Just outside the gates of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, about 90 minutes from Denver, is a sleepy mountain town of about 6,000 people. Almost deserted in the winter, it comes alive in the spring and summer, swelling to host thousands of visitors a day—the overflow of the national park’s annual tourist load of more than 5 million souls. The town is Estes Park, and I recently had the privilege of staying in this picturesque, friendly burg for thee days.
It’s the type of postcard-perfect town you see in the movies. There’s a main street lined with quant shops and restaurants. There are breathtaking views of snowy peaks. Elk, deer and other wildlife wander the streets, seemingly oblivious to the humans ogling them.
Estes Park is also home to three excellent breweries. One of them, Estes Park Brewery, was one of the first craft producers in the state. It was the fruit of a 1994 union between local event coordinator Ed Grueff and budding brewer Gordon Knight. Lovers of Oskar Blues Brewery will recognize the Knight name. The Colorado company’s Imperial Red IPA, G’Knight, was named for the pioneering brewer and helicopter pilot after he lost his life fighting the Big Elk Fire in 2002. When Estes Park Brewery first opened, it produced only four beers on its 4.5-barrel system. Since then, operations have expanded to produce many more brews and offer free samples in the ground floor taproom. Of note is the Longs Peak Raspberry Wheat beer, a refreshing, fruity delight that is a popular choice on warm summer days in the mountains.
As with many craft breweries, Rock Cut Brewing Company got its start with two friends in a garage. Tracy Goodemote and Matt Heiser met while attending college in St. Louis. A love for the outdoors brought them to Colorado, where they settled in Estes Park. They tinkered with brewing in their garage, ultimately leading to the founding of Rock Cut in 2015. Today the two friends brew their outstanding beers along the banks of the bubbling Big Thompson River. The facility attracts locals, park employees and visitors alike. My favorite Rock Cut brew was the Snow Trace Brut IPA with its crisp flavors and dry finish.
Craft breweries are nothing if not resourceful. Nick Smith, owner of Lumpy Ridge Brewing Co., saw his chance to open a brewery when the old Murry & Sons garage and gas station became available. The former brewer at Indiana-based Terre Haute Brewing Company repurposed the building, adding a 15-barrel brewing system, tap room and enclosed patio. The site, situated near the top of a large hill, provides beautiful views of its namesake ridge and Lake Estes. The beers are amazing, and the place is well worth a stop. The Winter Breeze Coconut Dark Lager was a fine sip while watching the sunset over the mountains.
Estes Park is also home to the historic Stanley Hotel, the setting for Stanley Kubrick’s classic film adaption of Stephen King’s horror novel, The Shining. The building also has the dubious honor of being considered one of America’s most haunted hotels.
If breathtaking views, quiet evenings and quaint settings are your thing, Estes Park and its breweries should fit the bill. The crisp air and tasty brews did a world of good for me.