Posts Tagged ‘Riff Raff Brewing’

The good folks at Pagosa Brewing have stepped up their game.

The good folks at Pagosa Brewing have stepped up their game.

We Sturms made our yearly pilgrimage to Pagosa Springs for what we like to call “decomposition time,” where all of your cares and troubles are melted away in the sulfurous waters and wonderful craft brews in a mountain town that screams of the freedom to relax and enjoy the finer things in life.

Last year brought the arrival of Riff-Raff Brewing to the scene alongside eight-year stalwart Pagosa Brewing, and this year we have the addition of Wolfe Brewery as well. It has been interesting to note our favorite brews from year to year as breweries have adapted to the competition and found or rediscovered what makes them unique. Last year we were surprised by the quality of Riff-Raff’s brews, which we enjoyed a bit more than Pagosa’s offerings.

They make just a few beers at Pagosa.

They make just a few beers at Pagosa.

This time around, Pagosa Brewing had made somewhat of a return to dominance, in my opinion. The atmosphere, the beers, the beer garden, and the overall vibe of the place made me fall in love all over again. Mrs. Solo and I both adore the green chile beer and consumed most of the last keg over the course of the week we were there. I was also quite impressed with the hop build on their Powder Day IPA, and really enjoyed the Kayaker Class V Double Cream Ale as well as their Eagle ESB. This was definitely the consensus best overall lineup of beers we tried over the course of the week.

We also had a real treat on April Fool’s Day where the scheduler for the brewery put all of the brewing staff on as servers for the day and so we were served by the head brewer, which was a real treat. Expansion at Pagosa is in the works, as there are plans to take over the building next door and increase production substantially in the next year or so, which is exciting news indeed. The beer garden now has a couple of neat fire pits where we warmed our frozen hands over during a game or two of corn hole. This would be a wonderful place to hang out during the summer and enjoy a pint outdoors under the Ponderosa canopy.

Franz Solo was all smiles at Riff-Raff.

Franz Solo was all smiles at Riff-Raff.

On to Riff-Raff! The thing I love most about this brewery is the vibe. The Big Lebowski is a major theme on the menu and with the place overall, from the music to the menu items to the laid-back staff and customers. I give the nod to their oatmeal stout as my favorite stout in Pagosa and the Hopgoblin IPA is also damn good. I was hoping beyond hope to snag a pint of the World Beer Cup bronze medal-winning Weapon of Self Destruction Imperial Stout that I had enjoyed so much last January, but alas, it was not meant to be. The smoked wings were just as amazing as we remembered from last time through, as was everything else on the food menu.

I felt, however, that the lineup of beers other than the two I mentioned already (and El Duende the green chile beer) had slipped just a tad in overall quality, although that could just be my yearning for the superbly strong flavors of New Mexican beers that I have grown accustomed to. Hopefully we can make it back up to enjoy the winter lineup next year, which was just ridiculously good.

The newest brewery in Pagosa is worth checking out.

The newest brewery in Pagosa is worth checking out.

We went to the new Wolfe Brewing and sampled a flight on our last day. These are definitely more East Coast and English-style beers than the others we had consumed in Pagosa. The place is quite large, a rustic barn in style with a large outdoor beer garden, many large screens for your favorite sporting events, and a few hunting trophies adorning the walls as well. We met and spoke with the owner of the brewery, who told us that he decided to open the joint upon becoming bored with retirement as there were only so many hunting trips and the like an individual could go on before growing tired of the exercise.

He told us the head brewer was a part of Flying Dog back in the day (prior to its move east) and is working on training his son and others to brew as well. Overall, I was reminded of the English-style beers from Second Street as we made our way through the samples and I have high hopes for what is to come from Wolfe. We were disappointed that the stout was not on tap when we were there, but we did find a gem of a Scottish ale, which we all enjoyed full pints of while there.

So that was one marvelous vacation, and many a good pint were enjoyed. Go forth and relax in the springs and enjoy pints at each of these splendid breweries that grace the Shangri La that is Pagosa Springs!

Prost!

— Franz Solo

The 16th annual San Juan Brewfest took place on Saturday, August 23, in beautiful downtown Durango. Benefiting the United Way of SW Colorado, the brewfest had a great turnout, despite the rain that threatened to dampen the mood. Held at Buckley Park near the northern tip of Main Street, there couldn’t be an easier event to find, or find your way home from.

There was quite the crowd at the San Juan Brewfest.

There was quite the crowd at the San Juan Brewfest.

