Sip your way through the Colorado High Country
June 10, 2016
Craft libations aren't a new concept in Colorado, as the well-established brewery evolution throughout the state has seemed to have carved the way for local spirit innovations. While the Front Range stays at the forefront of this movement, mountain areas are keeping right up. In the valleys of Vail and Aspen alone, there are more than 10 breweries and distilleries to visit. There's only one dilemma: how will you taste your way to them all?
Manor Vail Lodge in Vail and The Gant in Aspen have created an enticing road trip-worthy package this summer, called Elevated Libations. The hashtag on social media reveals the popularity of the experience so far.
"I like that it is a different way to experience the High Country," said Jill Anderson, director of sales and marketing for Manor Vail Lodge. "Most people come for activities or festivals or events, but it's great to go at your own pace, and you meet interesting people along the way."
The package price varies with the season, from $495 to $945, and includes three nights in a one-bedroom condo, libation-inspired welcome amenities (like pint glasses and keepsake beer growlers), food and beverage credits, as well as special discounts to all designated libation locations. Travelers can stay at either Manor Vail Lodge or The Gant, or they can experience both.
Since it's likely you won't want to drive (or shouldn't) to and from brewery and distillery tastings, there's an option to add shuttle transport to the package with Colorado Mountain Express (rates start at $79 per person).
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The condominium-style accommodations at both Manor Vail Lodge and The Gant create a home-away-from-home feeling, and on-site concierge services can help you decide what to do when you're not eating or drinking your way through these mountain towns.
Head out for an early day hike on the locals-favorite loop: Hunter Creek Trail to Smuggler Mountain. A steady incline takes you over bridges that cross the rushing creek, and the view from Smuggler gives a special angle to all of Aspen. To follow, lunch at Meat and Cheese is a must. Enjoy it on the patio with a glass of rosé, alongside a board of, yes, meat and cheese.
When your tasting tour begins, stops like Aspen Brewing Company give full mountain flavor. As owner and manager, Duncan Clauss, describes, the brewery is "downstream from nobody."
"Our beer started with some of the best water in the world, coming from our pristine Elk Mountain Range," he said. "Coloradoans are proud of their environment, and beer is no exception."
The brewery has a social scene with that post outdoor-play buzz that intoxicates so many who live and visit this state. In the summer season, the brewpub's open-air patio looks right down on to East Hopkins Avenue in the heart of town.
"Colorado has an amazing beer history and craft beer culture," Clauss said. "In addition, craft beer is just one spoke in the wheel of locally sourced goods and services, and Colorado is all about local pride."
In Vail, fly fishing with guides from Gore Creek Fly Fisherman is an invigorating way to spend the morning in the outdoors before a tasting tour. The mountain rivers create a peaceful scene with their shimmering waters, while still full of movement and life. It's a simple joy to spend a few hours in them casting for a High-Country catch.
Just as Clauss mentioned, it's this crisp and clean Colorado water that can make for such great brews and spirits. It's also the love of the outdoors that seems to keep the people of this state thirsty for more. Each establishment has unique distilling and brewing methods that sets it apart from the rest, so marathon tasting days don't get old, but they do get really fun.
Ian Tulk, manager for 10th Mountain Whiskey and Spirit Company in Vail, said that Colorado has been on the forefront for the craft beer market for decades, and now the "spirit revolution" is leading the way.
"I think most people in Colorado enjoy the 'earn your turn' mentality and they are proud of it," Tulk said. "We also want quality and uniqueness in the food and drink. So we push ourselves in that realm as much as we do on the mountain or trail — we are always looking for new and better and unique."
Max Vogelman, master distiller for Stoneyard Distillery in Dotsero — 30 minutes west of Vail, said he also thinks Coloradans themselves are the reason for the state's place on the cutting edge of craft spirits.
"They drink heartily, have good taste, and are open to new ideas," Vogelman said. "The craft beer industry in Colorado has really paved the way for spirits, showing just how open the market is for new and creative diversity."
Colorado's High-Country libations make their way into many mountain bar menus, too, and locally sourced restaurants like Sweet Basil and Root and Flower in Vail carry many of the state's craft creations.
Speak to Clauss, Tulk or Vogelman in person, or the three couples who started Marble Distillery, the head distiller of Woody Creek Distillers and the founders of Bonfire Brewing, and all of them will tell you it's not just about business for them, it's a passion they are excited to share, along with their stories and their tasty, elevated libations.
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