Of 14ers and Keggers

Many years ago, I made a pact with myself to climb one 14er (a 14,000 foot peak) a year for as long as I am physically able to.  I managed to do this for a few years before life got busy and days in the mountains took a back seat. But now I have more spare time and have been hiking for most of the summer so the timing seemed right to start my goal over again. However, I wanted to do an “easy” one and with the help of a friend (hi Mike!) we chose Quandary Peak as the best possible option. Quandary is a mountain near Breckenridge Colorado, less than a couple of hours from where I live, near Boulder. The only problem with picking an “easy” 14er within driving distance of a major metropolitan city (Denver) is that you can expect a small army of hikers who are thinking exactly the same thing.  So this would not be a hike in solitude but rather a hike more closely resembling a conga line to the summit. Foreshadowing?

No matter how fit you are, high elevation has a way of taking you down a notch or two. Even though I had been hiking a lot over the summer, I noticed the lack of oxygen almost immediately after leaving the car at the trailhead, at 10,900 feet above sea level. The mountain introduced itself to us straight away by letting us know that this would be no “easy” climb.  I was carrying a simple day pack with a few essentials like Vanilla Coke, trail mix, camera, aspirin, etc. and felt good that I had not overpacked. I was as light as I could hope to be, gear wise anyway. We hiked along pretty well for quite awhile before we ‘really’ started to notice the effects of the higher altitudes.  It slowed us down tremendously but we were outside on a crisp late summer day and we were just taking our time getting up the hill, just happy to be up high again.

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Rocky Mountain Goat

When I hike or spend time in the outdoors, I prefer solitude over crowds. Today, I had to accept the fact that there would be large numbers of hikers and there most certainly were. Recently, I have been doing a cruiser bike ride on Thursday nights in Boulder with a couple of hundred, mostly college aged cyclists. On these rides, I have noticed that most of the younger crowd is just out to have fun, and that they generally behave in a respectful manner.  I have found that I enjoy being around their youthful energy.  Unintentionally, this prepared me for being around a bigger crowd of like-minded people just like the ones I would see on the trail today.

We continued to make our way up the mountain step by step and as we did, a rumor of something unheard of began to filter down to us from hikers that had already reached the summit, that some guys had carried a keg of beer to the top and that if we didn’t hurry, we would miss out on having a a cup at the top. At first, I scoffed at the idea that anyone or any group of people would, could, or should carry a keg up a mountain when I could barely carry my light pack with snacks.  But the more we passed other hikers with the same news, the more exciting getting to the summit was becoming. The anticipation of confirming the validity of the rumors was actually helping to take my mind off of the trials of the hike.

As we neared the top, we could hear a group of people counting, but we had no idea why.  We could also see a fairly big group of people on the summit gathered around in a circle.  So what we heard was that some guy set a goal to climb all 53 of Colorado’s 14ers in one summer, and this was his last one to complete what is a very monumental feat.  His buddies decided to bring a keg to the top of the last 14er to celebrate his accomplishment. Truth really is stranger than fiction –  when we reached the summit, there was said keg on top of said 14er in all of its silver glory, glistening like a trophy. Everyone who made it to the top, strangers alike, were offered a beer. Although it was very foamy and not my beloved Fat Tire (it was PBR I believe), it was the best beer I’ve ever had on a 14er (okay, it’s the only beer I’ve had on a 14er).

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The circling crowd on the summit

 

Now to the counting we heard from below, as it turns out the millinials were counting off the seconds that a few brave (read crazy) souls were doing ‘keg stands’. So this was to be a  special ’14er’ keg stand where the goal was to last 14 seconds.  Man after man tried and failed until a woman in her late twenties managed a 16 second keg stand.  When they flipped her back up, she had tears rolling down her cheeks. Tears of joy? Beer in her eyes? Lack of oxygen? Tears of sorrow for not making it further than 16 seconds? Realizing there was no hospital nearby?! I have no idea, but whatever the reason…very impressive, and fun to be a part of.

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Commencing keg stand

And how did they get the keg up to the top? They made an apparatus out of PVC pipe and plywood with the keg strapped to it so that two people (or even four) could carry it up to the top (they must’ve been Engineering majors). They took turns carrying it up, but comparing their load to the load I carried, it looked much more impressive for them, not so much for me.  This may explain though why everyone got a free beer at the top…so they could carry an empty keg back down instead of one with the excess weight of beer they couldn’t finish. Again, impressive!

My first 14er in many years and there was a kegger on the summit! Crazy. Awesome. Fun.

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Parting shot
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Beer Trekker – Kona Brewing Company

Let’s get this out of the way right away: Kona Brewing Company (KBC) has a huge advantage just by being located in one of the best places anyone could ever think to have a brewery, the Big Island of Hawaii. But this brewery is more than just a place that brews beer in an idyllic setting: it brews very good beer, has excellent cuisine, and the atmosphere is unrivaled.

It is hard to separate Kona Brewing from Hawaii itself.  Both have so much in common. The ambiance of the brewery mirrors that of its surroundings very well with palm trees, tiki torches, and the relaxed Hawaii island vibe that comes with it.  Breweries generally have a relaxed feel to them anyway but add a tropical twist to it and relaxed gets taken to a whole new level.  If you’re wearing socks, you’re overdressed. If you’re staying south of the airport, this is a great place to get acclimated to island life after the long flight from the mainland.

