What's Brewing in Your Ski Resort?
By Simon Hudson Endowed Chair in Tourism & Hospitality, University of South Carolina | December 30, 2018
Après ski in ski resorts used to consist of a few pints of ale and plate of nachos, but increasingly the bubbly allure of champagne, beer and spirits is being packaged by resorts into beer and distillery tours, private in-room liquor tastings, champagne toasts on the slopes, and beverage and food pairings. Ski resorts in Colorado, famous for its craft breweries and brewpubs, are one of the pioneers of this trend.
In Aspen, dotting the slopes are vibrant Veuve Clicquot pop-up bars, and at Highlands on sunny afternoons Cloud Nine is a riot of music, tabletop dancing and champagne spraying. "I love the spring skiing atmosphere and parties on the mountain when the champagne starts flowing," says Aspen local, Chelsea Dillon. "The Veuve Clicquot pop up bar is so much fun as well as the party atmosphere at Cloud Nine and Ajax Tavern!"
Around town, après ski offerings include the St Regis Hotel's champagne sabering ceremony, where sommeliers de-cork the bubbly with a flamboyant slash. The Little Nell runs a wine cellar tour with rap music and charcuterie; there are distillery tours at Woody Creek; beer dinners at Limelight Hotel; and tastings at Aspen Brewing Company. At Jimmy's restaurant, staff are taken overseas each year, bringing back innovative international cocktail ingredients and recipes.
Further north in Colorado, Telluride is wooing wine connoisseurs with world-class sommelier and wine director, Andrew Shaffner, who oversees the wine program for the resort's ski eateries. With breathtaking views of Palmyra and the Wilson Range, Bon Vivant is the perfect venue for sampling the all-French wine list, and at Allred's nine certified sommeliers help brand-boggled tipplers navigate the list of 1,200 bottles on the 35-page wine list. At Alpino Vino, 12,000 ft above sea-level, there are 400 ways to get light-headed at North America's highest elevation fine-dinery.
Colorado also boasts the world's highest distillery in Breckenridge. At 9600 feet, the distillery offers tastings, tours and sharing dishes. Secret ingredient, according to CEO Bryan Nolt, is Breckenridge's pure mineral water, coupled with flavorings from fresh Colorado Western-Slope fruits. Another new business in town is the custom ski/craft brew bar – RMU Tavern, launched last year, offers craft beers and cocktails on draft along with handcrafted skis.
At Purgatory Resort the craft beverage scene is very much part of the local culture and a big draw for tourists. Down in the valley, Craft Beverages of Southwest Colorado, a regional partnership marketing group, is looking to raise awareness of the region's agricultural tourism and 'drink local' movement. As part of a new marketing initiative, supported by Colorado Tourism, the group is highlighting signature craft beverages and special events, while encouraging regional side trips to cultural, historic and outdoor attractions. It spotlights the increase of small-batch, independent producers of crafted beverages including beer, wine, spirits, cider, non-alcoholic gourmet sodas, and coffee and tea roasters.
Elsewhere in Colorado: Vail's Arrabelle has in-room tastings of Colorado craft brews and distillery liquors; at Beaver Creek, The Osprey's snowshoe adventures include après-snowshoe gourmet guzzling with wine pairings; and Four Points Lodge, a European-style eatery at Steamboat, is known for selling 50,000 Bloody Marys since 2013, the latest a bacon flavor. "Eating and drinking on the mountain is now as much a part of the ski experience as the powder," says Nicole Miller, Steamboat Communications. Butcherknife Brewing supplies the hill with craft beer.
But this 'liquid' après ski trend is not just confined to Colorado. In Utah, even a five-star hotel - the Waldorf Astoria Park City - has its own custom craft beer. Called Pow Day, it is a first for the hotel – "a crisp pale ale with a hint of rye that pairs perfectly with the modern mountain cuisine served at Powder restaurant", says Danielle Summers, who is partially responsible for its taste. As PR & Marketing Manager, she came up with the co-branding idea: "I knew the owners of the Park City Brewery and asked them to create a specific beer for us," she said. "We got them to try our fried chicken and mac cheese and to formulate the perfect pairing beer. They brewed it and let me name it and design the label: Pow Day IPA." This has led the hotel to offer a fun après ski experience, 'Become the Brew-Master', where hotel guests can learn about craft creation.
