That and the fact that the Ouray Brewery is vying to become the evening home away from home for mountaineers, skiers and local avalanche forecasters.
I like the way they chalk the beers up on the board. They give you the brew’s name, San Juan IPA, for example. Then the alcohol content, in this case 6.5 percent. Then the size options: half pint (8 oz.) $2; pint (16 oz.) $4; Imperial (20 oz.) $5.
It’s a serious brewpub. You can view the antique wooden brewing barrels from the upstairs dining room.
This time of year, I’m a sucker for the darkest of the darks, so I tried a pint of Ouray’s Belgian Porter, a more delicate version of Guinness Stout’s foamy “meal in a can.”
The Brewery’s owner, Erin Eddy, and his brewer, Jeff Lockhart, worked closely with owner-brewer Tom Hennessy of Ridgway’s instant-institution Colorado Boy Pub and Brewery. Hennessy is a firm believer in small-scale “Frankenbrew” systems, and is happy to share his techniques with anyone interested in opening a small brewery. (He even offers a one-week immersion course.)
Eddy, who is best known as the Ouray Ice Park “czar” (he is executive director of the park and principal organizer of the January Ice Festival), wanted the Brewery to be a community gathering place as well as a place to slake one’s thirst. To that end, he added a rooftop-garden dining space to the two-story, corner brick building. And he has made a point to host community events, including a fundraiser for the imperiled historic Wright Opera House and a slideshow by renowned mountaineer and Ouray part-timer Jim Donnie. (Not to mention hosting a stop on governor-elect John Hickenlooper’s bus tour in October, a rally at which Hick, a successful downtown Denver brewer himself, declared the San Juan IPA “excellent.”)
On Dec. 15, the Brewery hosted a fundraiser for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, the outfit that forecasts for Highway 550 over the passes, with a silent auction of donated mountain gear and a $1 donation to CAIC for every pint sold.
The barstools at the Brewery are not stools, they are swings. Eddy got local iron artist Jeff Skloloda to hang the four seats on lengths of heavy cable. There are four tables downstairs, and many more on the second floor, which transforms into a 50-seat cinema for Eddy’s nascent Mountaineering Film Fest. The next installment is coming up Thursday, Dec. 16, at 7 p.m. and will feature Malcolm Daly, founding member of Boulder’s Paradox Sports, which provides “inspiration, opportunities and equipment” to outdoor athletes with disabilities. Malcolm himself lost a leg following a fall on an ice wall in Alaska. He and partner Donini had achieved a new route on Thunder Mountain, a spur of Mount Hunter, when Malcolm’s ankle and leg were shattered. But he survived. He still climbs. And his Thursday night show will follow his inspiring journey from despair to re-creation.
The gumbo, which I tried for the first time last week, was made with turkey and andouille sausage. It was a dark, rich stew, the best I’d ever had, and I watched intently a young man in the kitchen wearing a snap-brim hat. It was Sid Cavallo.
He came out to chat later. I told him the only comparable gumbo I’d tasted was on our one and only visit to New Orleans, about six months after Katrina. The city was begging for tourists, and on our way home from a wedding in Alabama, Ellen and I decided to spend the night there.
We walked a very quiet French Quarter (which had largely been spared the flooding) and decided finally on the Palace Café for dinner. I told Sid that I’d had the gumbo there, and Sid told me, “I probably made it for you. I was cooking at the Palace Café then.” This is the recipe he’s brought to Ouray.
It was a most wonderful coincidence. Cavallo detailed more of his home-cooked touches at the Brewery: breads and croutons from Ouray’s Artisan Bakery, fries cut in-house, dry rubs for the slow-cooked ribs, Cajun sweet potato wedges with Creole seasoning and a candied pecan sauce.
So, yes, the sign does just say Ouray Brewery. But there’s a lot more than tasty beers inside.