Blonde that is made with local Honeyville harvested honey. SKA began brewing in 1995 and they now feature 4 main beers: Pinstripe Red Ale-their flagship beer, Buster Nut Brown that won gold medals two years in a row at the Great American Beer Festival, Ten Pin Porter and True Blonde. In addition to award winning beer, SKA stands out on the shelf with its unique packaging. “We are enthusiastic about our product and have a good time with our labeling,” says Dave Thibodeau, head brewer. “We also like to support Durango—for example around here people love biking. Bicycles and beer go very well together—so we teamed up with Steamworks to jointly brew Faceplant Ale each Memorial Day Weekend to celebrate the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic.”
Carver Brewing Company moved to Durango from Winterpark first as a restaurant and then added the brewery. “Breweries and bakeries have a lot of similarities—cooking fresh food and brewing fresh beverages,” beams Erik Maxson, head brewer. “We are unique in that we don’t filter most of our beers and that leaves most of the nutrients, especially the B vitamins, in the beer. It’s fresh and healthy.” Carver focuses on brewing ales and lagers. A favorite is Old Oak Amber that won a gold medal at the Colorado State Fair. They also produce a selection of seasonal specialties, cask beers and Carver was one of the first breweries in the west to produce the popular fruit ale--Raspberry Wheat American Ale. Maxson’s enthusiasm for brewing is contagious, “Durango has a ‘can do’ spirit and locals show a great deal of support for local businesses. We are gifted with incredible water and we use it to produce unique beers--we are really proud of our work.”
In addition to being excellent brew masters, these local brewers have mastered community involvement. The breweries donate a great deal of beer, time and money to the community. They are involved with a multitude of events that raise money for non-profit organizations and activities such as Community Connections, The Durango Early Learning Center, American Red Cross, Children’s Museum, Country Kids with Cancer, United Way, Discovery Museum, Women’s Resource Center, the San Juan Mountains Association, Durango Motorless Transit, Manna Soup Kitchen, Black Canyon Regional Land Trust, Trails 2000, The Durango Arts Center, Blue Grass Meltdown, Four Corners Food Festival, United Blood Services, and Operation Healthy Communities.
In 1998, Carver, SKA and Steamworks teamed up with Three Rivers Eatery and Brewhouse in nearby Farmington to form The Mug Club. The Mug Club offers great deals on food and brew, fun and events to its members. Each April, The Bootleggers Society (Carver, SKA and Steamworks) jointly brew a “Spring Tonic” in celebration of the repeal of prohibition. The Durango Bootleggers Society began in 2003 (the 70th anniversary of the repeal of prohibition) and every April 7th these brewers host a release party that features their tonic. Funds from sales of the Spring Tonic go to the Animas Historical Society and their museum.
Durango is a laid back community that enjoys breathtaking views, small-town charm, cool mountain waters, exhilarating adventures and the best microbrews and brewpubs. The next time you choose to raise your glass—make it a mug of Durango’s finest microbrew! Cheers.