Booming beer: Snowmass taps into the upper valley’s suds scene

This week, we’re doing away with the fancy drinks in Libations and talking beer.

There has been a pretty major shift in the past few years that makes finding a good beer in the valley, like a good wine, a lot easier.

I spent my Front Range decades at the Falling Rock, a Denver taphouse just a block south of Coors Field that was opened in 1996 by a trio of brothers who came up with the name while driving through Colorado mountains.

“Look at all the free advertising,” one of them once told me. Crafty. They have more than 75 taps going at any given time and host another 125 or so varieties in bottles and cans.

So when I came to the Roaring Fork Valley full-time more than two years ago, I needed to find a new Rock. Aspen Brewing Company’s old place was a great transition, but I needed a bit more variety.

With all the wine that flows here, I was a bit out of my element in Aspen’s dinner scene, always looking for something on tap. But things have greatly improved for suds-lovers. Heck, even the Food & Wine Classic has welcomed beer into its weekend with sessions at the past couple of Classics hosted by the team from Blackberry Farm in Tennessee.

Aspen Brewing Company has improved its offerings since moving into its new space; I enjoy stopping at Public House to get whatever Bill’s Capitol Creek Brewery flavor is on tap; between Silver City and Ryno’s there’s a good mix of regional beers; and HOPS has the variety unmatched up here (30 beer lines and 200 in bottles and cans).

But Snowmass’s affinity for beer (hosting the Rondezvous Craft Beer Festival in June and the 5K On The Mountain as part of the Colorado Brewery Running Series in July) has kind of locked up my tap count with Ranger Station, Slow Groovin’ and Zane’s.

With the strong connection to New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins, what you find at Ranger Station is a full mix from the traditional Fat Tire to the sour brown ale La Folie. The range of IPAs is solid as well. Having spent the 1990s in Loveland and Fort Collins, I have had my fill of Fat Tire, but what they’re developing with IPAs and sours is always intriguing.

Snowmass’s Ranger Station opened in 2015 and pours from 12 taps. If you cannot find anything there you like, you can fall back on the Golden backup and get a “big-ass 24” Coors Light, Chris the bartender told a visitor from the south who was a bit overwhelmed after he walked in.

Just a few steps away at Slow Groovin’, which is in its third summer at the Snowmass location, there is a solid variety of Colorado beers among their 24 taps.

They are always rotating taps, but at any given time they have kegs from Roaring Fork (Carbondale), Elevation (Poncha Springs), O’Dell’s (Fort Collins), Left Hand (Longmont), Boulder Beer Co., Four Noses (Broomfield) and Crooked Stave (Denver). And if you cannot find anything there you like, you can fall back on the mountain stable PBR on tap (for just $3).

Over at Zane’s, the old standby is open year-round and while there aren’t as many taps as the other two, they have the right mix of traditional beers to go with their solid Philly cheesesteak and burger menu (yes, I’m alluding to pairings).

Until Judge Kavanaugh ruined it, I used the simple line “I like beer” when I ordered at a fancy restaurant. Now, I just go to places where it’s a given that we all like beer.