Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Brewings in Breckenridge and Pagosa Springs

Soggy Coaster had the chance to stop by two Colorado breweries last weekend, Breckenridge Brewing and Pagosa Brewing.

The coalition alighted in Breckenridge Brewing's pub in downtown Breck on Friday night, with snow piled up outside and the young, wealthy and beautiful piling inside. I sampled Pandora's Bock and an unfiltered wheat. Pandora's Bock (7.5 percent ABV, 16 IBUs) was good enough, although after recently drinking a Carver's X-Rock Bock, the Breckenridge offering struck me as over-filtered and a bit dull. The unfiltered wheat was also lacking in character. It would be fine after a long, hot bike ride, but in a pub session it underwhelmed.

Breckenridge Brewing seems more committed to offering accessible session beers than to going out on a limb. Even its small-batch 471 Series, offering a double IPA (9.2 percent ABV, 70 IBUs) and an ESB (7.8 percent ABV, 55 IBUs), strikes me as playing it safe. Those beers are essentially stronger versions of very popular styles offered by a long list of other Colorado breweries. Ska Brewing, for example, brews both a double IPA and an ESB. Certainly, Breck offers some good, well-brewed session beers - its Vanilla Porter (4.7 percent ABV, 16 IBUs) is a favorite of mine - but the brewery is not doing anything unique. Its beer can be found in most Durango liquor stores.

We broke up the long car ride from Breckenridge to Durango with a stop at Pagosa Brewing. It's situated behind the newer City Market on the western edge of the town's haphazard highway sprawl. A gate leads visitors in to a sawdust-covered front yard. The pub itself is cozy, with no more than a dozen tables.

The small brewery has an impressive cast of brews: nine staples including a cream ale, a wheat, a pale ale, an ESB and a stout. A large roster of seasonals is also on offer.

I started with an Alpine Abbey 8, a seasonal Belgian-style dubbel. Unfortunately, it was lacking in that yeasty funk I enjoy in other Belgian-style dubbel ales such as New Belgium's Abbey. It was completely drinkable, but ultimately uninteresting.

For the second round, I chugged a Powder Day IPA. I really liked this one: Powder Day is a very enjoyable IPA, with plenty of well-balanced hop character.

Pagosa Brewing pints cost $5. Growlers are available to go. It's not cheap, but you're paying for the local character. Small brewpubs like Pagosa Brewing and Carver's simply don't have the efficiencies of scale that a largish brewery like Ska or Steamworks can use to keep prices low. The small brewpubs may cost more, but they don't lack for innovation. I'd highly recommend a visit to Pagosa Brewing. If you want cheap beer, there's always PBR.

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