Fear and loathing on the Colorado beer train

Published: June 26, 2013, 4:27 pm, by Scott Rappold

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We’re out of beer.

Long since out of of beer. It ran out before the train was even halfway to the destination, a quiet meadow at 9,400 feet above sea level on La Veta Pass.

Now, rumbling down on our return course to Alamosa after 3 hours of beer tasting in the sun, there’s not a drop to drink and everyone looks tired and blurry. The toilets are nearly filled to capacity and we’re running an hour late, thanks to one passenger who was escorted off in handcuffs. Sources said it was for being a drunken idiot (but more on that later.)

Man, they don’t make many beer festivals like this.

While massive wildfires burned to the west in the San Juan Mountains and to the east in the Spanish Peaks region, hundreds of beer lovers hopped on the Rails and Ales train June 22, a mobile beer fest put on each year by the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad, in its 6th year.

You may have read about this in February, when the railroad puts on a smaller version of the beer train. But Rails and Ales has become the train’s biggest event, and this year’s did not disappoint. More than two dozen breweries came out for the festival, which had a decidedly southwestern feel. Chili ales, a chili stout, and more chili beers flowed freely, all you could drink for the ticket, which ranged in price from $39 to $169.

There were too many amazing brews to even try to list them all. A few favorites included Big Choice Brewing’s #42 Poblano Stout, which brought the chili taste without the heat; Trinity Brewing’s Elektrick Cukumbah Saison – who would’ve thought cucumber-flavored beer would be this good?; and Breckenridge Brewery’s Burbon Barrel-aged Double Oatmeal Stout, aged for 4.5 months in the brewery’s new casking operation.

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There was live country music all afternoon and the stunning backdrop of Blanca Peak in the distance, under skies remarkably free of smoke despite the fires. The festival could have gone on all day, timeless revelry in a beautiful setting far from any highway, but the train horn blew around 3:30, smart beer tasters filled up one last glass and boarded.

The ride back to civilization started festive but turned quiet as the day’s partying caught up with most riders. In past years, they have sold beer on the return trip, but conductors said things got out of hand. Things got out of hand anyway, when the aforementioned drunken idiot decided it would be fun to ride on top of the train.

So the train pulled back into Alamosa a little late, but none the worse for wear, and weary passengers ambled to their hotels or cars. It was the most unique beer festival in Colorado, and one any serious beer and/or train lover should put on their 2014 calendar.

Just remember, no riding on the roof of the train.