On to the food, which was excellent.  The menu has a number of different starters that you might consider to be standard pub fare but some items had a uniquely Hawaiian twist such as sliders on Taro rolls or nachos with Kalua pork. We chose wisely with the pretzel bites, which are made with spent grain dough and Wailua Wheat Ale as well as cheese sauce made with Fire Rock Pale Ale. It was excellent.  For entrees, most of the menu was pizza and sandwiches but again, there were uniquely Hawaiian takes on most of the offerings. At our table, pizza and flatbreads were the most popular choices while I opted for an Imu pork sandwich which has Kalua pork, cabbage, cheese, and a house made Black Sand Porter BBQ sauce.  All of the food items were outstanding!

And last but certainly not least, the beer.  I tried a few different ones but really settled on two favorites: the Wailua Wheat which is a light wheat ale with a slight fruit flavor and hints of passion fruit (known locally as lilliko’i) and the Hula Hef which is a traditional hefeweizen with banana undertones (and I don’t even like bananas!). Both beers were extremely good!  Other popular choices include Pipeline Porter which is made with local Kona coffee  (my wife’s top pick), Longboard Island Lager which is a very ‘island’ kind of beer (my daughters favorite), and Lemongrass Lu’au which is a light blond ale with notes of lemongrass and ginger. All in all, a wide variety of beers with local influences in most, if not all of them.

KBC is also very involved in helping to protect the environment by partnering with organizations such as the Surfrider Foundation, Malama Maunalua, and the Blue Planet Foundation. They are also pioneering energy conservationists, they go to great lengths to minimize waste, they use solar energy to help power their brewery, source locally whenever possible and are very involved with the local community.

All in all, if you’re looking for some great beer, great food, and a super chill vibe, this is the place to go when your visiting the Big Island or you can buy their beers in many places on the mainland and at least get a taste of island life.  Either way…you won’t be disappointed.

Aloha

 

Beer Trekker – Santa Fe Brewing Company – Santa Fe, New Mexico

* Note – I have been intending on starting the Beer Trekker portion of the blog for some time now and this is the first in what I hope is a long series about the craft breweries that I am lucky enough to check out. Check back on Tuesdays for more beer related articles.  Cheers!!!

The brewery closed at 9:00 and I arrived there at 8:30 to try one beer, get a feel for the place, and then get back to town.  The brewery is not in the touristy area of the Plaza or the hip Railyard district (not that there is anything wrong with these areas). Santa Fe Brewing Company (SFBC)  is located just a stones throw away from the interstate in a light industrial part of town. I heard a rumor that they even have a couple of foosball tables so I was hoping I could get a game or two in before heading home.

As I walked from the parking lot, there were several people outside having a good time, locals I could only assume.  I walked past them and into the tasting room where I presumed there were locals firmly seated at the bar.  Some places I’ve been, locals don’t always commingle with tourists, and I wasn’t sure if I gave off the tourist vibe or not. As I’ve mentioned before, I typically try not to behave like a tourist but more like that of a seasoned traveler and was dressed in simple khaki shorts and a tee shirt.

I ordered a hefeweizen from the bartender and sipped on it for a while and was very pleased with my choice.  SFBC’s version of a hefeweizen was crisp with hints of banana and cloves, having only a slight bitterness to it.  While I was still milking the first beer (only one since I had to drive), a couple of locals next to me started chatting me up, and I immediately felt like this was going to be a comfortable place to spend an hour or so.  Then another friend of theirs joined in on the conversation and it went on for some time. One of the ‘boys’ bought me my second  hefeweizen and a round of Java Stout shots for everyone at the bar.  I couldn’t have walked into a better crowd of locals that were so welcoming to me being the ‘outsider’ on unknown turf!

I then managed to dovetail myself into a tour that was being organized for a group of distributors from out of state. I stayed at the back and chatted it up with the owner about distribution in Colorado and Texas, the current challenges of expansion, and even craft brewing documentaries currently on Netflix. We even tasted beer right off of the canning line.

All in all, I had a great time at The Santa Fe Brewing Company. The staff was friendly, the patrons were so generous and fun to talk to, the atmosphere was upbeat and down to earth, and for me…the Hefeweizen was outstanding. And I didn’t even get to play foosball 😡⚽️!

On a side note, there are craft breweries popping up all across the U.S., and in some very unlikely areas, mainly wharehouse districts and industrial areas. Some of these areas might scare the beer snob away, but these are some of the best new breweries that are up and coming. For example We met up with a family member in Los Angeles, CA at Golden Road Brewing. It felt like we made a wrong turn it was so industrial, but once we found it we thoroughly enjoyed it. Upslope Brewing Company is a smaller craft brewery in the industrial part of east Boulder, CO. One of our favorites, hands down was the Kona Brewing Company. Even though this larger scale brewery with restaurant makes it feel like your sitting outside any normal restaurant with many different beer choices, it as well is a bit off the beaten path to get to in a wharehouse area, but once you’re there you don’t think about it, and you’re in Hawaii of all places. Welcome to the new art of craft breweries, it’s an exciting time to be a beer fan. Don’t blink or you’ll most surely miss one!