by Jennie Dorris
By the late 1970s, American beer was in a dismal state, with experts predicting the market would further consolidate, leaving only five major breweries. It was the age of homogenized, mass-market light-lager. But by the 1980s a small group of home brewers inspired by European-style IPAs, porters, pilsners, lagers, and stouts, took their hobby and saved beer. Nationwide, craft brewing grew from eight breweries in 1980, to 1,501 in 2008. And nowhere did craft brewing have more immediate success than in mountain states. Vermont is home to 19 breweries—the most breweries of any state per capita. It's followed closely by Maine, Montana, Oregon, and Colorado.
Today, beer-makers find themselves capitalizing upon their locales—Big Sky Brewing out of Missoula is distinctly Montanan with its malty Moose Drool brown ale, while Aspen Brewing named its IPA "Independence Pass Ale" after the mountain pass just east of the city. In the process, the brewers have built a fiercely loyal local following. Snake River Brewing in Jackson Hole, which produces the locally inspired Indian Paintbrush Pilsner, keeps 60 percent of their beer within Jackson Hole. Of the 5,000 barrels they produce annually, 1,000 barrels go straight to the taps in the brewpub. "If I were offering advice to It's early winter 2008 and the snows are coming in heavy in La Barge, Wyoming, a 500-person outpost nestled between the Wyoming and Wind River ranges. Snow drifts high and heavy on a diner that was once a Manhattan landmark. Now, as out of place as wingtips in Wyoming, the Moondance Diner, which lived on Sixth and Grand Street in Lower Manhattan for nearly 70 years, shut its doors in 2007. The diner—along with its revolving crescent-moon sign—was donated to the American Diner Museum, which sold it to La Barge residents Vince and Cheryl Pierce, who promptly loaded it on a truck and moved it to Wyoming for restoration and a new life. Then tragedy strikes. The heavy snow collapses the roof and front wall.
The Pierces aren't the first to move a classic diner car west. In 1992, restaurant developer Bob Carey drew national news attention when he bought the Birmingham Grille in West Chester, Pennsylvania, with the idea of moving it to Truckee, California. He consulted with a NASA contractor to move the Kullman diner, before hiring a Louisville, Kentucky company to deliver it to West River Street. "It cost twice as much to move the thing as it did to buy it," says Carey. In 2007, Keith Walker moved an O'Mahony dining car, first opened in 1939 (and later registered as a National Historic Site), from Middletown, Rhode Island, to the hamlet of Oakley, Utah, north of Park City, where it became the Road Island Diner. Those are just a few of a slew of classic diners that have been relocated and refurbished throughout the United States, according to the American Diner Museum. The organization is currently brokering deals for eight diner cars, mostly from the East Coast.
In Wyoming, the Moondance just celebrated its first anniversary in La Barge, and the Pierces are hoping that the diner car's history—and recent history—will continue to draw patrons. They pulled in diner car experts from around the country to ensure the restoration was true. "Rebuilding the roof gave us the opportunity to replace the original skylight that was covered over years ago," says Cheryl. "You can really see it coming together."
If it all sounds like a lot of work for a bit of nostalgia, you don't know the value of nostalgia. "A customer once asked me why I didn't just build a car that looked like a classic diner car," says Carey. "I said 'If I'd done that, you wouldn't be here.'" a new mountain brew pub," says Snake River's vice president of sales and marketing, Tim Harland, "I'd tell them to be as strong as they can within their local community."
The Mountain Sports + Living Sampler Tray
Aspen, Colorado | Aspen Brewing Company
The Beer: Independence Pass Ale IPA | Our Take: This brew is a hophead's dream—the brewers utilize a relatively new Palisade hops that has an earthier aroma, mixed with Columbus, Cascade, and Simcoe hops. But drink it at home—the alcohol content is unusually high at 7.7 percent.
Park City, Utah | Wasatch Beers
The Beer: 1st Amendment Lager | Our Take: Try this beer in the bottle and you'll get a yeasty aftertaste. But in the pint glass it's clean on the palate and offers a crisp hint of hops.
Missoula, Montana | Big Sky Brewing
The Beer: Moose Drool, Brown Ale | Our Take: From the can, the nose is more caramel-sweet, but in a glass it offers a rich mahogany color, and a scent of coffee (which you'll also get in the aftertaste).
Bridgewater Corners, Vermont | Long Trail Brewing Company
The Beer: Long Trail Altbier | Our Take: An easier session beverage (just 4.6 percent), this copper beer imparts a bready nose and flavor that's tempered by bitter hops.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming | Snake River Brewing
The Beer: Zonker Stout | Our Take: A true stout, this brew pours almost black with a caramel head. It's full of rich chocolate and caramel notes and the malts' flavors are roasty and full.
Taos, New Mexico | Eske's Brewpub & Eatery
The Beer: Taos Green Chile Beer | Our Take: If you want a solid lager with a kick, look no further than a nice, spicy pint of this green chile beer. A mere waft can make your eyes water, and the flavor leaves your tongue burning with the peppers' heat.
Frisco, Colorado | Backcountry Brewery
The Beer: Ptarmigan Pilsner | Our Take: This straw-colored beer is perfect for happy hour—at 4.7 percent, it won't send you home for a late-afternoon nap. Styled after German pilsners, Ptarmigan brings a crisp, light flavor finishing with bitter hops, all without the hint of skunk that accompanies so many imported pilsners.
Portland, Maine | Stone Coast Brewing Company
The Beer: 420 IPA | Our Take: 420 is labeled a "West Coast IPA"—a family of beers known for being more bitter than traditional IPAs. This copper beer proves that looks are deceiving and lives up to its label; it starts with a grapefruit nose and packs a bitter punch to the back of your palate.
From the Spring 2010 issue