Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk |

Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk

Kelly J. HayesAspen Times Weekly

Other than skiing Ruthies, hiking the Bowl, hucking in the half pipe or cruising the Burn, there are few things one can do that are more “Aspen” than sipping a highly-hopped Independence Pass IPA at the Aspen Brewing Company. Not long ago, I was doing just that while gazing out the Pub’s grand front window, watching the gathering fog and a steady snowfall reduce Ajax from a formidable mountain to a diminishing shadow. I was sipping my second beer – OK, maybe my third – when it struck me that it was damn good. The dark hue, the floral nose, the hefty weight and, perhaps most importantly, the uber-alcohol content made this Independence Pass Ale extremely agreeable on a winter’s eve.For serious beer drinkers the IPA or, India Pale Ale, is the litmus test that indicates just how crafty a craft brewer really is. Like roast chicken in a French bistro, if a brewer can do an IPA right then there is a high likelihood they can be trusted with the rest of their offerings.You might surmise, given the name, that the India Pale Ale has its origins in India but you’d be wrong. These hoppy, high-alcohol beers were brewed originally in Great Britain in the 1700s. While the precise heritage of the brews is unclear, a plausible-sounding legend that some call a myth and others label an out-and-out fabrication has evolved.The story goes that a British brewer cornered the growing market and slaked the thirst of English invaders, uh, colonists, who settled in India. The brewer, George Hodgson, had a brewery called the Bow Brewery in London’s East End, not far from the docks where ships were dispatched to take wares to Bombay and Calcutta for the ex-pats. Hodgson, as the story goes, determined that for the kegs of beer to survive the journey by ship around the Cape of Good Hope they needed to be better preserved. And the best way to do that was to increase the alcohol content and to boost the percentage of hops in the brews, both of which would act as preservatives.It’s a good story but there are those in beer geekdom who have spent hours, days and months studying 18th-century newspapers and such, to debunk the myth. Unfortunately none of these “historians” have come up with a better explanation for the birth of India Pale Ale and to this day the Hodgson legend lives. Many makers of India Pale Ales still cite the “made in England to travel to India” story as the true origin.Regardless, IPAs have enjoyed a rebirth in recent years due to the craft-brewing explosion. There are a number of different styles that range from somewhat light in color with alcohol levels around 6 percent, to “extreme” brews that blow the doors off with alcohol levels that can exceed 15 percent.One of the key variants in the current batch of India Pale Ales in this country is the provenance of the hops used to make the beers. The Pacific Northwest brewers have turned hops from different regions into badges. Cascadian hops, Chinook hops, Snoqualimie hops – the taste of any beer will be impacted by what kind of hops are used and how they are manipulated in the brewing process.The boys at the Aspen Brewing Company state on their website that are they using Palisade, Colo., hops in their India Pale Ale, a floral, full-flavored hop. Their amber Independence Pass IPA is a perfect complement to spicy food and if you want, you can buy “growlers,” big glass jugs of the stuff, to take home with you.But for me, the best way to “Aspen,” as I said, is to sit upstairs in the brew pub on a cold January afternoon and sip on a pint.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and a black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at

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