Top Shelf

Ska-nniversary, pacing tipsand Brazilian bluegrass

by Chris Aaland

Kudos to the Ska Brewing crew for celebrating 20 years in business last Saturday. I was limited to just two hours of rapid-fire indulgence due to an 8-year-old’s football game and bedtime for a 15-month-old baby. All the better, though … Sunday mountain adventures are easier sans hangover than sweating out beer with each step.

The Ska anniversary party is a gathering of some of the scruffiest hop-heads in the Four Corners … the same folks you see at bluegrass festivals, on the river and at your neighborhood pub any day of the week. In other words, my people. The brewers pull out all the stops, tapping barrels of local favorites and ales reserved for the most discerning of connoisseurs. But this one’s always more the chance to celebrate with Dave, Bill, Matt, Arlo, Thomas, Kristen and the others who keep us fat and happy with Mexican Loggers, True Blondes and Modus Hoperandis all year long.

Matuto takes the stage at the Community Concert Hall on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.

The flowing flagon, moist and sweet, pours at 8,750 feet this weekend at Telluride Blues & Brews. More than 170 beers will be tapped during Saturday’s Grand Tasting, while suds from festival sponsor Sierra Nevada, Durango Brewing, Ska, Telluride, Bonfire and Big B’s Hard Cider will be on tap all weekend long.

This year’s lineup is spectacular, both in terms of breweries represented and musical talent. From Rock & Roll Hall of Famers to blues and Americana legends to soul, R&B, and gospel superstars, there’s something for everyone. Headliners include ZZ Top, Gregg Allman, Taj Mahal, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, John Hiatt & the Combo and Anders Osborne. The undercard of The Blind Boys of Alabama, Blackberry Smoke, The Revivalists, Otis Taylor’s Hey Joe Opus, Rich Robinson (of the Black Crowes) and Tab Benoit, among others, ain’t too shabby, either.

Ah, the Grand Tasting at Telluride. A year ago, I took in my first three-hour bacchanal in Town Park. For beer lovers, this is the Boston Marathon, run as a sprint at high elevation. With 170 beers to choose from and armed with souvenir tasting glasses, thousands of patrons line up at their favorite brewer’s table to sample the offerings at noon. Four of Durango’s finest will pour: Carver’s, DBC, Ska and Steamworks … plus more than 50 other craft brewers from across the West.

I’m a big boy, no doubt … and a seasoned beer drinker. Many of my fellow guzzlers, however, were a fraction of me, yet drinking with the same reckless abandon. Multiply many four-once pours of high-octane brew at altitude and you can imagine the aftermath. By 1 p.m. most folks were sporting a pretty good buzz. By 2 p.m., they were staggering. By 3 p.m., most had retired to their tarps or condos for an afternoon nap.

Sunshine and heat factor into this as well. It was sunny and in the 80s a year ago. This year, expect nice weather throughout the weekend, but cooler temperatures. Highs are predicted in the mid 60s each day, with partly cloudy skies forecast for Saturday’s Grand Tasting. Maybe this is a blessing, maybe a curse. Hot days and ice-cold beer make for a clumsy dance partner. But the intense sunshine and heat also chased me back to the shady press tent a few times during last year’s three-hour freebie. Partly cloudy skies and cool weather might make it more comfortable, leading to fewer breaks and more time at the proverbial bar.

Some hints from your Uncle Chris: Eat a big breakfast; fill those water bottles regularly and try to pound water as much as possible; and target your favorite beers and brewers. No sense chasing a coffee stout with a chile beer with an imperial IPA with an extra-tart sour. At the end of the day, you’ll be burping up a potpourri of flavors that may require kneeling before the porcelain gods. Finally, exercise some restraint: the day ends with Anders Osborne and Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. It’ll be a dance party, no doubt. You’ll regret missing it.

One of the most innovative groups in world music – Matuto – takes the stage at the Community Concert Hall at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Matuto offers a rocking combination of Brazilian forro and American bluegrass, creating an infectious and engaging rhythm.

Tami Graham Presents Jami Sieber in concert at 8 p.m. Sunday at the Millwood Junction in Mancos. Sieber is an award-winning electric cellist and vocalist who employs looping devices and electronics to create sounds never before associated with the cello.

Remember what the dormouse said? Email 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