As I have said before, we lived in Bend, OR before we left on this adventure and have every intention of returning there when it is over. Bend seems to be in at least one magazine every year touting it as one of the best places to live. This is due to the climate, outdoor activities, and the beer. And it seems like whatever magazine is publishing the list, Durango, CO is right there next to it.
In many ways, Bend and Durango have many differences, such as population (Bend is still small but four times as large), location (Durango is in a deep canyon along the Animas River, while Bend is in an open valley), altitude (Bend is under 4,000 feet, while Durango is above 6,500) and remoteness (Bend is only three hours from Portland, while Durango is four hours from Albuquerque and almost 6 from Colorado Springs). But they both seem to have uber-athletes strolling around and have the same “vibe.” But most importantly, how does the beer compare?
While we were only there two days, we managed to stop by two brewpubs. On Sunday afternoon, we stopped by Steamworks Brewing for dinner. My wife and I each ordered a round of tasters, allowing us to have ten 4-oz. samples of every beer they were making at that time.
We sampled seven different brews and there is not enough time to cover them all, so here is a quick summary:
Colorado Kolsch: Unremarkable, but Kölsch as a style tends to be very light and mild.
Helles: Also light with a low abv, but I really liked this. It was subtle without being bland.
One Wit Wonder: Also great and probably even better on a hot day.
Steam Engine Lager: Pedestrian. PBR is not as good but is a far better value.
Third Eye Pale Ale: There are a lot of great pale ales out there and this is not one of them.
Backside Stout: A near-miss. A little too bitter to be likable. I am surprised as stouts go down well in cold weather.
Irish Red: Well done! Balanced, drinkable and flavorful. Highly recommended.
The next day we opted to walk around the downtown (much larger than Bend, despite this being a smaller city), and our travels took us by Carver Brewing, right around the corner from Steamworks. They had just opened for lunch and the bartender was busy and not in the mood to talk or offer samples. So I grabbed a growler of their scotch ale out of the cooler to go. Later that evening outside of Mesa Verde National Park, we had a chance to enjoy and enjoy this thick, sweet elixir. This is not a beer for the casual sipper as it is so heavy and strong. It was nutty and robust and went down well in snowy weather.
After spending a day in Mesa Verde, we stopped in nearby Cortez to visit Main Street Brewing. Despite being only 5,000+ people, this town has two breweries. We only had time for one, though.
My initial impression when I walked inside were not positive; the restaurant looked a little tired and run down. Other than the two men sitting at opposite sides of the bar nursing beers, there were only two tables eating. This was a large restaurant, but it was almost empty.
I talked the bartender into giving me a few samples, and my thoughts changed immediately. The beers I samples were far better than anything I had in Durango. Their Uberpils was really unique and unlike anything I had tried to date. As a pils, it was mild, but had subtle flowery hoppiness that was flavorful and understated at the same time. Their pale was very good and would have been a highlight at most breweries, but I ended up with a growler of their Schnorzenboomer. Other than being a mouthful to say, this dopplebock was also very different. Rather than taking a mild style and beefing it up, the brewer chose to take a dopplebock and tone it down, resulting in a beer with moderately high abv but not the forceful flavor kick that usually accompanies it. I tasted a hint of sake in the brew.
I need to note that Durango brewers have policies (but not laws, as far as I can tell) covering growlers that discourage brewers from filling growlers that are not branded by the brewer. Both Steamworks and Carver stated that they could not fill my Hydroflask due to state laws, but they would happily sell me a new brown jug filled with their beer. Carver even declined to accept an empty brown jug with no printing or label on it. While I declined to take home anything from Steamworks, a pre-filled pressurized jug from Carver was only $9.25 so I could not pass. Main Street in nearby Cortez told me that they had never heard of such a law and filled the Hydroflask anyway. I am not sure what the truth is but I am curious.
I did want to address a rivalry between Bend and Durango. As far as the beer goes, Bend wins hands down. There is no contest here. Like my previous post on Asheville, the Durango beer scene is behind where Bend was when I left. Way behind and not likely to catch up anytime soon.