At nearby Snowbasin, free live music with specialty cocktails starts at 11:30am, and season passholders vote on the best craft beers which are then adopted resort-wide. Around the mountain, eateries serve local bevvies including Mountain West Ruby Cider (Salt Lake City) and New World gin, Porter's Peach and Five Wives Vanilla Custard Vodka all made in Ogden. An hour or so away at Solitude Mountain Resort, skiers can end the day drinking the resort's specially-made beer - Brew Ski – made by Bohemian Brewery in Salt Lake City.
Another ski resort that has created its own beer is Whistler in British Columbia, Canada. Just recently a Whistler hospitality company developed a beer to pair with its experiential ski holidays. Joey Gibbons, star of Bravo's Après Ski, partnered with Deep Cove Brewers and Distillers to create Après Lager. "Gibbons Après Lager is about facilitating the good times and unforgettable moments that occur when people share the common bond of having truly tackled the day," says Gibbons, who clocked up 137 ski days last season.
Having a beer made especially for you is one thing, but an indicator that a ski town is getting on the mainstream mountain map these days is when it gets its own craft brewery. Not only does Golden in Canada now have the Whitetooth Brewing Company, but it also won a second place award for one of its beers at the BC Beer Awards in 2017, its first year of business. Swiftly becoming THE après ski hub, Whitetooth is the brainchild of Kent Donaldson and partner, Mark Nagao, who both live in Golden, BC just five minutes from Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. When the budding business was still in the idea stage, Kent first built a garage at his house to install a home brew pilot system. Having chosen a big plot of land in central Golden, he coordinated the design of a new brewery building, upscaled to gleaming stainless steel commercial grade equipment, and hired Evan Cronshaw as Brewmaster to collaborate on the redolent recipes. "The pilot brewing system in the garage was a very useful testing ground in the development of the final beer recipes," Kent recalled.
Morph to now and Whitetooth Brewing produces 12 beers on tap - six core brews and six limited selections - which are quickly taking over the town. "Our beer is in most of the Golden restaurants and bars, at all the liquor stores, and also up at the bars on the mountain," said Kent's wife, Shelley Donaldson. Beers are named for local attractions and pursuits, like Blower Pow IPA for skiing, as well as Truth, Dare and Consequence Imperial Stout which are local ski runs. "We're very excited to be producing a special limited release beer for the Freeride World Tour at Kicking Horse this season," Shelley said.
Just along the highway at Panorama Resort, 'Ski like a local, eat like a local and drink like a local' is the latest mountain mantra. Food and Beverage Manager, Richard Matthews is noticing the success of this local focus just by looking at draft beer sales, particularly from the nearby Arrowhead Brewing Company. "It's just gone crazy, craft beer is so on trend right now and it's really working for us," said Richard over beer-infused cocktails at Restaurant Eleven Fifty. "And it's all about supporting local in our beverages as well as our food." Arrowhead Brewing Company opened in October 2012, starting out with just two styles of ales. These days there are six permanent beers available, as well as three to five seasonal varieties. "Definitely we see our customers drifting away from the big brands towards wanting to drink local," said Richard. "They want to be part of the community and eat what the locals are eating and drink what the locals are drinking. We also have a distillery that has just opened in town, and cocktails with liquor from the distillery are selling really well."
Elsewhere in Canada, other ski resorts are cashing in on the demand for more innovative beverage-focused offerings. Fernie is the only ski resort to offer an indoor ice bar. Inside 'cirque' themed Lizard Creek Lodge, the Ice Bar is the coolest après ski experience. Wrapped in parkas to withstand -13ºC temps, skiers sample top-shelf vodkas in ice glasses or opt for champagne. Not wanting to be left behind, last season Banff Sunshine Village launched a Veuve Clicquot Champagne and Oyster Bar and a pop-up VC shop selling Veuve sunglasses, vests, cups and skis. Starting early April, it runs until late May. And at Lake Louise, ice bars are built on the decks at Whitehorn and Kokanee Kabin, featuring spirits and liqueurs, notably served through a 'drink luge' ice sculpture.
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