Raising one to new monument

Beer celebrates Chimney Rock designation

Tony Simmons, president and head brewer of Pagosa Brewing Co., discusses the Ancestral Ale he brewed in honor of the declaration of Chimney Rock National Monument at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. Enlarge photo

Joe Hanel/Durango Herald

Tony Simmons, president and head brewer of Pagosa Brewing Co., discusses the Ancestral Ale he brewed in honor of the declaration of Chimney Rock National Monument at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver.

DENVER – Squash, corn and beans, plus some prickly pear cactus fruit for a sweet treat, formed the cornerstone of the diet for ancestral Puebloans who lived at Chimney Rock a millennium ago.

History may never know if they tried brewing it into beer.

But thanks to Pagosa Brewing Co.’s Tony Simmons, modern denizens of Southwest Colorado this fall have been able to drink Ancestral Ale, brewed to commemorate the establishment of a national monument at Chimney Rock.

Simmons brought the ale to Denver for last week’s Great American Beer Festival. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., stopped by Denver’s Falling Rock Tap House on Friday for a celebration of the national monument and Simmons’ beer.

“To bring it up to the level of Mesa Verde, it’s really amazing. It’s going to bring a lot of people to our county,” Simmons said.

Simmons recalled his phone conversation with the U.S. Forest Service’s national office.

“This is so cool,” the Forest Service official told him. “We want you to ship some cases of this beer. We’ve never had a national monument with a beer named after it.”

Simmons’ Ancestral Ale was one example among many at the Great American Beer Festival of how craft brewing has become a serious part of the community and the economy.

“Everywhere you go, craft beer is killing it right now. We’ve maxed out our kitchen and our dining area. We’re trying to keep from running out of beer,” Simmons said.

With 41 people on the payroll, he estimates that Pagosa Brewing Co. is among the largest independent employers in Archuleta County.

That growth was reflected at the 31st edition of the Great American Beer Festival. Competition was more intense than ever, with 666 breweries entering 4,388 different brews in 84 categories.

Jeff Albarella, head brewer at Carver Brewing Co., spent all year tweaking the recipe for his Twilight India Pale Ale to get it ready for this year’s festival.

But he was competing in the festival’s toughest category, with 203 entries.

“That’s a long shot for sure. But I figured, why not? It’s one of our best beers,” Albarella said.

Southwest Colorado came back with just one award, a gold medal for Telluride Brewing Co.’s Face Down Brown in the American Style Brown Ale category.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, who opened Colorado’s first microbrewery (beating Carver by a few months), welcomed brewers from around the country to the festival.

Hickenlooper took U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to the festival Friday, including the Farm to Table Pavilion, where chefs pair gourmet food with craft beer.

“He was swept away,” Hickenlooper said. “He was totally captivated and had all these ideas on how he could help us expand,” including marketing craft breweries to international tourists.

jhanel@durangoherald.com

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