Aspen Brewing Co. celebrates its 11th anniversary on Sunday, which is St. Patrick’s Day. A lot of people treat beer like a meal on the Irish holiday, so that makes this appropriate food-column fodder. And really, who hasn’t finished skiing or biking and also treated an IPA like an appetizer?
The brewery started as a tasting room on Mill Street in 2007. That building, which sits across from the old art museum/current Aspen Chamber offices/aka Power Plant, was outside the commercial zone, so Aspen Brewing was originally only allowed to serve one beer per person. They pushed back and eventually upped that to six 6-ounce tasting glasses.
The brewery ran out of beer 11 days after opening, which was a sign of things to come: Aspen had a thirst, and the brewery served the right elixir.
Since then, there have been several moves and expansions. The brewery relocated to a tap room on Hopkins Avenue (where they could serve as much beer as they wanted), opened an 8,000-square-foot production facility at the Airport Business Center and now calls the corner of Galena Street and Hopkins Avenue home as Aspen Tap. In this 2,000-square-foot space, Aspen Brewing pours 14 different beers on tap and has a menu that includes items like a Croque Monsieur with tomato soup and a grass-fed burger with mushroom, cheese and bacon. Fun fact: The beef comes from cows fed by organic brewery byproduct, like malted barley.
Aspen Brewing beers are distributed around the country and overseas. And they come in cans! Remember just 10 years ago, when only cheap, watered-down beers came in aluminum? Now it’s the industry norm.
But, the path for brewery owner Duncan Clauss hasn’t been as smooth as his blonde pale ale. He went to court over noise complaints from penthouse neighbors in the former Hopkins space (and won), and then he earned, and lost, an opportunity from the city to open a multiuse brewery, co-working and events space in the Power Plant. Now he’s figuring out how to maintain, and perhaps expand, the current level of production while also operating an Aspen restaurant, which can be a 24/7 challenge in itself. Between managing staff and sourcing ingredients, it’s a new skillset.
Aspen Tap is open daily from noon to midnight. It tried a go at a coffee/doughnut hour in the morning but opted to stick to what it does best: booze. Some nights there’s live music and others special events. This Sunday, there will be a DJ and beer specials to celebrate the anniversary. Raise a pint in celebration, and get some gastropub food too. Aspen Brewing Co. has tapped into something worth cheersing.
Christine Benedetti writes about food here every other week. Mostly the plant kind. She’s editor-in-chief of Aspen magazine, but you can reach her @cabenedetti.