Aspen Brewing Company is the only licensed brewery in Aspen, population around 7,000. It might seem strange that a destination town like Aspen only has one brewery, but the town is notoriously choosy about its businesses.
“To do business in Aspen, you almost have to prove you can’t afford to,” says Don Bryant, Aspen Brewing Company’s CEO. Now a local trademark, Aspen Brewing worked to earn the town’s blessing for more than a year.
At first, Aspen’s community was skeptical of a potential big business takeover. But with the town’s alpine location complicating shipping and limiting water supply—breweries there are bound by the finite water supply the surrounding mountains offer—the brewery’s enthusiasm proved authentic.
“You have to do it because you love it,” Don says, which is exactly what Aspen Brewing did.
Duncan Clauss, a University of Colorado Boulder graduate and home brewer whose family had lived in Aspen for generations, started Aspen Brewing with his brother and sister in 2008, building a brand around Aspen’s mountain lifestyle, as well as a brewing location and public tasting room near the airport. Don bought Aspen Brewing in 2020 and Capitol Creek in 2021.
At the foot of the Elk Mountain Range, Aspen Brewing’s taproom at 121 S. Galena St. fits seamlessly into the town’s skiing, snowboarding, climbing and biking community and aims to become a landmark around all things Roaring Fork Valley.
In January 2020, the International Mountain Bicycling Association awarded Roaring Fork Valley a Gold Level Ride Center for its varied terrain skill levels and hundreds of quality trail miles.
The association designated the valley Bronze Level in 2014, but land managers and community advocates have campaigned to bump up the rating for years to be included in one of the seven Gold Level mountain biking centers around the world.
To celebrate the success, Aspen Brewing’s newest beer, Gold Level (out this spring), is a collaboration with its sister company Capitol Creek Brewery that lauds the area’s mountain biking community and will only be distributed to local establishments around Roaring Fork Valley.
Gold Level is brewed with Motueka and Rakau hops harvested from New Zealand, one of the other locations with a Gold Level designation. Colorado produces a similar amount of beer with these hops as New Zealand does, making the state somewhat of a Napa Valley of brewing.
Aspen Brewing and Capitol Creek bought the dry-hopped lager’s malt from local, fifth-generation farmers at Root Shoot Malting in Loveland. Like the sister establishments, Root Shoot values the way these smaller craft breweries build mystique around limited releases for locals. When tourists can’t drink a certain beer outside Aspen Brewing’s taproom, it unites the community around what’s special in their town, both inside and outside the brewery.
Gold Level, for example, “is meant to celebrate the Elk Mountain Range and the Roaring Fork Valley, and to bring people together, not just in our tap rooms,” says Ryan Williams, director of marketing at Aspen Brewing.
The seasonally rotated and limitedly available 10th Mountain Imperial Stout, which brewers took out of bourbon barrels the day before my call with Aspen Brewing, is only available at the company’s taproom and Capitol Creek. The beer celebrates the 10th Mountain Division that manages backcountry huts in Aspen, among other area mountain towns, for skiers, snowshoers and hikers.
Aspen Brewing commercially produces and distributes only six types of canned beers a year at stores like Safeway, and around 30 styles a year for their taproom. The companies’ two head brewers lead production of 3,500 barrels brewed with Colorado mountain water a year, half of which are consumed at their two restaurants.
Aspen Brewing and Capitol Creek honor their staff and the art of brewing by holding events with almost 90 staff members to celebrate them, offering the option for every one of them to spend a day with one of the companies’ brewers and learn their craft.