The first beer I paid for myself was a Bud Light in a bottle at the Applebee's on Camino del Rio. I'd had other beers – Milwaukee's Best, Keystone Light, plenty of other Buds – but this one I ordered and paid for myself.
I was 19, and yes, the legal drinking age was still 21. The other guys I was with, two years older, had their IDs checked, but it's really easy to say “Bud Light, bottle” with confidence and swagger. Since I ordered last and put in my request swiftly and surely without hesitation, the waitress didn't check mine. I drank my beer slowly with my meal and didn't push my luck by ordering another.
No, this isn't a tutorial on underage drinking, but a love letter to some of my firsts.
We all have little milestones and firsts that we remember forever. I remember my first PBR, a tall boy that I drank on the lift at Purgatory. I remember the first time I bought a keg with a bunch of teammates and drank it along the Verdigris River in Coffeyville, Kansas. My first stop in a brewery was Steamworks, where I had just Coke (way, way too young to even try buying beer), but I do remember my first craft beer: a six pack of Pinstripe Red Ale in convenient 12-ounce bottles. It's no surprise that many of my beer firsts happened in Durango. Durango is a special place for beer. The beer community here, both the drinkers and the brewers, know what they're doing.
In the last three years, brewers from Durango have won eight medals at the Great American Beer Festival. Three years ago, when there were only four breweries in Durango, three out of the four won gold. We have the whole spectrum of high end here, too: From barrel-aged to sours (Steamworks almost always has a sour on tap), high gravities to IBUs reaching for the triple digits, or stouts so black you wanna turn on the lights for fear of the dark. We have it and it's all local.
But this isn't just beer to fuss over (and we make some really fussy beer here) or just technically good beer from the point of view of a beer snob's thick-framed glasses (though it's also very technically sound beer), this is beer to drink and converse over. Whether you're drinking a Lightner Creek Lager, a Colorado Kolsch or a True Blonde, there's probably a great conversation happening with a great, simple, yellow beer.
So the brewers know how to brew some great beer, and luckily, the people of Durango know how to drink it. When they watch the train pull in at Brew, or pull out of the river to go to ABC, or when they wake up for Sunday brunch at Carver's, Durangoans are drinking great local beer.
We'll throw a party for anything, but we have our seasonal standbys: Animas River Days, The San Juan Brewfest, Ska's Anniversary Party, Oktoberfest, Snowdown, every day on the slopes in the winter, on the river in the summer, and every Wednesday night at El Rancho. There is great local beer being poured and great people drinking it. I don't see the people of Durango getting tired of their local beer anytime soon.
No, I don't drink Bud Light anymore (can you even buy it anymore?), but I still drink the occasional PBR on the lift or on the river, and I still do the occasional kegger, though now I help fill them, too. I see more kegs filled in a week than I will be able to see poured in a lifetime. Still, I do my part, trying to empty as many as I can, and I hope you'll join me in this beautiful, Sisyphean task.
Robert Alan Wendeborn puts the bubbles in the beer at Ska Brewing Company. His first book of poetry, “The Blank Target,” was published this past spring by The Lettered Streets Press and is available at Maria's Bookshop. [email protected]