With the train for Rails and Ales pulling out of the station this weekend now is the perfect time to ready one’s taste buds to sip glasses of sudsy beer.
This column breaks down quality picks that may be available at the Fir Station on La Veta Pass or your local liquor store. Note, because festivals are fickle I’m not saying these beers are guaranteed to be there this weekend. Since a list of attending brewers isn’t available these are just some of my top choices from breweries that have been there in the past (and therefore may be there this weekend), along with other options for people who didn’t get a chance to ride on the sold out train.
Watermelon Kolsch by FATE Brewing Company—I first had this back in my college days at The Mayor of Old Town in Fort Collins. I fell in love at first sip but I didn’t see it out in the wild again until 2015’s Rails and Ales festival. FATE took their Great American Beer Festival gold medal-winning beer and added a splash of refreshing watermelon puree. The relatively low alcohol content means you can enjoy it throughout those long summer days. While FATE is distributing more and more, this is still mainly a Front Range beer. If it’s there, get it.
Baere-liner Weisse by Baere Brewing Company—A Berliner Weiss is a lemony-tart German wheat beer with low alcohol by volume—only 3.1 percent here—and very little hop flavor. Try it once plain, but also try it with a few drops of flavored syrup—usually woodruff or raspberry—provided by the brewer. It cuts away the sourness and adds individual customization to the beer. Almost any syrup can be used to give the light yellow beer a splash of color and flavor.
West Bound Braggot by Twisted Pine Brewing Company—One of the stronger beers on this list at 8.5 percent ABV, Twisted Pine’s mead/beer hybrid has a complex and exotic profile. Tasmanian pepper berries give it a bit of spice while orange blossom honey and an unusual citrus known as Buddha’s Hand balance it out with a candy-like sweetness. The easy-drinking smoothness makes it dangerously good. I’ve never tasted anything quite like this unique nectar.
Lava Lake Wit by Crazy Mountain Brewing Company— Orange peel, coriander, grains of paradise and other ingredients make this take on a classic Belgian Wit beer both familiar and new. If you’re not a super adventurous beer drinker, then this is what you should fill your glass with. The style’s refreshing floral qualities and low bitterness make it a great year-round drink that becomes especially pleasant in the summertime.
Apis IV Honey Quadrupel by Elevation Beer Company—A strong beer isn’t normally a good pick to enjoy while lounging in a hammock. However, like Twisted Pine’s braggot the addition of honey makes it sweet as a summer’s day. It also has notes of fig, plum and molasses, meaning it’ll likely pair well with your favorite smoked meats. As a bonus this is brewed in Poncha Springs, so it can be easily found locally if you didn’t make it to the festival or if you did and you’re dying for more.
Elektrick Cukumbahh by Trinity Brewing—I don’t like raw cucumbers. I don’t like them in my water or my salad. It feels more like eating an ice cube than a vegetable. Yet Trinity made their saison with a wonderful cucumber flavor that’s extremely quaffable. However, I haven’t seen this at previous Rails and Ales festivals so it probably won’t be there this weekend. Keep this crisp and dry beer on your radar for the season or go hunting for it on Saturday if you weren’t fast enough to get a train ticket.
Anything seasonal or limited— While I love dark beers like porters and stouts, summer is not the time for them. Generally speaking, the darker the beer the less refreshing it is, and that’s no fun when you’re seeking shade to beat the heat. There’s a reason Odell’s Lugene Chocolate Milk Stout isn’t on the shelves past March. This also isn’t the time to grab a pint of New Belgium’s Fat Tire or any other widely available brew. Instead, use the festival as a chance to get beers that aren’t found in these parts or are limited releases. Some places brew beers that aren’t distributed outside of festivals or their taprooms. Breweries from all over the state, and even New Mexico, are visiting. Don’t waste the precious opportunity by going with your usual.