While the phrase “hop on a dick” may seem offensive, chances are, it does not mean what you think it does. Or, at least, not at Pagosa Brewing & Grill in Pagosa Springs. In fact, that cheeky phrase is used pretty commonly around those parts, especially when ordering a mixed beer. It refers to a beer mixture of Powder Day IPA and Poor Richards Ale – the name is a combo of the “hoppy” IPA and “Dick,” ol’ Richard’s nickname – and it’s quite popular among the regulars.
It’s also quite popular with Brandon Schrage, lead brewer at Pagosa Brewing. He is the mastermind behind most of the beers at the brewery, after all, and giving them unique names – Raging Raspberry or Cool Cucumber – comes with the territory.
“I get to ring my dong every time a keg gets tapped,” laughed Schrage. He even did so in a kilt, when the Bare Scotsman was tapped. Whether or not he wore it in the traditional manner remains unclear.
It’s that carefree attitude toward brewing, along with some wicked brews, that have earned Pagosa Brewing, Schrage, and owner Tony Simmons – head brewer and Schrage’s beer mentor – award after award. Pagosa Brewing has won nearly 100 medals in the 11.5 years they’ve been around, including awards for their Kayaker Cream and Peachy Peach – a seasonal, wheat-based beer that, yes, tastes like peaches.
Schrage’s role in the brewery has morphed magnanimously over the last six or so years. He started out as a line cook, and it was only about three weeks or so before he was asked to run food on the Fourth of July. He’s done stints washing dishes and behind the bar, and is proficient in just about any area of brewery life. These days, though, his main focus is on playing mad scientist with beer. His first beer recipe, a red ale, was concocted just three months into the gig.
“Some of the beers are soaked with chile or cucumber. The alcohol extracts the cucumber flavor, so it only takes three or four,” Schrage said.
Schrage has learned the tricks of the trade pretty darn quickly – he can change the water profile to create the right balance for each brew. Part of that expertise comes from spending just about every day at the brewery, and on days when he’s brewing a double batch, he may put in 14 hours of work. But that input from Schrage means Pagosa has just about any type of beer one could ask for on tap.
“There was a time when I didn’t have a day off for seven months,” Schrage said.
Luckily, the lead brewer really likes his gig, even if he doesn’t drink much. Those 14-hour days give him plenty of time to experiment with new recipes – a handful of hand-toasted coconut flakes here, a half-salt-rimmed salty caramel stout there. But Poor Richard’s – one-half of that eponymous hoppy beer mixture – is what first gained the small town brewery some notoriety.
“Poor Richards was our Ben Franklin beer. It was brewed for Franklin’s 300th anniversary, and that’s what got us on the map,” Schrage said.
These days, the brewery has become known for not only Ben Franklin’s brew, but a host of others, too. There are 24 beers on tap at all times at Pagosa, including a couple of gluten-free options, which are brewed with an enzyme to remove the gluten, and are offered alongside beers infused with cucumber and green chiles.
And, true to form, the food options at Pagosa Brewing utilize their craft brews whenever possible. Kayaker Cream goes into the pizza dough, and their in-house beers are used in the beer cheeses and beer gravies, too. The folks at Pagosa have done just about everything to make the menu beer-lover friendly, and whether it’s the salmon fish and chips – a twist on the traditional fish and chips – or the Hungry Hippie vegan pizza, the menu suggests a beer pairing right alongside the dish. Couple that with some killer beer options, and it’s easy to see why people from any and everywhere coming back for more.
“We have people from Canada come in. There’s a guy who always makes a trip from Italy (to the brewery),” Schrage said. And, of course, there are plenty of people who flock to the brewery from the region, too. It is, after all, the only place you can get most of Pagosa Brewing’s beers.
“We were in some bars in Durango, but the 106 mile round trip didn’t make sense. Especially when the drivers were having to dodge deer the entire way,” Schrage said.
What that means is if you want a Loco Lager – Pagosa’s take on a Mexican beer – or a Pagosa Pale Ale, or even one of their house-brewed root beer or ginger sodas, you’re making a trip to Pagosa Springs, cause it ain’t in Durango no mo’. But if you do make the trek out that way, we promise the beer reward will be worth it. Just keep an eye out for the deer.