Fans of the new tasting room at Vail Brewing Co. (and their smaller, satellite location in Vail Village's Solaris complex) expect surprises when their barkeep pulls a vintage golf-club handle, fly-rod reel, crampon, or any of a dozen implements repurposed as tap handles. Because the roster of ales, stouts, and sours on tap will be different almost every time they visit.
“Our plan from the start was to have an ever-changing menu,” explains Garrett Scahill, VBC’s head brewer and one of four co-owners. “We’ll always have a pale ale and an IPA, but they won’t be the same ones each time.”
“We wanted to create that ‘public house’ feel where everyone’s welcome,” Scahill says, whether they drive or bike in from their homes or hotels. Or paddle: with VBC’s location just across the highway from the Eagle River near the exit of Dowd Chute, he expects to see groups of river rafters dropping in, and maybe even Ken Hoeve with his “kegyak” floating beer keg (see “Barrel of Fun,”).
The brewery adds alcohol to the mix of vice-themed businesses on Eagle-Vail’s rapidly evolving (some say devolving) “Green Mile” red-light district along Highway 6. But more tellingly, VBC joins a vibrant ale culture in the Vail Valley. The granddaddy is Gore Range Brewery, open since 1997 in Edwards. It and 7 Hermits Brewing Co. in Eagle are brewpubs, which means they serve food along with beer brewed on the premises. Tasting rooms like VBC, Bonfire Brewing Co. in Eagle, and Crazy Mountain Brewing Company in Edwards don’t have kitchens, but patrons are allowed to graze on takeout from nearby eateries. At VBC, that means Italian subs and pizza from Ticino, burgers from Route 6 Café, or tacos from the brewery's resident food truck, and as at Crazy Mountain you’ll find a food truck parked on the patio (a mobile version of Eagle’s Colorado Cheesesteak Co. on Thursday nights). There’s also a grill where sippers can singe their own brats and fresh corn from the Minturn farmers market just up the road.
For the summer months Scahill will be tapping favorites like the "Hot Mess" Blonde (a tap staple) or a medley of seasonals, like last summer's Belgian saison ("Fred’s Lunch"), and if you’re lucky you’ll get to sample specialities, like his first cask-conditioned release: Milk Chocolate Stout, seasoned in bourbon barrels. Tasting rooms tend to be hypercasual semi-industrial spaces; at VBC, the floors are concrete, and the windows are glass planes that roll up to let the river breezes inside. If you want a tour to geek out on equipment, ask nicely, and Scahill will take you behind the scenes to see the tanks. And he’ll be happy to sell you a half-gallon of your favorite to take home in a $65 insulated stainless steel Hydro Flask, one of the many items (branded trucker caps, T-shirts, glassware, bottle openers) for sale in the company store.
Aside from their business acumen, the most successful craft brewers are noted for their noncompetitive camaraderie, which Scahill exhibits in spades. “I’ve been talking to all of the other brewers, and I’ve borrowed stuff,” say Scahill, who, in addition to testing out recipes, would like to take that kegyak for a beer-ballasted spin.