On beers, bars and big adventures: From Iowa to Breckenridge and Summit County
New Belgium Fat Tire
Five years ago, during that fateful trip to the Teva Games, my obsession with beer was still in its infancy, and I had never heard of New Belgium Brewing Co. Now I look forward to the seasons changing so I can snap up their various brews and am a religious follower of the Lips of Faith series. But before all of those beers crept into existence, there was Fat Tire.
This hoppy amber ale starts off slightly sweet with a roasted malt finish and is absolutely glorious with cheese. If it’s been a while since you’ve had a Fat Tire, grab a six-pack and assemble a cheese plate with a lot of variety. Lean heavily toward the softer, goat-milk cheeses, include a few harder selections, such as Parmesan or sharp cheddar, and throw in a few stinky ones to round it out. The beer’s effervescence sweeps the fat off your tongue, and you’ll be amazed at its versatility and ability to pair with such a wide range of cheeses.
Alternately munch on some banana or bell peppers, and notice how the touch of spice brings out the hops in the beer. I find myself revisiting Fat Tire at regular intervals, not only because it’s a great beer but because each time I try it, I discover a bit of something new or forgotten and it always leaves me standing in a low cloud at Rancho, staring into a fire.
It all started with a beer, a frosty PBR poured from a tap standing guard over a long, heavy wooden bar. The bar ran almost the entire length of this ramshackle drinking establishment, a low-ceiling, cinder-block trailer that appeared to have been dumped as an afterthought in some vacant space behind two sports bars on the main drag of my hometown, Davenport, Iowa.
A friend and I had ventured out to one of these sports bars on an early-summer evening, but the crowd was thick and the music was too loud, so we sought a quiet reprieve at this little hole situated a few steps away. We sat down in a pair of well-worn bar stools and asked the bartender what he recommended. We were the only patrons in the bar, and he was clicking away on a laptop, making a play list of music for the evening. A couple of $1.50 beers later, I was scanning through his music collection, rambling on about where it crossed paths with my own.
The bar was Bleyart’s, and the bartender was Chris. It wasn’t long before my friend and I were spending most Thursdays there, drinking beer and watching Cubs games. Chris was enthusiastically telling us about his pending trip to Vail for something called the Teva Mountain Games, an outdoor sports and music festival. He said he’d been going for the past few years and was excited to return.
Fast forward to a year later, and Chris was again extolling the virtues of Vail and the Teva Games. By that point, my beers consumed at Bleyart’s numbered in the hundreds and Chris and I had become friends. He was recruiting a group to head out to Vail to share driving duties and the cost of gas. I’m not sure why, but something stirred inside of me. I thought of family vacations to Colorado when I was growing up, always in the winter to ski. I had never seen the mountains in the summer. I had to go on this trip.
I scraped together gas money and portioned out a few treasured vacation days at work. We piled our gear and ourselves into Chris’ girlfriend’s Jeep and started the 14-hour trek to Vail. We rented kayaks in Denver and rolled through the mountains, landing on the naked strip of land on the Colorado River that was Rancho del Rio. We bought some firewood at one of the handful of shacks plastered to the hillside and finally succeeded in building a fire at the end of the peninsula as we were coated in a steady drizzle. I popped the top off my very first Fat Tire and stared into the meager flames — the adventure had begun.
The week was a blur of new places and experiences, five days of kayking, rafting, camping, staying up late, snow in June and even catching sight of a bear trundling across a bridge in Minturn. It blew my mind how much I loved this place, and upon returning home, I clicked on my computer and started the job hunt. I spent days spamming various places in the valley for a job and nights at Bleyart’s drinking $1.50 beers and rehashing the trip with Chris. I was a creature consumed, and the culmination of my efforts was a job offer on the copy desk at the Vail Daily.
As I was packing up to head out, my parents gave me a card. Inside it was a poem I had written years before about snow and skiing that was titled “Colorado” and concluded with a single word: someday. After five years of living in the mountains, including a move to Summit County in March, I still occasionally think about that poem, a preordained destiny written by my own little hand. And I think about that first beer I drank at Bleyart’s, the 12-ounce catalyst for my future.
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