Drinkin’ booze and ridin’ trains through rural America—no, it’s not the Hobo Convention, it’s the Rails & Ales Brewfest (sponsored by the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad) in Alamosa/La Veta, wherein the general public can enjoy the tramp lifestyle, drink finely-crafted local beer, enjoy the musical stylings of Chuck Pyle and The Rifters, and do it all in what is quite possibly the world’s most stunningly beautiful beer festival location.
I headed out to the festival last Friday with girlfriend Nicole in tow. After a quick pit stop at Pikes Peak Brewing Company in Monument, we jetted down I-25 through Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Walsenburg, over La Veta Pass, and into Alamosa where Nicole’s aunt and uncle provided us with accommodations and their designated driving services.
Alamosa is miniscule and isolated but, being the beer-centric state that we are, even it boasts a local brewery in the form of San Luis Valley Brewing Company, which hosted a pre-festival block party for attendees and brewers alike. I’d like to say more about the pre-party, but because we drank ourselves silly at Do at the Zoo the night before, we were feeling more than a little bushed. We hit the hay early and rested for what was to become a big day for imbibing craft beer.
There are two ways to get to the brewfest: eastbound travelers left from Alamosa, those on the other side of the mountain got on at La Veta, and the two trains met at a secluded mountain meadow in Fir. This arrangement created some unintentional competition: which train was going to get there first? Were they going to drink everything before we arrived? As it turned out, our train came in second, but they left plenty of booze for the party people on the Alamosa train. And there were party people on the Alamosa train. So much so, in fact, that we were escorted by a number of intimidating, western police officers—complete with cowboy hats, rawhide holsters, and handguns that’d make Dirty Harry blush—to prevent a repeat of last year’s streaking incident.
When we arrived, I just gaped at what lay before me. It was reminiscent of the scene in The Sound of Music where Julie Andrews is frolicking through a vast Alpen meadow. Except this was better because our meadow was dotted with 24 craft brewery tents, 21 of which were Colorado-based, and most of which were small and located in the southern half of our state—breweries you don’t normally see at Denver-area beer festivals.
Maybe it’s a good thing or a bad thing depending on your outlook but, unlike every other beer festival I’ve been to, you don’t get a commemorative tasting glass—you get a whole stinkin’ pint glass! Even if the server is stingy and they only give you a quarter pour, that’s considerably more than the piddly one ounce you get at Great American Beer Festival.
It is my beer drinking philosophy that small pours are better than big pours—I prefer to drink a little bit of everything rather than a lot of a few. I have an adventuresome palate and I want to give them all a taste. However, if one wanted to hang out by the stage or commune with nature out in the field then it’s beneficial to have a generous amount because nobody wants to get up every 30 seconds for a new beer. Plus, being an outside event, if the beer wasn’t to your liking you could always pour it on the ground.
There are several memories of the day that stick out in my mind but time and copious amounts of beer have made me forget the order in which they happened. Here are a few stand-outs that’ll give you an idea of what you can expect when you go to Rails & Ales
- My favorite beers were a sour beer from Three Barrel Brewing Company and the orange cream stout from Ska Brewing. I especially liked the stout because I received the very last pour. Actually, the nice old lady in front of me got the last pour but she heard my disappointed tone and gave me a splash of hers. That’s mountain hospitality, folks.
- I also enjoyed the apple juice beer from Revolution Brewing in Paonia. For the sake of my hippie readers, I asked them if they planned on making a beer with that other famous Paonia product. Short answer: no.
- Mr. Grumpy Pants from the Ourayle House Brewery is actually quite the pleasant individual. False advertising!
- Look for my handsome mug on the Left Hand Brewing Company Facebook page. I was wearing a hat made from a Fade to Black six-pack holder and the guy at the Left Hand tent thought that was deserving of a picture.
- I love freebies! I went home with a tin Myrcenary sign from Odell Brewing Co. after I correctly answered the trivia question “Why do we call it 5 Barrel Pale Ale?” Having recently been to CAUTION: Brewing Company and hearing that they were using Odell’s old five barrel system, I was pretty confident in my answer.
- After a few beers you kind of want a clean glass. I asked the folks at Oskar Blues Brewery if they had any water with which to wash out my glass. They turned to the folks at AC Golden Brewing Company—a subsidiary of Coors—and asked if they could use some of their beer. Zing!
After about three hours of partying in the high country, the train came back to take us home. Nicole and I left for Denver the next day but polished off the epic beer weekend with stops at Elevation Beer Co., Moonlight Pizza & Brewpub, and Amicas Pizza & Microbrewery.
This was our first time to Rails & Ales, but within five minutes of being there, we agreed that it would not be our last. The majesty and seclusion of the venue, the abundance of rare craft beer, and simply breathing in fresh mountain air and listening to the music is more than enough to keep people coming back. If you plan on going next year, I’ll see you there.