There were over 50 breweries, with 35 from Colorado, six from New Mexico, and nine were from breweries ranging from the east coast to the west coast, including a few macrobreweries. Macros always reminded me of the old guy at the college parties. “Dude are you like, a professor or something?” But I kid the big guys. With all that the San Juan Brewfest had to offer, you could sample a beer poured by a familiar face from the likes of Turtle Mountain or Taos Mesa, you could get to know your northern neighbors’ beers a bit better, or you could try a few swallows from far away lands like Boston, Juneau, or Petaluma. (A full list of breweries is below.)

As far as brewfesters go, everyone was very friendly and laid back in that Colorado kinda way. On occasion, there were those folks who were a bit over-excited to talk about their interests, like trail-riding or ciders. Where did that cider guy come from? But there’s nothing wrong with that. Passion is what fuels the craft beer industry, am I right? So keep on keepin’ on, cider guy!

Fans dance to the Hill Stompers.

Fans dance to the Hill Stompers, a band from Los Alamos.

Everyone enjoyed themselves, sampling, noshing on German sausages straight from the grill, and dancing wildly inappropriately (in front of children) to the rockin’ local bands. One of those local bands happened to be local to New Mexico. Have you guys heard the Hill Stompers from Los Alamos? Well do it, already! They’re like a circus marching band fueled by candy corn and cerveza.

Getting to the beer, there were over a hundred beers to try at the brewfest, including some breweries bringing more than the promised two. It was impossible to try them all, or maybe we didn’t try hard enough. With the free taster glass and a handy notepad, we set out to pulverize our palates. And boy did we! My Untappd App sure got a workout the next day. As for my personal favorites, Great Divide had a fantastic dark, roasted, powerful warrior of a beer called the Claymore Scotch Ale (7.7% ABV) that just knocked my hop-socks off. I also really enjoyed Upslope Brewing Co.’s Belgian Style Pale Ale (7.5% ABV), the Face Down Brown by Telluride Brewing Co. (5.7% ABV), and of course the Kriek from Santa Fe Brewing was way up there on my list.

Marble's tent was a popular spot for beer lovers.

Marble’s tent was a popular spot for beer lovers.

There was also a beer that I won’t name that I really liked but couldn’t put my finger on why. Then it dawned on me as I finished that last swig; it REALLY reminded me of something racked from one of La Cumbre’s tanks. Was it one of Elevated IPAs long-lost sisters? I couldn’t tell! I could, however, go on and on about the beers, but there were so many different styles. Most breweries brought an IPA and a pale ale, others brought reds, Belgians, and there were a handful of saisons and sours. But why not just grab my Untappd name and take a look at my journey? LukeDukeSF. Now, I’ll try not to say too much more about this, but after sampling so many IPAs, I can definitely say I prefer New Mexico IPAs to Colorado IPAs. Nuff said.

The competition that day was as hot as the sun, when it did decide to come out. For the Judge’s Choice, Left Hand Brewing Company won third place for their Milk Stout Nitro. Our very own Marble Brewery won second place with their already-award-winning Pilsner. “505! 505!” I chanted silently in my head as I heard the news. Best beer of the fest went to Elevation Beer Company’s Avis IV. And finally, winning People’s Choice for best beer was the Brown Bear Ale from Aspen Brewing Co.

With great weather, great beers, and great company, it was a brewfest to remember, or try REALLY hard to remember. Thanks, Durango, for a great time. See you next year!

Cheers,

Luke!

Everyone was left smiling at the end of the brewfest.

Everyone was left smiling at the end of the brewfest.

