A microbrewery in the middle of Aspen | AspenTimes.com

A microbrewery in the middle of Aspen

Tim Willoughby

Turn-of-the-century Aspenites put zing in their lives with Zang's Beer. Fred Willoughby is shown circa 1925 in front of Sanders Warehouse and Brewery. (Willoughby Collection)

Microbreweries have made a comeback at the same time the big brand names are buying each other out. Breweries and beer distributors proliferated in Western mining towns until prohibition forced breweries like Stroh Brewery Company to use their refrigeration to make ice cream instead of beer, and women in the temperance movement curtailed alcoholic consumption. Aspen had its own brewery across Mill Street from the Hotel Jerome.

One of the few joys a miner had to look forward to after arduous hours in the depths of the earth was a mug of beer or a shot of whiskey. It was often the reward of brew that made him forget the dirt in his lungs and the aches in his muscles. Like the sailors on whaling and Navy ships in the last century who were paid with daily doses of alcohol, miners had a symbiotic relationship with alcohol. Men dominated mining camps, and saloons outnumbered churches.

Mr. C. Sanders satisfied Aspen miners’ inclination to imbibe. Sanders, a native of Indiana, came to Colorado in 1864 and moved to Aspen in 1885. His first name was Christ, but for obvious reasons, he referred to himself as “C.” He built a warehouse and brewery on Mill Street above where the Pitkin County Library is now located.

Mr. Sanders’ plant cost $23,000 ” a sum equivalent to the cost of building many of Aspen’s surviving Victorian business buildings. The brewery had the capacity to make 20 barrels of beer a day. Sanders supplemented his own product by becoming the middleman for other more famous brands. He was the local agent for Schlitz beer and was also the distributor for Zang’s beer, a popular brew at the time in Aspen.

It is not known whether Sanders advertised his beer as being brewed from “pure Rocky Mountain spring water,” or even if it was any good. His closest source of water was the Roaring Fork River. If he did tap into the Roaring Fork for water to make his beer, he most likely connected near where Aspen’s main sewer line dumped untreated sewage into the river. It is more likely that he simply used city tap water.

Sanders was not the only distributor of spirits in Aspen. Henry Beck had a wholesale liquor business. He imported wines and was the local distributor for Manitou mineral water that you could use to cure your kidneys after alcohol destroyed them. Beck also operated the Aspen Bottling Works. Smaller local operations came and went over the years, and many local saloons were supplied by out-of-town distributors. Most liquor distributors also sold cigars.

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Reputable liquor retailers often made mention that the whiskey they sold came from “government bonded” distributors. This implied “safe to drink.” Beck and Saunders had to compete with moonshine manufacturers. Leadville was notorious for its illegal production of alcohol.

Aspen’s brewing tradition ended years ago but members of the Coors, Pabst and Stroh brewing families have maintained residences in Aspen. Is it time for the next generation of brewers to open a microbrewery in Aspen? Ajax Ale? Basalt Beer? Downhill Draft? Cold Conundrum Classic?