A copy of Into Thin Air and TGR’s Soul Purpose are piled on an empty keg. People are drinking beer and eating potato chips while sitting in chairs made out of Atomic skis. It’s about 2:30 in the afternoon and an old golden retriever naps in the sunlight by the front door. If there was a game of beer pong and a half naked fat guy in face paint, this could be the scene of your average college house on game day.
But it’s not. It’s Aspen Brewing Company, the only microbrew in town. Duncan Clauss, part owner and manager of Aspen Brewing Company, is giving an in-depth tour of the brewery and explaining how head brewer Terry Butler, who has 15 years of brewing experience, uses an old kayak paddle to stir the mash. The brewery, with its attached tasting room, barely holds its huge vats along with a beer cooler, a bar, and a smattering of tables. Classic rock rolls through the speakers and a hint of bleach used to regularly clean the vats permeates the room. The brewing area’s clutter of gear, skis, and kegs stands in contrast to the tidiness of the tasting room, at least until Otis, the shop puppy, gets overly excited by the influx of customers and pees on the hard wood floor.
Clauss and a few friends started Aspen Brewing Company in 2008 when they were about to graduate from Colorado University and realized they needed one of those pesky job things. “I thought, ‘What am I going to do? Aspen was one of the few towns in Colorado without a brewery, and if I saw someone else doing it, I’d kick myself. So we jumped on it.”
Of course, they aren't the first to brew beer in Aspen. Flying Dog began in Aspen in 1990, but by 1994 moved to Denver to meet increasing demands. This left Aspen without a local brewery until Aspen Brewing Company filled the void.
To keep people drinking their afternoons away, they have a quality over quantity philosophy at ABC. “I don’t drink beer in the afternoon,” says one gentleman in town for business, “but I don’t even feel guilty about drinking something this good.” Clauss says there’s a reason for that. “We spent a lot of time during our start up just learning about making good beer,” he says. “There’s a brotherhood amongst craft brewers, so we would visit all the breweries we could to learn from them.”
Lost Man Porter, aged for six months in whiskey barrels, highlights ABC’s success. Despite being sold primarily in one-liter pop-top growlers, this unique brew only lasted the holiday season. “It stank like whiskey, but if it had any downsides it was almost too smooth,” Clauss says. “You could drink a half-pint in two or three sips and not realize you just slammed a 12 percent beer.” This year, six more whiskey barrels are on their way and the beer should be ready by spring.
But the real upside to Aspen Brewing Company is that it’s located on 557 North Mill St., right next to a stop for Aspen’s ski bus. Jump on the bus after your last run of the day to join the locals for $4.50 pints and $2 beer chips. Go for the 10th Mountain Stout or, if you don’t need more hair on your chest, try the Independence Pass IPA.