Gore Range Brewery hits its stride with new brewer Jeff Atencio, of 3 Freaks | VailDaily.com

Gore Range Brewery hits its stride with new brewer Jeff Atencio, of 3 Freaks

EDWARDS — Last June, Gore Range Brewery chef-owner Pascal Coudouy confided in friend and longtime patron Richard Carnes that he was in need of a new brewer. Carnes came through, introducing Coudouy to Jeff Atencio, a former valley resident and owner of 3 Freaks Brewery in Highlands Ranch.

Coudouy and Atencio worked out a deal, and Atencio began brewing in Edwards the following month. Now once a week, Atencio makes the two-hour drive from his home on the Front Range to Edwards to brew beer.

"I was a part of the valley for years," Atencio said. "I worked for Vail Fire from 1987 to 2000. I'm very familiar with the valley, and any opportunity to get back in here, I'll jump at it. That was a catalyst to spend some time up here."

The transition from his five-barrel brew system to the larger brewhouse at Gore Range, with all of its pumps and pipes and valves, wasn't easy, and it took a few weeks of playing around, and lots of trial and error, for Atencio to figure out how all of the brewing equipment worked in concert.

"What we found was a lot of things that were intimate and familiar with the previous brewer," Atencio said. "We had to change some of the equipment. We had to modify it to a small degree so that we felt comfortable with it. It didn't take that long, once we got rolling. Now I feel like we're on track."

Common ground

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Unlike the handful of other breweries in Eagle County, Gore Range doesn't distribute its beer, electing instead to produce only enough for the restaurant to compliment Coudouy's menu.

"This is not a brewery that happens to serve food; it's a restaurant that happens to make their own beer," Carnes said. "(Coudouy) doesn't brew the beer for outside sales; he brews it for his customers and his customers only because he's a French chef — he had his own restaurant in New York City for a long time, he worked at the Hyatt for 12 years, he had a TV show. You have a French master chef that owns and runs a brewery."

For that reason, one of the first conversations between the chef and the brewer revolved around choosing beer profiles that were versatile enough to pair with multiple dishes.

"I told him because we are a restaurant brewery, we have to be careful not to be too exotic on the flavor of the beer," Coudouy said. "Stick with the classical type of beer. That's how we work.

"There is always a pairing with the food. If you do a coconut beer or something a little bit more crazy flavor, it's going to be difficult to find a pairing with the food."

The two eventually agreed upon four year-round styles — two lagers, a red and a pale ale — supported by an IPA of the moment and rotating seasonal selections. One of those main-rail brews is the Great Sex Honey Lager, a reinterpretation of a popular ale that had been on hiatus for a few years.

"We changed that from an ale to a lager," Atencio said of the beer, which has been the brewery's No. 1 seller since it was reintroduced in December. "I think that particular beer's popularity comes from it being smooth, easy going, just enough alcohol to get into a little bit of trouble. That goes down smooth with just about any dish."

Other mainstays are the citrus-hopped Vail Tail Pale Ale, the French-inspired, medium-bodied Fonce Rouge Red Ale and the Beaver Logger, which Atencio said is "a fantastic beer for somebody who is just getting into the craft beer experience."

"Then we do an IPA," Coudouy said. "We always have an IPA, but a different style of IPA. Then we're going to do a saison, a stout, a porter — we try to have a little bit of every beer category."

Constant evolution

Whether it's darker styles for winter, such as malty stouts and porters, a new orange-peel hefeweizen for sipping on the patio in summer or the Oktoberfest-style beer Atencio will begin brewing at the end of July, the flavors at Gore Range Brewery are constantly evolving.

The brewer compared his job to that of a chef introducing new dishes, with excitement coming from each new pint he's able to coax from the brewhouse and the anticipation of introducing those beers to the public.

"Given the opportunity to learn this system, to experience a couple of failures, to learn from the mistakes that we seem to make on occasion, has brought us to a point that I feel very confident with the beers we're producing," Atencio said.

"This is a brewpub and it's a brewpub that has a strong following, and people that know what they like, and once they find that groove, then it's hopefully something people who are passing through can come and experience for themselves and appreciate."

On tap

Beers rotate seasonally at Gore Range Brewery, but there are four staples that are always on tap, plus the IPA of the moment.

• Great Sex Honey Lager (6.7 percent ABV, 35 IBUs) — Formerly brewed as an ale, this long-ago favorite returned to the Gore Range Brewery lineup in 2014 in its new form as a lager. It has a light floral and citrus aroma, with a hint of honey sweetness on the palate, highlighted by Cascade and experimental Citrus Grapefruit hops.

• Beaver Logger (5.4 percent ABV, 18 IBUs) — A Gore Range Brewery regular for the past 18 years, this light-bodied American lager has a crisp citrus flavor with a grassy finish from Liberty and CK Saaz hops.

• Vail Tail Pale Ale (5.6 percent ABV, 78 IBUs) — A summer break from the brewery’s Powder Day Pale Ale, the floral and citrus hop character complements the light maltiness with a jolt of hops.

• F once Rouge Red Ale (5.1 percent ABV, 26 IBUs) — A French-inspired, medium-bodied beer with a deep red hue, with malty and caramel characteristics and a heavy hint of spices from fresh Chinook hops.

Find beer lists, menus and more at http://www.gorerangebrewery.com.