Looking for libations

Katie Coakley
Special to the Daily
Sample from the shelves of Woody Creek Distillers in Basalt.
Katie Coakley | Special to the Daily |

The end of the ski season is a time of rejuvenation, renewal and escape. Locals start swapping out winter gear for summer toys, making plans to get out of town for a bit and recharge before the summer season starts with all of its non-stop action born of its inherently fleeting nature.

Outdoor enthusiasts head to the desert, looking for the warm temperatures and dry trails for the perfect punishment as an antidote to the weekly grind. Cultural types head to the city for the opening of a new art exhibit or a musical or theatrical performance, eager for a cerebral experience. Those with a penchant for fine cuisine may take a tour of the hottest new restaurants, eager to sample the tastes from a new toque.

Then there are the imbibers — those who are driven by spirits, craft beer or wine. Believing that one of the best ways to experience a destination is through its local libations, these travelers please their palates with visits to tasting rooms at vineyards, distilleries and breweries.

Craft beer has been growing at a remarkable rate during the past five years. According to the Brewers Association, the number of operating breweries in the U.S. in 2014 grew 19 percent, totaling 3,464 breweries, with 3,418 considered to be craft breweries (microbreweries, brewpubs and regional craft breweries). At the same time, though on a smaller scale, craft distilleries are also seeing a huge boom. From 2008 through 2012, the number of craft distilleries in the U.S. more than doubled to 471, according to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

This growth has also created a new focus when people travel: the emphasis on local. From asking for local beer when in restaurants to participating in a brewery tour or visiting a local distillery, sampling local suds and spirits is becoming a reason — not an afterthought — for choosing a destination.

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This spring, here are three suggestions for weekend trips for the tippler: locations that feature plenty of beer, wine and/or spirits to satisfy even the pickiest palate. Cheers!

Urban: Fort Collins

Fort Collins is known for several things: as the home of Colorado State University, having more restaurants per capita than any other city in Colorado and its booming craft beer scene. It’s one of the vertices of the “Denver Beer Triangle” (Boulder and Denver are the other two) and is home to major players such as New Belgium and Odell.

Taking a trip to Fort Collins for suds sampling is one that will require some planning. Currently there are 13 breweries in Fort Collins; if you expand the search to surrounding towns such as Loveland, Greeley, Berthoud and Windsor, the number jumps to more than 20. While many of the breweries are quite close to each other, others will require a drive, which means making a tactical plan and possibly enlisting the help of a designated driver.

“With the craft beer industry growing every day, it is so fun to see what brewers are coming up with and tasting how different each brewery can be,” said Jessica Greene, manager of the Gore Range Brewery in Edwards. “We are lucky enough to live in a state that is leading this industry and are able to go to places like Fort Collins easily for the weekend.”

Greene, who has visited towns like Boulder specifically to visit craft breweries, said that Fort Collins is her next destination because of the mix of the well-established breweries as well as award-winning newcomers. Plus, there’s the overall appeal of the town itself.

“The town has a lot to offer and still has that small town feel of being at your own hometown bar,” she said. “Hotels aren’t outrageously expensive and there is a great new restaurant scene that is affordable as well.”

Head to Old Town and you can visit four different breweries without walking more than a few blocks. For informative tours and tastings, New Belgium and Odell Brewing are happy to oblige. Those who are into more experimental brews will enjoy visiting Horse & Dragon and Black Bottle Brewing. In short — there’s bound to be something for everyone.

For an opportunity to sample from 15 breweries from Fort Collins and nearby Loveland, make plans to attend the Fort Love Brewers Jamboree on Saturday, in Legacy Park in Fort Collins. Tickets are available for $80 for VIP admission from 1 to 6 p.m. or $50 for general admission from 2 to 6 p.m. In addition to the beers being poured such as the Bourbon Barrel Aged Tripel from Black Bottle Brewery or the HopfenPils No. 3 from Zwei Bruder Brewing, there will also be food tents offering up tacos, snacks and sliders for sustenance.

