Jenny says that if you want to get a seat at the Durango Brewing Company, you better get there by... oh, 1989 ought to do. I haven't told her yet that such punctuality would guarantee a year-long wait, since DBC has only been concocting since 1990. Besides, we showed up there Friday night about 6:45 and still claimed a table and two stools (yeah, but only after edging around the crowds, squeezing into corners, and forging our way to the bar through a blizzard of people!).
This place is a bit out of the way, by Durango standards. It's on Main Street, but up north out of the downtown district most frequented by visitors. And the brewery's ambiance is pretty cool (especially if you are a gunslinger and former train-robber who traded guns for skis). It has the wood and warmth of a ski lodge in a warehouse. In tune with the logo's steam locomotive theme, one wall by the bar is old red boxcar siding with stenciled white letters and the old Denver & Rio Grande Western logos. (Real old boxcars or well-approximated faux interior design? Heck if I know.) The exposed rafters are filled with black-painted insulation that kind of looks like an open coal tender. And there's at least nine of their own beers on tap.
Why stick with the standards that we can pick up in bottles at the grocery store any day? We pounced on two seasonal beers (like cats on string or the white disc of flashlight light). I claimed the Winter Ale (like a viking who claims most things with an ax), a dark dark brown brew with the warmth and spices of so many ideal winter drinks. The roasted malts make this beer hearty and satisfying to the stomach, while it also has a caramelized (but not sugary) hint around the edges. Think of a rich savory dinner with a candied glaze (pineapple upside down cake!), like roast ham or sauteed onions (oh, we have different ideas of dinner, I guess). The beer doesn't taste like any meal in particular, but it has the same delectable balance. As it warms, it maintained its best qualities (unlike most people). Perfect for a winter brew!
The Purgatory Ale had nothing distinct (she leans away at a skeptical angle) -- and when that includes no noticeable faults, that makes for a steady drink. It is full and smooth (not in a Miller way) front to back (wait this sounds like a description of me...). A straight-up good beer, even if it doesn't cause any surprises. It's the kind of beer you would go on a second date with, but you certainly wouldn't expect anything kinky afterward (While that sounds like an accurate description of Purgatory the place, it does not paint an accurate picture of Purgatory the beer. Maybe Zach's been mixing the primary colors on his taste "palette" again. I thought the Purgatory glowed like autumn gold. It smelled bready and fresh. And the taste was like hot-butter biscuits with a touch of marmalade. In other words, delicious!)
With so many seasonal and limited beers on the menu, we wished we could justify sticking around and drinking the evening away (DWI = Drink Without Inhibition, right?). Instead, we opted to take home a growler (no, he does not mean one of the red-cheeked and rugged mountain men hunched over the bar who growl when you try to place your order). We asked the waitress if we could sample the Helles lager and the Ghost Train pumpkin beer to aid our decision. The Helles is a fine enough pilsner in the German/Czech vein of yeasty, flavorful lagers (again, not that watered-down gnat's piss that parades as mass-produced lager). It has the right bready introduction with a touch of bitterness... but it doesn't delight in the finish like the truly exceptional pilsners of the world. All the action is up front with this beer. (Perhaps I ought to defer to the guy who lived in the land of pilsners for a year, but to me the Helles was yeasty, but also exotically floral, tasting a bit like magnolias. Please don's ask why or how I know what those taste like.)
The Ghost Train, however, is unique (starting with its poltergeist passengers!). I've tasted many pumpkin beers (like a grown-up Charlie Brown), and all of them lack in some way, as if the brewer were afraid to go full-out gourd on the brew (dear Gourd, be merciful). The Ghost Train takes the flavors and embraces them. I can't say it tastes particularly of pumpkin (oh gourd, I was worried) -- have you ever eaten just a spoonful of Libby's? (not something to admit that on the internet, by the way) -- but it has the spices in conjunction with the pumpkin that most of us crave in the autumn and winter. That last part is key to this beer: it doesn't taste like a pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks, but more like a pumpkin pie that's just as appropriate after Christmas as it was before Halloween. The spices are tingly and magical (like reindeer droppings). (The beer actually reminds us both of the Molé Stout from Ska Brewing in the way the unexpected zing of spices play with the tongue.) And unlike many novelty beers (and unlike most reindeer droppings), this one tastes like it will be good the whole way down -- no tiring of the flavor midway into a pint!
So we ordered a growler of the Ghost-juice* and disembarked from the DBC brewin' locomotive.
*Buyer beware: Durango is notoriously expensive in every way, including pints up to and above $4.00. (The "special" this Friday night was $3 and $4 pints.) And many of us from outside Durango are used to growlers (64-oz take-home jugs) costing anywhere from $12 to $20, reasonable enough for four pints of beer. So imagine our shock when the bill came with the growler -- thirty eight dollars!!!
At least the jug is pretty cool. And we made damn sure we enjoyed each and every drop of that pumpkin beer over the next two nights. Whatever the cost, the beer is truly delicious. And it may just be magical, after all: it turned our vegetable stir-fry into a gourmet experience, just by being so blasted expensive!