2014 San Juan Brewfest Breweries

AC Golden (Golden, CO), Alaskan Brewing (Juneau), Aspen Brewing (CO), Avalanche Brewing (Silverton, CO), Blue Moon Brewing (Golden, CO), Boston Beer, Bottom Shelf Brewery (Bayfield, CO), Boulder Beer (CO), Breckenridge Brewery (CO), Brew Pub and Kitchen (Durango), Bristol Brewing (Colorado Springs), Carver Brewing (Durango), Durango Brewing, Elevation Beer (Poncha Springs, CO), Eske’s Brew Pub & Eatery (Taos), Fort Collins Brewery (CO), Great Divide Brewery (Denver), Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing (Chippewa Falls, WI), Kannah Creek Brewing (Grand Junction, CO), Lagunitas Brewing (Petaluma, CA), Left Hand Brewing (Longmont, CO), Lumberyard Brewing (Flagstaff, AZ), Marble Brewery, Moab Brewery (UT), Mr. Grumpy Pants Brewing (Ouray, CO), New Belguim Brewing (Fort Collins, CO), Oak Creek Brewing (Sedona, AZ), Odell Brewing (Fort Collins, CO), Oskar Blues Brewery (Longmont, CO), Ouray Brewery (CO), Pagosa Brewing and Grill (Pagosa Springs, CO), Palisade Brewing (Palisade, CO), Riff Raff Brewing (Pagosa Springs, CO), Roaring Fork Beer (Carbondale, CO), Rocky Mountain Brewery (Colorado Springs, CO), San Luis Valley Brewing (Alamosa, CO), Santa Fe Brewing, Shock Top Brewing (St. Louis), Sierra Nevada Brewing (Chico, CA), Ska Brewing (Durango), Steamworks Brewing (Durango), Strange Craft Beer (Denver), Taos Mesa Brewing, Telluride Brewing (CO), Three Barrel Brewing (Del Norte, CO), Three Rivers Brewery, Turtle Mountain Brewing, Two Rascals Brewing (Montrose, CO), Upslope Brewing (Boulder, CO), Wolfe Brewing (Pagosa Springs, CO)

When one thinks of Pagosa Springs, one thinks of a ski resort-based mountain town and not necessarily good beers. In the two trips that I’ve made to this wonderful place for a few days of soaking in the natural hot springs, I’ve had the pleasure of imbibing in some excellent micro brews as well. Pagosa Brewing Co. has been around for seven years now and is home to several award-winning ales, such as Poor Richards and Kayaker Cream ale.

A flight of pure goodness from Pagosa Brewing Co.

A flight of pure goodness from Pagosa Brewing Co.

We started with a flight and worked our way through a galaxy of different flavors and offerings. Of particular note from our tasting was the general consistency of good balance and flavor profiles from all of the different beers. In a word, we were impressed with how true each beer was to its particular genre and profile. Some of our favorites from the group included Kayaker Cream, which I liked for how sessionable and refreshing it was, while Chile Verde Cerveza was just as good as I had remembered from our previous trip. It is a truly great green chile beer with just enough roasted green aroma and spice for my palate without some of the shortcomings of other attempts at similar chile beers. This one was probably my favorite because of the relative rarity of actually decent chile beers that hold their own in terms of balance and good flavor.

Nipple Mountain Pip on the left and Poor Richard's on the right.

Nipple Mountain NIP on the left and Poor Richard’s on the right.

Poor Richards is something different and quite special. It has layers of flavor from a resurrected recipe including corn and molasses, which give it a subtle sweetness and hearty finish not often found in a brown/amber hybrid. Our favorite from the previous trip, Soaker’s Stout, did not disappoint. It is a good, lighter stout with an excellent, smooth finish. I did want a little more bite and a stronger mouthfeel, but overall was quite happy with the offering. Pagosa Brewing has a nice outdoor space in addition to the relatively small and cozy bar and eating area. I would imagine it would be very pleasant on a summer or autumn eve under the Ponderosas and a plethora of stars.

The newcomer to the Springs is Riff Raff Brewing, which has been around for about half a year. Located in “downtown” Pagosa across from the springs resort, Riff Raff inhabits a wonderful building (built circa 1896) that is still full of charm. We started with a sampler of everything on the menu (even though I’d already made my choice for a pint; any imperial stout with a name like ‘Weapon of Self Destruction’ is surely going to get my attention!) and were in for a real treat.

The entrance to Riff Raff Brewing, which opened in 2013.

The entrance to Riff Raff Brewing, which opened in 2013.

Against all odds we had found a second really good chile beer in El Duende, a real gem in the nuanced flavors of Crazy Caribou, and two really great stouts. Da Oats Oatmeal stout is a flavor explosion of roasted malts and oatmeal, with a great bite and a delightful coffee aftertaste. It all adds up to an outstanding expression of what I find best in an oatmeal stout. Weapon of Self Destruction most certainly lived up to the name — a perfect harmony of sweet and dark bourbon notes with a devilishly derived recipe of quite a number of different malts, all the while lulling one into finishing the monster off without noticing the 9.6-percent ABV.

It is somewhat interesting to me that Riff Raff carries the slogan of “hoppiness” and yet I was rather more impressed with their selection of porters and stouts, chile beer, and old world ales than their IPA and hoppy red ales. That being said, I was extremely impressed with what Riff Raff has been able to accomplish in their beers in just a matter of months and I very much look forward to trying them again next time I need a good soak in the incomparable springs. I wholeheartedly recommend a trip up to Pagosa for the views, the mountains, the springs, and the beer. You will not be disappointed.

Prost!

— Franz Solo