With a name like Living a Stout Life, it’s got to be about the beer, right?
Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t. This time, it most definitely is. It’s about the beer that isn’t so easily noticed when traveling through the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
Believe it or not, while Colorado in general is known to be overflowing with stunning craft breweries – and it is – there are still a few hidden gems of Colorado Mountain Breweries that sometimes aren’t immediately on a traveler’s radar.
Hidden Hops of the Rocky Mountains
If you’re one of the numerous nomads that doesn’t want to spend a lot of time in large cities like Denver, or maybe you’ve just had your fill of the urban scene and want to experience the majestic mountains, you can escape Denver’s notoriously heavy traffic and head up US-285 toward the Colorado’s countless high peaks. That’s a wise choice as US-285 avoids the notorious I-70 corridor and leads right to our first of three hidden hops of the Rockies.
Breweries from Bailey to Breckenridge
Mad Jack’s Mountain Brewery
Mad Jack’s Mountain Brewery in the don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it town of Bailey is about as “Mom and Pop” as it gets, which is the cornerstone of what makes this Colorado mountain brewery a must on any craft beer lover’s hit list.
There’s no one thing that really makes Mad Jack’s stand out, but its simplicity coalesces into something special.
Their beer is solid, but they don’t usually have an eye-popping array of brews that make your head spin with names that take a dictionary to decipher. Mad Jack’s generally has six-to-eight of their own delicious, true-to-style beers on tap with two or three guest brews or ciders also in the offing.
The ambiance isn’t the usual industrial, mountain sheik that you so often find in Colorado breweries, but there is an indoor/outdoor comfort that instantly sets you at ease, especially considering they are uber dog friendly, putting out water bowls and biscuits for your furry friends.
What really brings Mad Jack’s altogether, however, are Allison and Jack Hansell. Jack began homebrewing nearly 30 years ago while working for Molson Coors. Allison and Jack have three sons that all have various levels of experience in the beer industry with Nathan serving as Mad Jack’s Brewery Manager.
The combination of all these simple things set in the crook of a mountain valley combine to make Mad Jack’s a place that you must stop and spend an afternoon, basking in the mountain sun, listening to mountain music, and chowing on whatever savory delights are being served by the food truck that has pulled into the yard.
From Mad Jack’s you can continue along US-285 and take a sharp right at Fairplay (warning: stick to the speed limit) to go over Hoosier Pass into Breckenridge. We don’t recommend this all in one day, as you’ll likely want to take some down time after visiting any of these breweries, unless of course you have a designated driver.
When you take that sharp turn make sure you experience these Colorado mountain breweries:
Broken Compass Brewing
Hoosier Pass is the easiest route into Breckenridge from Bailey, but fair warning, we’ve not driven a Class A or pulled a 30-foot-plus trailer, so you might not enjoy the hairpins on the way down Hoosier Pass, though the road is paved and well-maintained.
The trek is well worth while, however. If you read our feature on the man behind Broken Compass Brewing and his opting into the mountain lifestyle, which is fairly similar to RV life, you had to know this one was going to be on the list.
Though Breckenridge isn’t one of the more pretentious mountain towns, it sees a tremendous amount of tourists year round, so it’s nice to break away from the main strip in town and head out to Broken Compass, which is nestled into the industrial area on the northern outskirts of Breckenridge.
“It’s no secret that we are driven by tourism, but we are who we are because of the locals and how much they love us and the community that we’ve been able to create with them,” says owner Jason Ford.
“That’s a niche that you can’t get in a lot of places. It’s hard to live in the mountains. It’s hard to be up here. People play hard and pay hard. They work their butts off and live life to the fullest. And to have that type of community, you don’t get that in a place like Denver, where I thought of starting this brewery to begin with, but you get in a place like this where everybody counts on everybody to make it work.”
It’s that hard mountain living that really connects to the RV community. When you’re living on the road, you get used to a unique traveling community that is mostly self-reliant, but also willing to help out a neighbor… even if that neighbor may be someone different every few days.
But whether or not you live in the mountains or an RV, Broken Compass is always a welcoming place.
Sitting near the base of the Ten Mile mountain range, home to Breckenridge Ski Resort, it’s no surprise that Broken Compass is adorned with ski and mountain bike gear, including old lift chairs and ski run signs from the resort. The bar top and community tables are crafted from blue, beetle-kill pine. In short, you know you’re in the heart of the Rockies when you sit down.
Ford, having been a chemical engineer in his former life, follows a very different path from Mad Jack’s when it comes to brewing. In short, he likes to play!
The beer that put Broken Compass on the map was its Coconut Porter, which is every bit as luscious as you might imagine. There are definitely true-to-style beers always on tap, but with a dozen beers on tap, there’s plenty of room for Ford & Co. to spread their wings, which they do quite often.
In fact, every week they do Whacky One-Off Wednesday, which is a small batch of something special that often only lasts a day or two. With beers like SCUBA Gin-U-Wine, Orange Cream Dry Stout, and Herby the Love Bug (a Belgian Blonde made with desert sage, coriander, and orange peel), you can see there is no end to the creativity, making return trips a carnival for your palette.
Other Summit County Breweries
Outer Range Brewing Co.
Just down the road from Breckendrige, right off of Interstate 70 in Frisco, is Outer Range Brewing Co.
Founded by Army veterans Lee and Emily Cleghorn in 2016, Outer Range has taken a sort of hybrid approach to those of Mad Jack’s and Broken Compass. While Mad Jack’s stays closer to the true-to-style beers and Broken Compass spans the gamut and then some, Outer Range has taken the approach of zeroing in on the beers they like to drink, keeping the base beers minimal, but stretching them to their limits.
Outer Range focuses primarily on IPAs and Belgian-style beers. Lee went to high school in Brussels, which explains his penchant for Belgian beers.
Though Lee and Emily have narrowed their focus on the base styles they brew, there is no end to their creativity. With a tap list that usually lists a dozen or so beers at any one time, there is plenty of room for Lee, who is the head brewer, to create a wide array of beers sprouting out of the IPAs and Belgians. With New England IPAs a popular style, Outer Range often has several varieties on tap at once, and has a new brew nearly every week.
“We definitely get people who stop in and say ‘where’s your stout, where’s your lager.’ They just finished skiing or hiking and they’re looking for something familiar,” Emily said in an interview with PorchDrinking.com. “If you love to drink the styles you’re brewing, you’re going to make them well and be passionate about them.”
That passion definitely shines in Outer Range’s offerings. Though it’s a small brewer in a mid-size mountain town, Outer Range has already begun to get noticed.
After a panel of beer experts narrowed the field of hundreds of new breweries down a bit, USA Today readers voted and in 2018 named Outer Range the second best new brewery in the country. That’s a pretty solid endorsement.
Now that you made it to the Rocky Mountains in Frisco you might as well stay and see the sights and drink the beers at these Colorado Mountain Breweries:
What is it that makes these Colorado mountain breweries so special?
Is it the elevation? Is that Rocky Mountain spring water? Probably not. In our experience, it’s the people behind the brews that make these beers so special. Like people that are dedicated to a certain way of life by living on the road or opting for the hard effort it takes to live in the mountains, it takes something a little of the beaten path to brew a truly good craft beer, and whatever that is, these folks have it in spades.
More Broken Compass
Listen to our conversation with Broken Compass owner, Jason Ford!
Can’t afford the overpriced resort hotels?
Read our guide to overnight camping at ski resorts, so you have somewhere to sleep off all the beer you drank on your Colorado mountain brewery tour!