Building upon the craft brewing heritage in Fort Collins, the craft distilling scene is also heating up in this college town. Feisty Spirits was the first craft distiller in Fort Collins and focuses on small batch American whiskeys as well as some interesting distilled beers. CopperMuse opened in 2014 and makes vodka and rum, with plans for gin and whiskey in the works.

Upscale: Roaring Fork Valley

For a close-to-home trip, look no farther than the Roaring Fork Valley. While Aspen may get the spotlight, communities such as Basalt and Carbondale are becoming destinations in their own right.

Start your tour in Glenwood Springs. While the Glenwood Canyon Brewing Company is the grand dame of the brewing scene here, newcomer Troy Casey recently opened up Casey Brewing and Blending, focusing on barrel-aged brews such as Belgian-style sours and Saisons. The brewery is open on the first Saturday of each month, so plan accordingly; bottles are also available at select liquor stores.

From there, head farther into the valley and stop in Carbondale to sample from the Roaring Fork Beer Company and Carbondale Beer Works. The RFBC features a rotating tap with seasonal options in addition to their canned tall boys; Carbondale Beer Works has several house-made beers in addition to rotating guest taps. Grab a bite from their full menu and then move on to the next stop — spirits.

In 2012, Woody Creek Distillers started making vodka by hand: hand-picked, hand-crafted and hand-bottled from ingredients that are (you guessed it) hand-selected. Woody Creek Distillers has total control over every element of their vodka production from farm to bottle. Located in Basalt, the Woody Creek Distillery offers up tasty cocktails made from its products (they’re making rye whiskey as well as eau-de-vie in addition to vodka) as well as by-appointment tours of the gleaming copper kettles where these award-winning spirits are made.

Stella and Dennis Goodspeed, who live in Edwards, made a special trip to Basalt with two friends to take the tour and learn more about Woody Creek Vodka. They first sampled the spirit after reading about the distillery in the newspaper and later bought a bottle at Costco.

“We came over a year ago, but they were closed (because of a wedding), so we’ve been wanting to come back over here because we enjoy sampling the craft spirits,” Dennis said. “It’s intriguing because they’re growing the potatoes here and getting the grains locally, so we were kind of like, let’s go do it.”

To top off the tasting tour, head into Aspen and visit the Aspen Brewing Company. The tap room is centrally located on Hopkins Avenue in downtown Aspen; you can make a reservation to tour the brewing facility, which is located near the airport, during the summer.

Once in Aspen, there are plenty of options if you want to continue imbibing: Justice Snow’s mixes up handcrafted cocktails with plenty of historic hipster vibe, HOPS Culture has a novel-worthy list of 200 craft beers and ciders from around the world (30 of them available on tap) and the Limelight Hotel hosts a monthly “paint-n-beer” experience in conjunction with The Red Brick Center for the Arts.

Up-and-Coming: Grand Valley

Known as Colorado’s wine country, the Grand Valley has a penchant for purple — grapes, that is. The area is home to more than 20 wineries and vineyards around Grand Junction and Palisade, making it easy to sip and sample your way through the best of Colorado’s merlot, Cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and other varietals. Go for a tasting or sign up for a tour to learn more about this “sunlight held together with water,” as Galileo opined.

However, the Grand Valley is serving up more than just wine for the traveling tippler. There are five craft breweries spread around Grand Junction, Palisade and Fruita (six, if you count Kannah Creek Brewing Company’s Edgewater operation) to sample, featuring tasty brews such as Kannah Creek’s Standing Wave Pale Ale and Palisade Brewing Company’s Dirty Hippy.

For those with a more “spiritual” bent, Peach Street Distillers is your destination. The oldest locally-owned distillery in Colorado, Peach Street Distillers makes a wide range of libations including peach brandy, gin, vodka and bourbon. Try them straight up at the tasting room or mixed in a cocktail. To see the magic behind the bar, there are options for tours on the weekends.

Need an excuse to visit? Head over for Palisade Brews & Cruise Festival for samples of local beers, wines and food plus live entertainment. Or head over to the Grand Valley Beer Festival on Friday from 4 to 9 p.m.

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