Ska Brewing Co. releases its ninth official
|The full collection
of Ska Snowdown beer bottles gets a dusting at the
Animas Museum recently./Photo by Todd Newcomer
Nine years and nine beers ago, Snowdown revelers got
a tasty treat to enhance the annual celebration. Ska Brewing
Co., a small microbrewery just entering the local beer
scene, decided to jump feet first into the winter festival.
Before it had even secured its own regular lineup of retail
microbrews, Ska concocted a special beer that would be
made and sold only during the five days of festivities.
Ska owner Bill Graham says he and his partners made a
batch of special beer and took it to the Snowdown committee.
They pitched the idea that the beer be the official brew
of the festival, complete with a one-time recipe, professionally
designed label and limited distribution. Instantly, Snowdown
organizers signed on.
|An uncapped bottle travels through
the bottling line at the Ska Brewery on Tuesday. Ska
bottles between 130 and 150 cases of its special Snowdown
beer each year./Photo Todd Newcomer
Since then, Ska has come out every year at this time
with a special beer. And each year, locals lap up the
brew like salivating dogs. Not that locals are dogs. But
people here take to the Ska brew with such vigorous enthusiasm
that the couple of kegs filled with the beer get snapped
up immediately. And, typically, within weeks the 130 to
150 cases of 22-ounce bottles fly off liquor store shelves.
Indeed, last week as Graham met this reporter at the
Ska Tasting Room, a loyal Ska drinker entered in a near
panic, looking for a couple of bottles of this year’s
official Snowdown beer – Thick Brau. He claimed
that all liquor stores in town were out of the brew. Raising
his own thick brow, Graham gets the guy a couple of bottles
and sends him on his way. It was, seemingly, tragedy narrowly
averted (though, really, the loyalist hadn’t visited
every single store).
Graham and all those who drink the Snowdown beer take
it seriously. At least as serious as Snowdown can be.
Graham explains that even though the winter festival eschews
formalities and regulations, Ska brewers pour their heart
and soul into each year’s special beer. When Ska
hears about the next year’s Snowdown theme, employees
begin brainstorming about the recipe and name of the beer.
The name matches the festival theme.
“It’s pretty easy to come up with names because
there are so many creative minds that work here,”
This year names such as Bedrock Bock, Pterodactale and
Two-Feet Wheat, didn’t make the cut, along with
many others. For Ska employees, coming up with names is
as fun as brewing the beer.
over the years:
1996: Snowdown Ale
1997: Alien Ale
1998: Ale Capone
1999: Elektric Kool Ale
2000: Too Grand Ale
2001: Happy Trails Ale
2002: Et Tu Brew
2004: Thick Brau
The recipe also tries to mimic the theme. But that is
a harder task. Mostly, Graham says, the brewers stick
to various styles of extra special bitters and pale ales.
“They have a little bit of malt flavor ,and that
often comes through with a nutty taste,” he says.
“We like that because we think that Snowdown is
Graham adds that these types of beers are “hoppier,”
meaning that the hops – dried ripe cones of the
plant – tend to have a stronger taste and pack a
bigger punch. The result is a euphoric beer buzz. And
Snowdown is nothing, if not euphoric, he says.
This year’s beer presents something Ska has never
done. Graham explains that the Thick Brau is a “citrusy,
lively” beer that was brewed with dry hops. Instead
of boiling the hops before adding them to the fermenter,
the hops went in dry. Ultimately, this creates a more
aromatic flavor with the bitterness of the hops balancing
the flavor of the malt.
Graham says that this is the first dry-hopped beer that
Ska has created. He and the brewers are pleased with the
outcome, and they are sure that consumers will be too.
Throughout the past nine years, the Snowdown beer recipe
has been handled carefully. The brewers pretty much have
to get the batch right the first time. Since the brewing
process takes time, Ska can little afford to open a Snowdown
beer only days before the festival to find out that it
stinks. But, Graham assures, Ska beer never stinks. In
fact, each year the Snowdown beer has been deemed a success
by everyone’s standards. The brewers continually
receive positive feedback from consumers, he said.
“The brewers take it seriously,” adds Graham.
“They stress about it so hard. They really knock
Once a Snowdown beer is brewed, bottled and sold, the
recipe goes into the annals of, well, wherever and however
Ska files such things. Most importantly, Graham says,
the recipe is never used again so that the beer remains
a one-time deal.
“We do that to help create the uniqueness of Snowdown.
It’s something special for Durango only.”
|Ska Brew Master Jeff Ogden boxes
up Buster Nut Brown Ale at the end of the bottling
line. Once a
Snowdown beer is brewed, the recipies never used again
so that the beer remains a one-time deal./Photo
by Todd Newcomer
Ska also helps financially support Snowdown. He explains
that 10 percent of the gross sales of the Snowdown beer
is donated to the nonprofit organization. However, he
won’t reveal how much money that ultimately is.
That’s too much of a formality, Graham says, and
he doesn’t like to break the Snowdown tradition
Since the brew hit the stores Jan. 2, sales have been
swift. If the popularity continues, the beers may one
day be a collector’s item. The Animas Museum has
one of each of the nine beers, which it is keeping as
part of the museum’s permanent collection. The beer
bottles join the scads of other Snowdown paraphernalia
from years past.
For now, that’s the only public place anyone interested
in seeing all nine uniquely designed bottles can see them.
Ska owners didn’t manage to save any over the years
for historical purposes.
“We’d have the whole collection, but we’re
just too drunk,” Graham deadpans.