The final stop on our way home from our wedding planning trip was in Poncha Springs. Just west of Salida, minutes from Monarch Mountain, in the Arkansas River basin, Poncha Springs is surrounded by some of the most beautiful country in Colorado. It’s in this area that you’ll find the highest concentration of 14,000-foot plus mountain peaks in our state. It’s also where you’ll find one of our newest breweries, Elevation Beer Company.
We rolled up to the discrete looking warehouse (located at 115 Pahlone Parkway in Poncha Springs, CO 81242) just after 1pm. We second-guessed ourselves once or twice, wondering if we were in the right place. The only sign that we were at the right building was a large “115″ painted on the side of the building and the trucks out in front with a few beer stickers slapped on the back. Good enough.
We walked into an empty building through the soon to be taproom, weaving our way through piles of large timber and lumber. Construction was still very much in progress.
We would later find out that the timbers were pulled from an old salt mine outside of Chicago and were to be re-purposed, cleaned up and made into an awesome bar top. The piles of lumber were beetle-kill pine from the surrounding mountains and would be used as trim and siding for the rustic mountain style taproom. Tentatively onward, we followed the sounds of hammering and talking coming from down the hallway leading to the brew house area. As we rounded the corner, we were greeted with the warm, welcoming glow of stainless steel.
A brand spanking new 15 BBL system, fresh from the factory floors of Premier Stainless Systems gleamed down at us.
15 and 30 BBL fermenters and brite tanks lined the center of the warehouse and the brewhouse along the back wall. They are also awaiting shipment on a small, one barrel pilot system to experiment on a smaller scale and keep the taproom fresh.
It’s here that we were greeted by Carlin and Xandy, two of the four owners that make up Elevation Beer Company. The brainchild of four friends, Carlin Walsh (General Manager), Sheila Bustamante (Marketing Manager), Xandy Bustamante (Sales and Distribution Manager) and Christian Koch (Head Brewer), Elevation Beer Company is the physical manifestation of their dream to open their own brewery. That dream has taken two plus years to come to fruition. “You guys like a beer?” were the first words out of their mouths. They took us back through the warehouse and around a corner to their cold storage room, which was as big as our condo. In the cold storage room, beside a few stacks of empty kegs eagerly awaiting their first fill, was a lonely case of Tommyknocker beer. Christian, their head brewer, used to brew for Tommyknocker and apparently has a few friends that have hooked them up with some beer until they can start cranking out their own. Elevation had just brewed their first batch of beer the week prior, a Colorado style Saison made with as many local ingredients as they could get their hands on.
With beer in hand, we headed back out to the warehouse where we talked about the first two beers brewed. The first brew, the Colorado Saison, is appropriately named “Mt. Blanca” for the dominating 14-er that towers over Colorado Malting Company in Alamosa where the malt is grown. Brewed to be very sessionable, its inspiration is drawn from old Belgian farmhands working the fields and looking for a nice light drinking beer to keep them hydrated throughout the long hours spent harvesting their crops.
Local is always better when it concerns anything consumable and beer is no exception. Elevation attempts to get all they can locally, including their yeast which comes from the Brewers Institute located in Woodland Park. Unfortunately, the hop growing industry is still in its infancy here in Colorado so they source that through Hopunion. They do have plans for a fresh hop beer come the end of summer, with hops harvested on the western slope near the Palisade area. There are also dreams to grow a few fresh hops along the future bike path that will pass the brewery (more on this to come).
Speaking of hops, their second brew, called “First Cast IPA”, is a West Coast centric style IPA which was brewed the day before. We were lucky enough to taste some of this right off of the fermenter; still very wort-like as fermentation had just started. The sweetness of the wort could not hide the fact that this was indeed a hop bomb. 70 IBS from Chinook hops and a fairly new proprietary blend from Hopunion, called Zythos. Blended from several different Northwest Coast style hops, Zythos imparts fruity, citrus, and pine like characters into the beer. It tasted fantastic and we only wish that we could’ve tasted it when it was finished.
Elevation Beer Company’s beer styles will be defined by a system well known to anyone that has spent some time in the Colorado high country; Blue Square, Black Diamond, and Double Black Diamond, ski slope mountain ratings. The Blue Square series (Draft only) will be the everyday beer and includes the two aforementioned beers. Unfortunately, those of us down here in the Metro area will have to go the high country to try these beers. They only plan on distributing them locally, starting in the Chaffee County area and hopefully making their way over to Summit County; not that spending the day in the mountains, drinking some tasty brews is a bad thing.
The next styles will be the Black Diamond series (Draft & 750ml) beers. These will be much bigger, more complex beers; along the lines of Double IPA’s, big Belgians and some of the other bigger unique styles. The first in this series will be Apis IV, a Belgian style Quadrupel made with locally sourced honey. Look for it’s release at the grand opening.
Last but not least, is the one we are looking most forward to: the Double Black Diamond series (Draft & 750ml). These will all be 100% barrel aged beers. They have no plans of brewing these more then once a season, probably once every couple of years based on demand. First up is a farmhouse style ale, Signal De Botrange, fermented with brettanomyces and aged in some recently acquired Chardonnay barrels from Napa Valley. Opting for exploration rather then reproduction, beer geeks are always on the look out for something new and this seems like a great way to keep them coming back. They’ve got a small bottle filler and they plan to cork and cage the Black and Double Black Diamond beers. Hopefully some will make its way down to Denver. It may just be talk right now but we’ve heard mention of a Flanders Style Red, which we can only hope will come to fruition as it’s one of our favorite styles of sour ale. We’ll be looking for this guy, in the next couple years.
We headed back through the soon to be tasting room to finish up the tour. Once the Eight handle taproom is complete, they hope to begin working on a beer garden out front. The county is planning on extending a bike path that will pass directly by the brewery’s beer garden. With Colorado’s large cycling community, I’m sure this will draw in plenty of thirsty riders. Elevation Beer Company is currently shooting for an opening in May, with a big grand opening party on May 19. The opening will include food trucks, live music and some great craft beers.
Elevation Beer Company is setup in a prime location, one can’t help but be inspired living in an area like Poncha Springs. Just looking out the window of their dry storage room is enough to get the mind racing. What else is there to say? Some more beer geeks making a go at it.
We wish you the best of luck Elevation Beer Company! Congratulations and welcome Colorado’s newest brewery, we’ll see you on May 19th!