BRECKENRIDGE - Once upon a time, Breckenridge was a little mining town with a fondness for tippling.
Today, it has evolved into a thriving and nationally recognized ski town. The drinking thing hasn't really changed.
Two years after the town's 150th birthday and one year after it was recognized as a top destination for nightlife among North American ski resorts, booze enthusiasts can explore Breckenridge's colorful and whiskey-soaked history - and do some drinking - on bi-weekly historic saloon tours.
The tour is a celebration, not only of Breckenridge's rich drinking heritage and its modern-day bar and pub scene, but of the town itself.
The 90-minute tour begins at the Breckenridge Welcome Center on Main Street, where tour guide Mr. Mike McManus greets his guests with a crash course on Breckenridge.
The town is currently a year-round home to just 3,500 people, barely a third of the 9,000 hopeful prospectors who chased golden rumors 9,600 feet above sea level in 1869.
The town's drinking tradition, Mike says, is about as old as its mining history and pre-dates the Breckenridge Ski Resort by about 100 years.
The tour stops in the Motherloaded Tavern, where participants can grab a local beer, and in the Gold Pan, Breckenridge's oldest bar and holder of Colorado's longest running liquor licenses, before finally looping back for a bourbon/vodka/chocolate tasting at the Breckenridge Distillery's downtown location.
The high point of the tour is a stop in the Gold Pan, still a favorite haunt for locals and decorated with the relics of its more than 100-year history.
Mike, a Summit County transplant whose Arkansas-born charm and laid-back sense of humor make the tour fun, covers everything from the more fantastic shoot-out, bar-brawl stories of the days when Breckenridge was still the heart of the Old West to the many services - from banking to bathing - offered by saloons in their hay day.
The unexpected bonus of the saloon tour is the discounts. The lucky drinkers trailing Mike enjoy a 50 percent discount on Avalanche - one of Breckenridge's best and most famous local microbrews, born just up the street at the Breckenridge Brewery - at the Motherloaded, where Mike will cross all kinds of boundaries explaining the difference between a brothel and a dancehall in 19th-century Summit County, and a 10 percent discount on everything, including booze, at the Breckenridge Distillery's downtown tasting room.
Notwithstanding the occasional stop in a 150-year-old pub and the slight chill resistance that comes after a few drinks, the tour is conducted primarily outside and at night, and it is cold. Participants who bundle up will most likely enjoy themselves more.
Reservations are recommended by 4 p.m. The tour leaves the Welcome Center, heading north up Main Street, just after 5 p.m., but participants are encouraged to arrive 15 minutes early.