Tales of Rails and Ales

Photo Crystal Anderson

By Crystal Anderson

Durango’s legendary locomotive has long rolled through south- west Colorado, and riders sit back and watch the scenery. Several times a year, they can now also savor the state’s beverage of choice – craft beer.

“We belong to a great brew town, and our brewers are known more than the train is,” said Christian Robbins, marketing manager for the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. “It brings two great things together.”

Durango’s Brew Train, now in its third year, combines beer and railroading on a picturesque, seven- hour trip along the Animas River. Starting midmorning, craft beer enthusiasts hop aboard an 1880s train and enjoy incredible Animas River vistas, bluegrass music and, of course, great local beer.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity with a captive audience who are really excited about beer and beer culture,” said Erik Maxson, owner and head brewer at BREW Pub and Kitchen in Durango.

Riders sample and learn about beers from Durango’s six breweries. While ascending along a railroad built in the late 1800s, riders have the opportunity to meet and talk with brewers, enjoy the camaraderie of other beer enthusiasts and drink in the flavor of the brewing culture.

 Photo Crystal Anderson

Photo Crystal Anderson

“Being the brewer is a great advantage because I have the answers,” Maxson said of riding the train with customers. “Whether they are the beer geeks and enthusiasts or they’re people who are looking for something new to try, this is a wonderful way to build relationships.”

After around two and a half hours, riders disembark and step into a mini-beer and bluegrass festival in Cascade Canyon, an area known for its majestic waterfalls and deep valleys. “When you get to Cascade, it’s just stupendous,” said Irene Barry, a wine enthusiast who’s ridden the railroad’s wine train, and worked on the brew train. “You’re in a beautiful setting right near the river. It puts such a nice twist on the train.”

For an hour or two, riders wander around the cavern, enjoy catered grub and brews, and listen to the sounds of local bluegrass bands.

“People kick back, eat some food, listen to blues and drink some brews,” Robbins said. “And then the whistle blows, and we’re back, rolling into town.”

Just like the craft beer movement, the brew train concept is gaining speed among beer lovers in other states, including New Mexico and California.

On many excursions, the train merely provides the transportation to local breweries along a scenic route. On the Durango Brew Train, the beer travels with you. Durango-area breweries on the rail run include BREW Pub and Kitchen, Carver Brewing Co., Ska Brewing Co., Durango Brewing Co. and Animas Brewing Co.

“Colorado is a great beer state and we want people to follow their passion for beer and ride the train,” Robbins said. “They already love beer, and the train is a bonus.”

The railroad offers three brew trains throughout the summer: June 12, Sept. 4 and Oct. 2. For more information on the train or to purchase tickets, visit www.durangotrain.com/events
Crystal Anderson is an adventure-seeking journalist who loves exploring local breweries, the mountains and Colorado’s hidden wonders.