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Bonfire salutes the liftie

Andy and Amanda Jessen with Eagle-based Bonfire Brewing display a can of their Fixed Grip Saison, which just hit shelves last month. The beer pays homage to lifties in its name and style of brewing.
John LaConte | jlaconte@vaildaily.com |

VAIL — Once upon a time, seasonal workers in Europe received beer as part of their compensation. The saison style of brew enjoyed by farm hands was low in alcohol, high in carbonation, meant to be refreshing and had a little taste of the barn from which it came.

In a salute to our seasonal workers here in Eagle County and the Vail Valley, Bonfire Brewing’s Fixed Grip Saison hit shelves last month, using the same old style of brewing once employed by those Belgian farmers. The throwback style of brewing needed a name to go with it which would flash back to early times in our area, and when former liftie Andy Jessen came up with the fixed grip concept, he knew he had a winning combination.

“When we thought of the fixed grip name, it was at Thanksgiving,” said Jessen, co-owner of Eagle-based Bonfire Brewing. “And it just really resonated with everyone around the table, because of our history of starting in the mountains and creating the business so we could remain in the mountains. Our first jobs in the industry were working as lifties and ski techs — that’s kind of how everybody gets their start here. It’s a nod to that.”



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INDUSTRY REWARDS CREATIVITY

Fixed grip chairlifts, as opposed to detachable chairlifts, maintain their grip on the lift cable throughout their loop. They’re becoming less common these days, especially at Vail as the high-speed quad and six-seaters have become the standard. It’s a good name for a saison as that style of beer has also become less common throughout time, despite a recent uptick due to the rise in popularity of craft beer in general. In an industry that prizes creativity in both its products and marketing, Jessen says Bonfire Brewing has created a drink that embodies the most sought after elements of a good craft brew in his Fixed Grip Saison.

“Craft beer is just an amazing phenomenon to be a part of right now,” Jessen said. “I think what’s really fun is when you hit on something that’s both authentic from a marketing perspective, and from the style and design of the beer, they fit well together and everything kind of coincides, those are the real winners.”



VINTAGE SKI TOWN FEEL

The can captures the feel of the classic ski town poster print, with vintage elements woven into recognizable local features. It depicts the classic powder couple — a woman riding a fixed grip chairlift and a man shredding snow below her. Their skis are long, their smiles huge. In the background is the Mount of the Holy Cross, Eagle Country’s lone 14er. Called the “Dominatrix of Design” at Bonfire, Andy Jessen’s wife Amanda Jessen created the artwork in honor of her grandparents, early investors in Vail and lifetime pass holders.

“They skied a lot in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s in Vail,” she said. “Skiing was just a huge part of their lives.”

The male character, modeled after Amanda Jessen’s grandfather Robert Bosworth, is seen wearing a bow tie.

“He always wore a bow tie and a crisp white shirt when he was skiing,” Amanda said of her grandfather. “He just felt that skiing was a classy affair and deserved to be dressed up for.”

Andy Jessen also pulled from his memories in the creation of the Fixed Grip Saison. Atop the can, a text wrap reads, “From powder and face masks to sunshine and short sleeves, bump that chair.”

That term, “bump that chair,” is one Jessen learned through years of experience.

“I paid my way through college working as a liftie at Killington in Vermont,” he said.

Like brewing craft beer, working a fixed grip lift is “an art form,” Jessen said.

“With the fixed grips, they’re coming in hot, they’re not slowing down at all, so the liftie physically has to grab the chair and time it just right with the people getting on,” he said. “When you do it right, it’s almost more comfortable than a detachable.”

‘PART OF THIS CULTURE’

The Fixed Grip Saison was created not just with lifties in mind, but locals in general.

“We’re always trying to brew things that we think locals will enjoy and embrace,” Jessen said. “Something that we want to drink, something that would work for us if we were on the hill, not too much alcohol, sessionable, nice on a warm day but still flavorful.”

With no designs on distributing outside of Colorado anytime soon, Jessen said Bonfire’s goal is to be as Colorado focused as they can for now, specifically in their home here in Eagle County. Currently you can find it at dozens of places throughout the valley, including West Vail Liquor Mart, Minturn Liquors, Avon Liquor, Edwards Liquors and Eagle Ranch Wine & Spirits, to name a few.

“We’re Colorado-only beer,” Jessen said. “Our goal is to be as narrow and deep as we can in Colorado so we can remain a part of this culture.”


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