Predictions, local strings and winter ales

by Chris Aaland

Welcome to 2008, amigos. The ring of our collective champagne toast to 2007 has long since quit echoing. Our New Year’s Eve hangover has subsided, even if our Horton Heat hangover still throbs.

Two-thousand and eight looms ominously. The public debates, barstool arguments and CNN prognostications will continue through the Nov. 4 presidential election – the 55th consecutive quadrennial election of the president and vice president of the United States of America, for you history buffs. While the countdown to the Jan. 20, 2009, Bye-Bye Dubya Party has all but officially started, the more important question is, who will lead us out of this mess? Pay attention and get out and vote.

What else does 2008 have in store for us? Beer prices will rise, possibly by significant amounts. A few alarming newspaper articles project increased production costs of nearly 40 percent for some breweries. Market reports cite corn ethanol as the biggest culprit. The price of corn futures has risen by 49 percent. This meant that the nation’s biggest barley-producing states – Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and Washington – planted 22 percent less barley last year.

I’m no financial expert, as my B- average in three FLC economics courses in the late ’80s and early ’90s clearly demonstrates. But a friend who manages a local watering hole tells me to say goodbye to $2.50 happy hour pints and warns of possible $10 microbrew six-packs by the end of the year. Many craft breweries are worried that they will price themselves out of the Average Joe’s beer budget.

Recorded music will continue its downward spiral in 2008 as well. Major label record companies put all of their eggs into big box chains, which are now pulling shelf space for music at an alarming rate in favor of additional space for video games and DVDs. The best friends that the music biz ever had were the independent, mom-and-pop record stores that carried entire artist catalogs in a variety of genres, not just new releases by Top 40 pop stars and best-of compilations by classic rock dinosaurs. Now the major labels have nowhere to distribute their products, while customers flock to the Internet for discounted used CDs, or pirated downloads and other freebies.

Fortunately, Durango is slow to jump on trendy national bandwagons. Or we’re just stubborn.

The live music calendar looks a bit bleak the next few weeks in terms of national acts, but there are plenty of local artists playing for tips. Some of these guys are the real deal.


Robin Davis, former lead guitarist for the Wayword Sons and Broke Mountain and a current member of Rock & Rye, plays at 5:30 p.m. each Monday at the Diamond Belle Saloon. Davis is best known as one of the top young flatpickers in the bluegrass universe, but his solo sets are loaded with country, folk and original compositions. Longtime local favorite Greg Ryder, a past 10-year veteran of the Bar-D Wranglers, holds court at the Diamond Belle at 5:30 p.m. each Wednesday and Thursday and at the Office Spiritorium at 5:30 p.m. each Friday and Saturday. Blues guitarist Kirk James will perform solo at Steamworks Bayfield from 5-8 p.m. this Saturday. Formula 151 frontman Dave Mensch plays his original tunes in a solo, unplugged setting at 5: 30 p.m. each Thursday at the Office. The Blue Moon Ramblers have held a Sunday night hootenanny at the Diamond Belle at 7:30 p.m. for more than 10 years. Sometimes you’ll get the core quartet of George, Jenny, Red and Donny; on other occasions, they’ll welcome any number of their guitar-wielding buddies. A regional artist who will be performing locally is Texas singer-songwriter Manny Trevins, scheduled for 2-5 p.m. this Friday and Saturday afternoons at Purgy’s.

The biggest bar night of the week will be Monday night, with the 5 p.m. broadcast of the BCS National Championship game. Ohio State and LSU both have big local followings, and I’m sure a number of local taverns will offer free red or purple jello shots to appropriately clad fans of either school. Me? Until the NCAA Division I presidents and the greedy Rose Parade lobby relent and give us a real national playoff (it works quite well for Divisions I-AA, II and III), I could give a damn.

Regardless of whether pigskins or guitars crank your wheel, you’re fortunate to be able to wash it down with locally brewed ales. This week’s Top Shelf list features top winter seasonal brews as chosen by Michael McCardell. Michael is a member of the Board of Directors for Durango Acoustic Music, a nonprofit organization that produces concerts in the folk, bluegrass, blues, alt-country, rock and world music genres at a variety of theatres and venues. His official duties for DAM include arranging backstage hospitality – in other words, making beer runs for musicians.

Michael McCardell’s Top Local Winter Ales (in alphabetical order):

• Carver’s Big Grizz Barleywine: Barleywines are strong ales first developed in England in the 18th century. Big Grizz holds true to the tradition of fruity flavor, strong alcohol content and well-aged character.

• Carvers Celebration Strong Ale: Carvers has two varieties to ward off the winter chill. The brewmeisters tout it as malty, slightly sweet, with just a touch of hop bitterness.

• Durango Brewing Winter Ale: This light-bodied dark beer sports a chocolate aroma and carmelly malts. Twenty-two-ozunce bombers and pints are available locally until it runs out. If you haven’t visited DBC’s new railroad-themed tasting room, designed by local carpenter and former Durango Meltdown president Elwin Johnston, then you owe yourself a trip up North Main.

• Ska Euphoria: Ska’s winter pale ale hit the bars and liquor stores last month. Available on tap (if you hurry) at the Ska Tasting Room and a handful of bars, as well as in bombers.

• Steamworks Spruce Goose: The historians at Steamworks remind us that the Vikings brewed ales that were spiced with spruce shoots to prevent scurvy and to bring out their animal instinct prior to battle. This one is only on tap through Jan. 21 at Steamworks. Bombers are available. •

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