Beer Thirty: What to expect from a flight at Bonfire Brewing
Most days, it’s the smell of popcorn that greets you at Bonfire Brewing.
Other days, it’s a horde of friendly dogs.
This day, it was Andy Jessen, co-founder and current owner of Bonfire Brewing, that greeted me first instead.
Bonfire Brewing is made up of an eclectic mix of beer aficionados, people who have just come off the hill (whether in winter or summer), and tourists. But it’s also made up of its ideals: “gather ‘round.”
“In my ideal world,” Jessen said, “they meet someone new and have a great conversation and walk out feeling happy. The whole philosophy of the brand is building community and so everything we do is to add to that value.”
Take flight with beer history
While I sat down to talk with Jessen, General Manager Brian Kunkel set me up with his “ideal” flight of beers they currently serve.
Much like the valley, when people come from all walks of life and from all across the globe, the opportunity for cultures to mash together in interesting ways abounds. Everyone from German visitors to the local river rats can come together to create several different beers, for example.
And beer history can tell a lot about a brewery.
First Beer on Flight
Take the Ampelmann beer as Exhibit 1. A German-style berliner weisse with Bonfire’s take on the style: a hint of sour and a just a pinch of cucumber.
“Ampelmann is [from] the end of the Cold War in Germany,” Jessen said. “When the wall came down, everything on the east and the west was different. They kind of unified and made everything the same. And the ampelmann is the little figure on the crosswalk, you know, go, stop or whatever. That was an East German thing and people just loved it so much that they started groups of protests to keep it. One of our brewers has some German heritage, and he really likes German beers. So he made that one and named it.”
All that history, right here in the Eagle brewery.
Bonfire Brewing has four different brewers, all of whom got their start from lower positions in the company. One was previously an intern, one was on delivery and two were packagers. Another sign that Jessen likes to bring the community together.
Second beer on flight
After the Ampelmann comes Apres-cot Blonde. A good flight is all about moving from the lightest flavored beer to the strongest. This is typically denoted by the international bitterness units (IBUs) in the beer.
“Apres-cot Blonde is the Brush Creek Blonde recipe with apricot puree and a little apricot extract for sweetness,” Jessen said. “Not overpowering, but really refreshing.”
Third beer on flight
Nitro Tent Pole is the third beer on their flight, a nitrogenated version of Tent Pole, a standard fare on the menu. Nitrogenated, or “nitro,” is a term used meaning the beer has been injected with nitrogen gas after brewing. This leads to smaller bubbles and a smoother taste in many beers.
“That one has a good roast character to it, and Madagascar vanilla beans,” Jessen said. Yes, vanilla beans from Madagascar. “The big long ones,” Jessen continued. “You slice them down the middle and scrape out the goop inside. Put them in a mesh bag and drop them in the beer.”
Fourth Beer on Flight
The fourth beer is Tent Pole, which might not be as innocuous as it sounds.
“We used to be a lot more immature with our names,” Jessen said. “We figured bonfire, camping, first wake up in the morning with sweatpants …”
Fifth Beer on Flight
This isn’t the only beer they have given an “immature” name. But they hear about Demshitz brown ale more, but that beer actually isn’t a poop joke. It’s a reference to a rad team of river rats.
“[Demshitz] is a group of pro kayakers,” Jessen said. “They call themselves the Demshitz. No one is really sure where it came from, there are a bunch of different stories, but it’s kind of like a philosophy at this point. You know, ‘The Demshitz can do anything.’ They are very extreme athletes and very successful people. Very driven river rats basically.”
And if you take one look around Bonfire, you’ll notice the kayaks hanging from the walls and the poster of Tao Berman — the first piece of art in the building. It seems the Demshitz have found themselves a place to call home amongst a fan.
Sixth Beer on Flight
The next beer on the list is Lawn Patrol, a hoppy, hazy New England style IPA.
“Lawn Patrol is one of those trendy New England style IPAs,” Jessen said. “[Brewer] Aaron, when he made it, doesn’t like to refer to them as New England style IPAs. He calls them hazy. It uses a lower flocculating yeast so [the yeast] doesn’t drop out; it stays in suspension. The other part that makes it cloudy is tons and tons of hop particulate.”
A fruity and tropical take on the New England style with a nice pinch of hoppyness.
Seventh Beer on Flight
The second to last beer is memorialized by a phrase that a former employee used to use.
He and his phrase are now immortal in the brewery by the beer Lock It Up. Lock It Up uses the same strain of yeast as Lawn Patrol, so you get some of the same fruity characters but a little bit more bitterness. It is also a little bit darker than Lawn Patrol’s hazy orange coloration.
“One of our first interns, Shawn, a big guy from Texas, played football in Oklahoma,” Jessen said. “He had this thing where when things were getting a little bit rowdy, he would yell ‘Lock It up!’ It was one of the last beers he made before he left to Pennsylvania, so we named it after him.”
Eighth Beer on Flight
Like many things in the Eagle Valley, whether it be a brewery or an art installation, it eventually comes back to the mountain.
“WFO is a ski run at Vail,” Jessen said about the final beer on our list, the WtFO. “It used to be unnamed. It was like a locals thing. You had to got way out around this catwalk and then drop in. Then they named it and now people kind of refer to it as ‘Was Fun Once.’
WtFO, which is short for “Way the F–k Out There,” as well as being a once-fun ski run, is also an experimental beer for Bonfire. WFO is the ski run, which Bonfire rechristened as WtFO.
“It’s supposed to be an experimental IPA for us where we try new things with the hops we use in it,” Jessen said. “There’s lots of different forms of hops that are coming online now. Hop oils, hop concentrates. So we are playing around with that stuff.”
Whether it is the smell of popcorn that embraces you when you first walk into Bonfire Brewing or it is your friends greeting you with a pull from one of the many beers available, hopefully you find someone to enjoy conversation with. After all, it’s time to gather ‘round.