Sunday, April 1, 2012

Love is in the Beer - Dolores River Brewing

Just a short and scenic drive from Durango, Colorado is a quaint no-stoplight town called Dolores.  When planning this Spring duo tour with my hubby Travis, he suggested that we play a show at Dolores River Brewery, knowing that I love good beer and good vibes.  He had played there years ago with his original bluegrass band 'Broke Mountain' and had fond memories of showing up to their gigs on intertubes by way of the Dolores River.  The brewery is tucked just off of Main Street, surrounded by gorgeous, dusty Old West buildings which saw their glory back in the day when the town was a stop along the Rio Grande Southern Railroad.  All the folks we met in the area were bright-eyed, laid back and happy to be in this beautiful village.

If you blink, you may miss DRB's unassuming storefront, but at closer look, you'll find a warm dining and tasting room with a welcoming patio in back, complete with what the owner lovingly calls his "mini Telluride stage" for the warmer summer months.

Mark, owner, brewer, music enthusiast and sound man, met us at our car with a grin and hand ready to help unload our gear, and within minutes of finishing a seamless soundcheck, our pub table was graced with a beautiful sight...a sample of each beer currently on tap (minus the wheat beer which he knew my sinuses couldn't tolerate from reading my blog), all poured into perfectly mis-matched wine glasses.  I immediately knew this would be a good night.

From left to right, there was a German-style Lager named "Hell", the Pale Ale, the ESB, a Dry Stout, the "Snaggletooth" Double Pale IPA and a Barley Wine.

I was eager to taste them all, but in anticipation of picking a favorite, I discussed with Mark my love for pale ales.  As my readers know, I prefer a crisp, clean ale to a cloudy one, and after a couple more descriptive words, he suggested that I may take to the ESB more than I may expect.  He was right.  I'll note that every beer is conceptualized and brewed solely by Mark.  The specialized pint cans of beer are canned and hand-labeled by Mark.  His logo hangs proudly from his neck on a hand-made pewter pendant.  So, when he recommended a beer based on my tastes, I took it to heart.  

One of the most pleasing qualities to Mark's beer that we also found earlier in the week at Pagosa Brewing Company was it's mellowness.  The mild character wasn't at all wimpy, but instead very present, smooth and made for extremely pleasant sipping.  I rarely get to meet the brewers, but in this case, Mark's kindness and gentile manner was clearly reflected in his brews in the most positive way.  Just like Travis has been known to say that I "put love in the food" when I cook, Mark definitely "puts love in the beer."

ESBs (Extra Special Bitter) mostly appeal to me when they aren't actually extra bitter.  I don't usually think of it as a beer that you can pair with foods that also have a strong flavor, because they seem to be so full in flavor (and also one of the more carbonated variations), that I would pair it with either a light snack or just enjoy on it's own.  However, Mark's ESB wonderfully accompanied my dinner and never got in the way or took the spotlight from the flavor of my meal.  There was something so smooth about this ESB that I could visualize the roundness of the rocks that the snow-melt river had worn down over the decades just yards from the brewery door.  It was golden in color and had the smallest hint of caramel that perfectly balanced the *very* subtle bitter hop.  The way the flavors met made for one very well-rounded and clean charactered pint.   

A few years back, Travis and I spent the summer in Lyons, Colorado just outside Boulder, where we fell in love with everything Upslope Brewing.  What Upslope shares with it's sister brewer Oscar Blues is a boldness and attitude, that although yummy in it's own right, made Dolores River Brewing's friendliness of flavor and drinkability so refreshing.  I would say that Ska Brewing sits somewhere in the middle of the aforementioned Front Range beers and DRB, but when you are road-weary and have been far from home too long, what you *really* need is beer that has pure love in it.  We came to the right place and can't wait to go back!

Inside the brewing room:

My ESB from the tap, with hand-labeled cans to go!

Playing to a packed house:

Enjoying a post-show pint with Mark: