Powder Keg: Vail Brewing Co. brings handcrafted suds to Eagle-Vail | SummitDaily.com

Powder Keg: Vail Brewing Co. brings handcrafted suds to Eagle-Vail

Caramie Schnell
cschnell@vaildaily.com

Colorado is known for sunshine and suds, and Eagle County continues to contribute to that reputation. Vail Brewing Co. offers locals and visitors alike a new sunny spot — once May's drizzly weather subsides — to sip beer this summer. While a half dozen other breweries call the Vail Valley home, it's the only brewery bearing the "Vail" moniker, though it's actually located in Eagle-Vail's industrial area. The brewery is in the former Route 6 Cafe building, which is also home to Native Roots.

Colorado microbreweries run the gamut from dive to posh; Vail Brewing Co. lands in the classy-with-a-rustic touch category. Two-century-old Pennsylvania barn posts frame the ever-changing chalkboard beer menu. The tap handles are a testament to mountain life. There's an antique crampon from the 10th Mountain Division, as well as the top of a fly-fishing rod, a crank for an old malt mill, the end of a garden hoe, an ice pick and more; most of the items came from antique stores, said Scott Harrison, one of the assistant brewers and co-owners. "For being in an industrial park, people are surprised at the detail and body of work in the interior; they're not expecting that," said Scott, who co-owns the brewery with three partners: his brother, Brian Harrison, who helps run the business side of the brewery; head brewer Garrett Scahill; and Derek Whiting, who lives on the East Coast.

It's all about that beer

Some new breweries open with a stable of suds available daily and rotate in a few specials. Not Vail Brewing Co.

"The concept is to constantly develop and create new beers, things that I really enjoy," Scahill said. "It'd be really nice if every time you came you could try something new."

Scahill has lived in the valley for around 13 years; he's been homebrewing for 17 years. Like many DIY brewers, he started using a 5-gallon bucket. He's drastically upgraded his equipment since those days. Last week, Scahill was busy brewing a Belgian pale ale, a rye amber and a chocolate oatmeal stout on the brewery's shiny, steam-powered 10-barrel brewing system.

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The brewery opened April 3 with six beers on tap. Last week there were 10 options, including the Castaway Kolsch with bright, clean flavors and a hint of fruit courtesy of an infusion of passion fruit tea from Vail Mountain Coffee & Tea. It's the kind of beer you could drink all night (at 4.4 percent ABV, it was the lowest alcohol beer on tap when we visited) or even all summer long without losing your taste for it.

The Porch Time Lime Wheat, clocking in at 5.2 percent ABV, is another light-and-bright summery option, rife with citrus flavors thanks to 10 pounds of limes zested into the brew.

"We were going for an American-style wheat beer that's really easy to drink," Scott said.

That aforementioned chocolate oatmeal stout, which Scahill infused with roasted cocoa nibs from Ghana for five days post fermentation, went on tap Monday.

"The goal for right now is to make the best beer we can, really," Scahill said. "We'll sell out of (the brewery) and get into a few restaurants. We want slow growth and to perfect the beer. We want to stay small and stay local."

Along with the requisite suds, the brewery serves Denver-made kombucha (they're talking to a local source as well) and Scahill brews his own real-deal sarsaparilla root beer, sans artificial ingredients.

While eventually there might be a staple group of go-to beers at Vail Brewing Co., for now, experimentation is the goal. They do plenty of that using Scahill's old pilot brewing system. He is also starting to do barrel-aged beers and plans to add some sour brews down the road.

That let's-try-something-new spirit also means that when something is out, you might be out of luck for a while, so drink up if you really dig it. Case in point is a batch of the Multi-Pitch IPA Scahill infused with coffee beans from Vail Mountain Coffee earlier this month.

"We sold out in three days," Scott said. "People loved it."

'A great corner for music'

The brewery hosts live music most Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

Astronaut Mountain, a local three-member band comprised of bass player Niek Velvis, drummer Shawn McKeown and guitarist Justin Ernest, performed at the brewery Saturday night.

"I've been there a couple times," Velvis said. "I thought it was great. There's some really fantastic beer. I think that it's just a new spot for the Vail locals, and they got the fireplace there and a great beer selection, and they have a great corner for music."

The brewery will have live music every night May 28-31, during the brewery's Grand Opening celebration, culminating with the Jason Daniels Band, an American roots music band from Mississippi.

Next month, Scott plans to install a retractable awning that will cover the patio and have bands set up on the patio and play into the brewery. Nice dogs are welcome (on the patio only) as long as they're leashed. The Colorado Cheesesteak Co. food truck stops at the brewery Thursday evenings. The owners encourage responsible drinking, thus the big bike rack out front that even has slots to accommodate fat tires. Scott sees the brewery as a cell phone-free environment.

"We employ longtime locals, ski instructors, architects, etc. and hire people who really care about handcrafted ales and engage our guests so naturally they aren't worried anymore about someone who isn't here," Scott said.

All the better to focus on the task at hand: sunshine and suds.

If you go

What: Vail Brewing Co.

When: Sunday to Wednesday from noon to 10 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday from noon to close. The brewery hosts bands most Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.

Cost: Tasters are $2.25; a flight of six beer tasters is $10.50; 32-ounce growlers are $9.50; 64-ounce growlers range from $12.50 to $15.75.

More information: Call (970) 470-4351, visit http://www.vailbrewingco.com or visit them on Facebook, which is the best place to find the live music schedule, as well as information about new beer releases.

Live music lineup

Thursday: Riverfront Ramblers, local bluegrass band

Friday: The People, a Denver rock/funk band

Grand opening weekend music lineup:

Thursday, May 28: Hardscrabble, local bluegrass band

Friday, May 29: Blue Cats, a local blues band

Saturday, May 30: Brothers Gow, a rock/funk/reggae/jam band from Ocean Beach, California.

Sunday, May 31: Jason Daniels Band, American roots music band from Mississippi