The brewing elite, RedEyedDjinn and ‘Pacing the Cage’

by Chris Aaland

Let’s get one thing straight: I like beer. I have for decades. Like most people, my tastes have changed over time and I’ve become far more adventurous. The watered-down, mass-produced stuff that poses as beer to most Americans just doesn’t cut it for me. No surprises here. I don’t like fast food or corporate chains, either, preferring mom-and-pop eateries, street food and homemade stuff that somebody’s grandma slaved over. Ultimately, beer, like food or art or music, is most organic and beautiful when crafted by talented, ambitious people.

That said, last Friday was the most challenging beer drinking experience I’ve ever had. My buddy, Thomas Larsen, asked me to be one of the judges for a Great American Beer Festival-sponsored homebrew competition held at Ska, where he works as head brewer. I arrived 15 minutes early, curious about the expectations of judges. Then the others showed up, one-by-one, an intimidating mafia of Durango’s brewing elite. Guys like Scott Bikert, Erik Maxson, Bill Graham and Kris Oyler … folks who earn their keep by keeping our bellies full of ale. I was handed several pages of notes on how to judge beer — on not just taste, mind you, but appearance, aroma and feel. The only sense we didn’t employ was sound. Oyler, one of the masterminds behind Steamworks, suggested a downloadable GABF app for my Droid — a useful tool at the bar, no doubt, making me appear even cooler (or dumber, depending on your take) than my 24 bricks on the wall at Lady Falconburgh’s already suggests. Larsen even gave me tips on how to smell beer.

My trio was charged with judging five flights of beers. Each flight contained between two and five small samples of a particular style. I looked around the room and saw nearly a dozen scruffy, middle-aged men burying their faces into plastic cups sniffing deeply for minutes on end, then holding the beers in the light for as long of a time to judge clarity and color. Only then would these hop czars swirl an ounce of ale around their mouths to determine initial flavor and aftertastes. Most of the suds were then poured into a bucket and the judges chomped on plain crackers and swirled water to cleanse their mouths for the next offering.

Me? I was confused. As a novice, I’ve always judged beer on one quality: Do I like it? Would I be happy to sit around a campfire or on a barstool and enjoy a pint or two? Ultimately, I wondered if my palate was discerning enough to be a fair critic. Did my beer resume stack up to these dudes? With each passing sip, it became more of a long distance marathon than a leisurely, gentlemanly sampling of homebrews crafted by people who were excited by the chemical reactions of malt, barley, yeast and water.

The good news: of the 15 or so beers I tried, most were pretty good. A few – like a double blonde and a robust porter – were memorable. And, yes, there were a couple bad apples, too … skunky beers that caused facial convulsions and rendered tastebuds useless. I left Ska humbled, uncomfortable with my own judicial skills, but reassured that homebrewers were continuing the tradition that ultimately led to the craft brewing renaissance we’re currently enjoying.

One person who has led a renaissance in contemporary folk music for four decades is Bruce Cockburn, who will perform at 7:30 p.m. tonight (Thurs., May 26) at the Community Concert Hall. With 31 albums to his credit, Cockburn has shined a light on the human spirit through songs both poetic and passionate. An underrated guitarist, this Canuck can rock out with the best of them. Brooklyn-based composer/violinist Jenny Scheinman, who is also a member of Cockburn’s band, opens the show.

This week’s Summit slate includes Thirsty Thursdays with RedEyedDjinn; a freebie by Freeplay at 9 p.m. Friday; the badass funk of Archatay on Saturday; and DJ Daryll’s karaoke/gong show Wednesday.

The Starlight’s lineup features salsa night with Orchestra de Salsa at 8 p.m. tonight; FAC with Uncovered from 6-9 p.m. Friday; DJ Double D from 9 ‘til close Friday; DJs Benjamin K and B-Side at 9 p.m. Saturday; and the weekly Musica del Mundo Sunday.

More good stuff: The Miserabillies bring their honky-tonk assault to the Diamond Belle Saloon at 5:30 p.m. tonight; the Kirk James Blues Band plays at Vallecito’s Schank House at 7 p.m. Saturday and the Chimney Rock Tavern at 2 p.m. Sunday; Freeplay has fun in the sun from 1-4 p.m. Sunday at Trimble Hot Springs; and The Scrugglers do an 8 p.m. gig at the Derailed Sunday.

This week’s Top Shelf list explores some of my favorites from Bruce Cockburn’s recording career.

- “Pacing the Cage,” from “The Charity of Nights,” 1996. Quite simply one of the finest songs penned in the ‘90s.

- “Last Night of the World,” from “Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu,” 1999. Another elegant love song. I can’t help but think what those end-of-the-world prophesiers were doing Saturday night. I was enjoying Mexican Loggers by a campfire, watching stars and airplanes with my 4-year-old without a care in the world.

- “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” from “Stealing Fire,” 1984. Weren’t the Reagan years embarrassing ones in U.S. foreign policy? This one exposed Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt.

- The entire “Nothing but a Burning Light” album, 1991. Brilliantly provocative, especially in its handling of America’s historical mishandling of Native American policy.

- “Tie Me at the Crossroads,” from “Dart to the Heart,” 1984. Sometimes rock ‘n’ roll should just be fun.

- “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” from “Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws,” 1979. Cockburn’s commercial breakthrough.

- “Humans” album, 1980. Critics and fans consider this Cockburn’s defining record. Tough to argue with them.

- “Trickle Down,” from “You’ve Never Seen Everything,” 2003. The entire CD, in fact, represented Cockburn’s most political work since the mid ‘80s.

- “Call It Democracy,” from “World of Wonders,” 1986. You don’t have to be James Carville to get the message here.

- “Lovers in a Dangerous Time,” from “Stealing Fire.” Hopefulness and joy meet the despair of future gloom. Ain’t that the truth?

Don’t believe in generals or their stinking torture states? E-mail me at



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows