As I was riding my bike home this evening, I stopped in at Mondo Vino, our local liquor store in the Highlands. Mondo is the premier spirits store in Denver, maybe in the the whole State of Colorado. It’s owned by Duey Kratzer, a good friend of ours. Well, Duey is a good friend of just about everybody in the Highlands. He keeps us happy.
Mondo is the kind of place where you can approach anyone who works there, look them in the eye and say, something like, “Risotto with asparagus, walnut salad and pan-fried zucchini,” and they’ll, without a moment of hesitation, walk you over to the exactly-appropriate pinot noir or Beaujolais often with the accompanying question, “French, domestic or Kiwi?” I try to stump them, but they always prevail.
Today, I picked a six-pack of Dale’s Pale Ale out of the cooler, walked to the register, placed the beer on the counter and, like I usually do, started bantering with the folks that work there. Josh is a Michigan guy and a cyclist, so we usually talk about one or both of those things. Matthew always asks where the kids are (if they aren’t with me) and I always say, “I have no idea.” Shana always wears a beautiful scarf, so I complement her on that. When Duey’s there, I give him a big hug and we talk about our kids, who are all friends. As I was chatting with Josh, it occurred to me that this was the last six-pack of Dale’s that I’d have in quite some time; that is, I don’t think I’m going to find any in Phenom Phen or Osaka. Oh my. I got a little teary-eyed at that thought.
That’s to say that for us here in Colorado, craft beer is a really big deal. Colorado has an interesting history when it comes to beer. Everyone knows about Coors, of course, that monolithic brewery just a few miles west of Denver. Coors started brewing beer in Colorado around 1873 and, except for the dark years of Prohibition, has been churning out a watered-down version of a Czech pilsner since then. I will admit, though, that I will drink Coors sometimes, and that I kind of like it. In a pinch.
After Jimmy Carter signed a bill in 1978 that made it legal for bars to sell home brews (HR 1337), the craft beer brew tradition started in Colorado. The first craft beer brewery in Colorado was the Boulder Beer Company, and it’s still going strong, but, I have to say, it’s been outpaced by some of the other breweries, like Oskar Blues and Odell. Currently, there are over 300 craft breweries in Colorado. My good friend, Cath Kleier, is a professor Biology at Regis, and she also started a Brewing Certificate in our Biology program, so even academics can get in on the beer action here in Colorado. If you live in Colorado, you could probably only drink Colorado beer for a good portion of your life and be quite happy.
Given the attention to local breweries and craft brews, there is a vibrant brew pub culture here in Denver. Here’s an example: last weekend my folks came to visit from Pennsylvania and on Sunday afternoon we said, “Let’s go to Goldspot [a brew pub adjacent to my University], have a few beers and play Trivial Pursuit,” to which my folks replied, “What are we going to do with the kids? You can’t take kids to a bar.” But the truth is that a brew pub isn’t a bar–it just serves beer that it makes, and the culture in just about any brew pub in Denver is family friendly–they want you to come in with your family, sample their fare, play some games, talk to people from the neighborhood. It’s a kind of a malty democracy.
Beyond all that, though, Colorado beer is important to me not just because it tastes good and because when I buy it I’m contributing to our local economy. It really has more to do with memory and relationships. When I have a Dale’s, for instance, I always think of our dear friends, the Sheas, who introduced me to Dale’s and always have at least a six-pack in their fridge. Every Easter weekend, the Sheas and the Fretzes go to Fruita or Moab for a mountain biking weekend and after a long day on the single tracks, we sit around the campfire, clutching our Dale’s and watching the children burn marshmallow after marshmallow.
Even if I did find a Dale’s in Bucharest or Bratislava, I guess, it wouldn’t taste the same as it does here, in the high desert. That’s okay, though. I’m sure I’ll find plenty of other beers to drink and plenty of other folks to love and care for, as we make our way.