About thirty minutes west of the Great Sand Dunes National Park, in the railroad town of Alamosa, Colorado, lies the San Luis Valley Brewing Company, a family-owned brewery that’s a must-visit for beer lovers. The brewery, owned and founded by Scott and Angie Graber as an outlet for a “hobby out of control,” is a favorite with both locals and tourists, and recently expanded into a coffee bar space.
On tap at the brewery are six year-round brews, four seasonal brews, and four guest brews from other breweries such as Guinness and New Belgium, so there is always a wide variety of beer available. Of the six year-round brews, three in particular are noteworthy: Vallé Caliente is SLVB’s award-winning Mexican-style lager, Valle Especial, infused with hatch green chiles to produce a unique brew that pairs perfectly with nachos or a green chile guacamole burger (a meal served at the brewery, coincidentally enough). According the SLVB’s head brewer, Andrew Klair, the Vallé Caliente is by far the brewery’s most popular beer with tourists, and it’s easy to see why: it offers the experience of a completely unique and local flavor, and it’s something people can take home with them to share with their friends and family after their trip. However, it’s not the type of beer you’d want to drink every day of your life—the flavor of the chiles is bold, bordering on overwhelming, and it doesn’t go with everything.
The Hefe Suavé Wheat Ale, on the other hand, is light and smooth, with an easy-going flavor that’s perfect for summer. This is the type of beer you can have and enjoy every day, and it pairs great with any type of food. The Ol’ 169 Oatmeal Stout is also a revelation: whereas most stouts are overwhelmingly bitter, Ol’ 169 (named after a classic Denver & Rio Grande Rail engine) is smooth, with just a hint of sweetness and a very mild aftertaste. It’s by far my favorite of all of the SLVB brews I’ve tasted so far.
As for the other brews regularly on tap, the Alamosa Ale is surprisingly hoppy and spicy, and quite bitter—more so even than the Grande River IPA, which is well-balanced, smooth, and not overwhelmingly sharp.
The labels for SLVB’s brews are designed by Matt Beckner of Ion Graphics Company, with a logo designed by Kris Gosar, whose family also makes the local sausage served in SLVB’s restaurant. Because of Alamosa’s rail history, many of the of the labels have a railroad theme, which is extended into the design of the brewery, the naming of SLVB’s brews, and events like the annual Rails & Ales Brewfest—hosted every summer in a mountain meadow only reachable via a train ride on the Rio Grande Scenic Railway. Over 25 breweries and 1000 beer lovers attend, and tickets are usually sold out months in advance.
The San Luis Valley Brewery is a top-notch craft brewery that consistently pushes the boundaries of new beer flavors. It’s edgy and innovative, but with a family, hometown atmosphere. Highly recommended.