A half-hour’s drive along the winding Highway 119 out of Boulder and just east of the Continental Divide, Nederland exudes a rough-hewn and offbeat charm. Nederland, which means both lowland and the Netherlands in Dutch, came by its name when a mining company from Holland purchased the nearby Caribou Mine in 1873. Indeed, the name of the town is more than a little ironic, given that Nederland sits at an elevation of around 2500 meters (8200 feet) above sea level. But for the miners who trudged up the mountain to work and then down again in the evening for a cold one after a long day, the moniker was more than apt.
The silver and tungsten mining industries eventually went bust, and not even the farmers and ranchers who came to put down stakes could halt the slide of the town’s fortunes. It wasn’t until the 1960s that Nederland turned the corner again with the arrival of mountain leisure opportunities and a laid-back countercultural vibe that still resonates through the town. Blessed with a location on the threshold of the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area and the Eldora Mountain Ski Resort, Nederland fast became a popular year-round destination for hiking, climbing, and winter sports.
These days, Nederland is home not only to artisans, outdoor enthusiasts, and the yearly Nedfest music festival, it is also the scene of the Frozen Dead Guy Days. Frozen Dead Guy Days, you ask? Well, according to the official website of the Town of Nederland the festival is “a tongue-in-cheek tribute to Grandpa Bredo Morstoel, who is cryogenically frozen and cared for in a Tuff Shed on private property in town, awaiting the day when science can re-animate him and cure him of the heart disease that killed him in 1989.” What better excuse for a polar bear plunge and coffin races?
If the haunting existence of some Frozen Dead Guy hasn’t already convinced you that Nederland is a town worth checking out, then perhaps the material pleasures of beer and barbeque is just what you need before your hike, ride, or climb in the mountains surrounding Nederland.
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On this bright autumn day, I followed the scent of wood smoke to Wild Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery. Purple and green walls and a vaulted ceiling and fireplace made me think of a ski lodge plunked down in the middle of a West Coast city. But the views from the terrace of dense pine forests rising up the ridge brought me back to where I was. So, too, did the brew-ski. The brew-ski is just as you’re imagining it and comes with four of whichever house brews are on tap at the time of your visit, along with a guest beer.
I finish sipping my way down the brew-ski before one of the servers leads me through a door and down a narrow staircase to a three-and-a-half-barrel brew kettle and stash of fermenters crammed into a space no larger than a Tokyo apartment. There, I meet Tom Boogaard, the man behind the brews on the ski, hard at work on a batch of beer. Back in the 90s, Boogaard was a comparative religious studies major aspiring to be a doctor, but decided he’d rather make the kind of medicine that soothes and lifts our souls. After several years of brewing that included stints in Wyoming and with Avery, Boogaard decided to strike out on his own in 2006.
Boogaard’s affinity for big beers stems from his days with Avery––where he created the recipe for The Reverend––and these inclinations are evident in his full-flavoured brews. One of the most compelling beers on my brew-ski was the Hop Diggity IPA, a honey-golden local favourite with hop-forward aromas and flavours of mango, pineapple, some dankness, and toasted malt. A piney hop bite takes over from there, and the beer finishes with an appetizing digéstif-like bitterness. Aliyah’s Amber was a bit less impressive, looking as if it had fallen off the brew-ski during a backcountry ride: a bit hazy and shaken up, with much of the carbonation knocked out of it.
But as for Wild Mountain’s brown ale? Brown ales tend to get short shrift these days as the boring cream sherries of the beer world, but nothing could be further from the truth. If Wild Mountain’s Round and Round Brown Ale is on tap when you visit, you’ll be rewarded for ordering it with smoky roast coffee aromas and flavours layered together with mild, pear-like fruit esters and delicate floral-citrus hops reminiscent of orange blossom. Rounding it all out are the malted milk and cooked cereal scents of “mash day” (crushed grain mixed with warm water, for those who have yet to go down the rabbit hole of homebrewing). With a roasted-malt acidity on the palate that lends the beer buoyancy, you’ll have found a beer that goes well with Wild Mountain’s other signature specialty: barbeque.
And what really sets Wild Mountain apart from many other brewing establishments is the personal interest Boogaard takes in the food served at the brewpub. It’s no accident that “smokehouse” comes before “brewery” on the sign hanging outside of Wild Mountain. Boogaard spent months perfecting his recipes for smoked meats, often combining his favourite elements of several barbeque and grilling cultures. His chicken wings, for example, are nothing like the fiery assault that typifies your average plate of Buffalo wings. After marinating the wings in a ceviche-style marinade for two hours, Boogaard smokes the wings before finishing them on the grill with house barbeque sauce. The resulting wings are so succulent that I never once felt the need to dip them in the ranch dressing that came as a side. So come to Nederland for the great outdoors (or even for the Frozen Dead Guy), but stay for the beer and barbeque at Wild Mountain.
Wild Mountain is located at 70 E. First Street, Nederland, CO 80466, not far off the main thoroughfare running up the canyon from Boulder. Winter hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11-8pm; Friday and Saturday, 11am-9pm.
On tap/coming soon for the fall of 2014: Redemption Stout, a Dubbel, a Saison, and an American-style wheat beer made with Colorado peaches, cinnamon, and orange peel. Sounds like an interesting interpretation of the spiced autumn seasonals we see at this time of year.
Related Tempest Articles on Colorado Craft Beer
Tap handles: Wild Mountain Facebook page
All other photos: F.D. Hofer
© 2014 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.