Salmon River Brewery

In 2004, Tamarack Ski Resort, located across Lake Cascade from Donnelly, ID, became the first major new ski area to open in North America since Beaver Creek, CO, and Deer Valley, UT, back in 1981. The resulting spasm of real estate speculation, and associated influx of “far-ners,” many fleeing the more populated mountain towns of Colorado for the relatively underdeveloped paradise of Idaho’s Valley County, brought with them a culture and ideas that were a “mite differn’t” from those that had dominated these rural areas in the past.

Uninterested in sheep herding, the newcomers had ideas about recreation, recycling, education, public transportation and green living that hadn’t been given widespread credence in these parts before. They also brought with them a taste for something other than Olympia and PBR. Ten-year resident Matt Ganz, himself working full-time ski patrol at the resort, heard the call, and in 2009 with partner Matt Hurlbutt, founded the Salmon River Brewery in the nearby town of McCall, ID, with a 7Bbl brew system bought from the Wynkoop Brewery in Denver.

On the opening day of the brewery, it was announced that Tamarack would not be open the following year. The perfect economic shit-storm that had hit the rest of the country took an early toll, and the owners of the resort were in court, or on the run. Despite the news, the brewery and restaurant flourished, and sales of their Salmon River Quiver IPA and Udaho Golden Ale kept on strong. Now, two years later, a group of homeowners at the resort have worked a deal to get the lifts at Tamarack turning, and the slopes were open again this past winter. Rumors of possible investors abound, and all involved hope to see a stable operator at the helm soon.

Robbie Russel enjoys a proper-sized mug of Salmon River Quiver IPA a the Salmon River Brewery in MCcall, ID. Photographer: Colin Gamble

At the brewery, the resort opening has helped the winter business some, but their focus has been the details of a possible expansion this summer to allow for a wider distribution footprint. According to Ganz, the current brew system and production volumes don’t pencil well with large distribution, and he is eyeing some 15Bbl fermentors and a new cooling system to fix this. In the meantime, expect to see a series of small-batch beers on tap where the brewers have taken a mainline offering and done something different, such as changing up the yeast strain, or adding some dry-hopping (post-fermentation addition of hops to increase floral aromas and flavors in the brew).

After the lifts have been stopped, but before nighttime temps in the High Country have quit turning barley-pop into beer-sicles, the weather is near perfect out in Utah’s Canyonlands. Moderate daytime highs make this one of the best times of the year to get out into the red-rock backcountry. And if, despite this, the rumor of Beehive State 3.2% beer laws give reason for pause, then you have not visited The Moab Brewery. According to head brewer Jeff VanHorn, the brewery maintains a rotating lineup on eight taps, spanning the spectrum of color and ABV. Additionally, he is bottling a series of imperial-strength beers (above 8% ABV) in bombers for campsite enjoyment. By press time, these should include a Scotch ale, a black imperial IPA and a Belgian triple. These, as he says, should help non-local beer drinkers to feel safe about coming to Utah. Spring of 2011 will also see the ground-breaking for a planned 5,000-square-foot expansion of the brew house to allow for more fermentation space and a new canning line. Plans for off-site distribution are not complete but a definite possibility for 2012.

From the back deck of Ska Brewing’s World Headquarters, located atop Durango, CO’s mighty Bodo Industrial Park, one is afforded an excellent view of the rocky craw of Carbon Mountain, less than a half mile distant. Azure afternoon skies are saturated with San Juan sunshine, and, generally speaking, the air is perfect for drinking. It was here one Saturday afternoon a few years back that I sat with some buddies and watched the ski club from Ft. Lewis College practicing their backcountry turns down the still-snowy north face of the mountain, while consuming the last barrel of Ska’s winter seasonal, Euphoria Pale Ale, punctuated by mugs of the first batch of their summer seasonal, Mexican Logger (look for a canned release this summer). A more perfect trifecta of spring rites in southern Colorado cannot be described.

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