When you walk into Animas Brewing Company the first thing you’ll notice is the 10-barrel brewhouse and you’ll probably see the “Gone Fishing” sign hung on the steps to the brew deck. It’s not hard to believe, because during operating hours you’ll rarely see anyone working in the brewery itself. It’s so clean and stoic looking in the background, like a statue or monument. From my perspective, that is the dream: brew once a week, maybe twice if it’s the middle of summer, and spend the rest of your free time fishing (or any of the millions of other things to do here in Durango). But running restaurant and a brewery at the same time is another thing entirely.
If you go into Animas Brewing Company (ABC) enough, you will see that Scott is a fixture at his own bar, mostly watching Philly sports and talking fishing with the regulars. And there’s a lot of regulars. The bar at ABC feels homey, set up perfectly for watching sports, chatting with your bartender and the other regulars, or meeting people from out of town. What you don’t see is the 5 a.m. brew days, cleaning kegs, covering for cooks, servers or bartenders who don’t show up, on top of all the other bullshit that comes with running a business.
“That sign is a lie: I definitely don’t go fishing as much as I used to, or nearly as much as I wish I could,” Scott said.
When it comes to the NHL, Scott’s a devoted Flyers fan and hates the Penguins with a passion (Scott assures me that Penguin fans are still welcome; to paraphrase Michael Jordan, even Penguin fans drink beer). He still has a lot of pride for his home city of Philadelphia, so why move out West? Why not have cheesesteaks or pizza on the menu? What the hell is a “pasty”? I took a morning off from my usual brewery work to follow Scott and his assistant brewer Jed Smith and asked some of these questions.
“I hated the winter and never wanted to see a cold, dark, icy, East Coast winter again, so I moved to Phoenix. But I went on a trip to Silverton and realized I missed seasons.”
Since moving to Colorado, Scott has brewed all around Durango before opening his own place. He’s brewed or helped out at half the breweries in town so he knows the brewery life. And the food at ABC, on the surface, seems like the typical brewery food: burgers, fried fusion appetizers, and salads. But there’s a lot stuff on the menu you won’t find anywhere else in Durango.
“When making the menu, the first rule was no pizza. I don’t care if the pizza in Durango is good or bad, we just don’t need another pizza place. It seems like there’s one on every corner,” Scott said.
“The second rule was we wouldn’t do something that people could easily make at home, or something that you can walk into any place in town and get. You can make a pasty or one of our burgers at home, but it’s gonna take you a lot of prep time and cost a lot more money.”
So you won’t see french fries or normal sandwiches on the menu, either. Instead you see 50/50 burgers, made with blended meats (your normal ground beef, mixed with corned beef, sausage or brisket), fresh cut chips and the pasties? Well, that’s where you see the real theme of the brewery: it’s mostly English tradition meets Rocky Mountain attitude.
“A pasty is a traditional Cornish mining food, and being in a part of the country steeped in mining history and culture, it made sense to do it in Durango,” he said. “It’s also not just something you can make at home.”
This also carries over into the beer. The mainline beers are more of an English style than you’ll get anywhere else in town (malty, full-bodied beers in straight forward styles: red, brown, black, porter, stout, IPA, etc.), with a few German seasonal styles thrown in to cover all the bases. And there’s always a one-off or limited release that gives ABC its Colorado flair (right now the Farmhouse is pretty top notch).
The biggest thing when drinking the beer at ABC and when talking to Scott about beer, is you can tell he knows what he’s doing and cares a lot about beer. They’ve been open just over a year, but the flavors of the beer are in full stride: no off flavors or flaws to speak of, but good clean beer on every tap with plenty of character to stand out in Durango. The success, I think, comes from the years brewing other people’s beer as a production brewer.
Even though his is among them, when asked about the massive amount of breweries opening, Scott had a good, simple perspective:
“I welcome the competition, and camaraderie, but there’s an old saying that applies, ‘Just cause you can cook an awesome marinara or grill a mean steak, doesn’t mean you should open a restaurant.’ A lot of people don’t realize how much work goes into doing day after day: it’s a lot of work and it’s not for everybody.”
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]