Brewing at vertigo-inducing altitudes is no easy task—just ask the team at BrewDog, who recently made an IPA high up in the clouds. At higher altitudes, the lower air pressure means that water boils at a lower temperature than the usual 212 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning that any standard recipes require some tweaking in order to work.
“The biggest issue for us is that we’re in the boiling range of 195 degrees Fahrenheit, give or take a degree. From a hop standpoint, hop utilization at that temperature isn’t as good,” says Paul Kemp. “So if we want to do a hoppy beer, we add more hops. One of our double IPAs, we do it for a longer boil. So we might extend it from a 60-minute to a 90-minute boil, depending on what we want to achieve with that beer.”
Kemp founded South Park Brewing, a 5,000-square-foot brewery in Colorado, with his wife Megan Sebastian in 2014. Brewing 9,953 feet above sea level in a tiny town surrounded on all sides by mountain passes comes with its share of challenges.
“We definitely order supplies ahead. Especially if there’s a heavy snowstorm, it might be a few days before you get a delivery,” Kemp says. “You become self-sufficient when you live in isolated areas. If something breaks, it’s a few hours to get that supply part that you need, so sometimes you have to improvise.”
Despite the inconveniences, Kemp says he wouldn’t trade locations for anything. Brewing with panoramic views of snow-capped peaks has its perks. Since opening, South Park Brewing has also become more or less the de facto community center for the remote mountain town. On nights when the brewery hosts a benefit event for a local nonprofit, neighbors run into one another and swap stories with travelers over pints.
A number of other brewers have found both the will and the way to make some excellent beers even at dizzying altitudes, often helping to put their locations on the map. We salute these pioneers who boldly take brewing to new heights.
Periodic Brewery, Colorado
Boasting maximum “ale-titude,” this small family-owned brewery first opened its doors in 2015 at a head-spinning 10,156 feet above sea level. Periodic Brewery has dabbled in a range of styles and currently offers beers like the Barrel Aged Night Run RIS, an inky barrel-aged 10% ABV Russian imperial stout with notes of coffee and chocolate, and the Hope Pass IPA, brewed with four types of hops and named for one of the most notoriously challenging treks around Leadville. Although it was the only craft brewery in the small town of Leadville when it first opened, it will be joined in the not-too-distant future by Two Mile Brewing Company, a project by Silverton Brewery-veteran Sean Terrill. Getting to Leadville is something of a journey, but few things are more satisfying as breathing in that crisp mountain air and surveying the otherworldly scenery up here—especially with a beer in hand.
Beehive Basin Brewery, Montana
Nestled in the Rocky Mountains at over 7,000 feet above sea level, the town of Big Sky is a magnet for skiers, hikers and anyone else who feels the pull of the great outdoors. Since opening its doors in 2015, this cozy microbrewery has been offering adventure-seekers a place to unwind at the end of the day. Brewmaster Andy Liedberg sticks to small batches, meaning the draft list here rotates regularly to show off his latest creations. You might find a Belgian IPA or a Baltic porter here, along with a host of like-minded customers often eager to share tall tales. If you’re feeling hungry, just BYO dinner or order in from any other nearby restaurants while you gaze up at the vertical rise of the snowy Long Mountain in the distance.
Park City Brewery, Utah
You won’t find high-ABV bombshells like bourbon barrel-aged Russian imperial stouts here. Instead, the brewery’s signature “peak series” consists of easy-drinking numbers that won’t knock you flat, even at these elevations. Instead, crisp India pale ales and imperial pilsners are on hand to quench your thirst either before or after you hit the slopes. Sadly, their taproom in Jeremy Ranch is closed at the moment, but you can still schedule a brewery tour at around 6,900 feet above sea level.
Flagstaff Brewing Company, Arizona
Roadtrip your way along the curves of the historic Route 66 and you may come across this classic microbrewery that’s been pouring pints since 1994. Though this brewery lacks the panoramic views of some of the others on this list, drinking a beer under the searing blue sky of the American West is deeply satisfying. Founder Jeff Thorsett brews everything from a textbook kolsch to a chocolate-y stout to a faintly floral IPA at 6,902 feet. Thorsett also has a fondness for whiskey, which means you can chase it with something smooth, aged and possibly discontinued from his stash. If you don’t want to drink too much before driving further, you can always get a growler to go.
South Park Brewing, Colorado
It doesn’t get more scenic than this sky-high brewery surrounded by pristine mountaintops. Take in the vista with their South Park Lager, an easy-drinking Prohibition-style lager, or a Mad Juicy New England-style IPA. If the altitude hasn’t gone to your head, opt for their heady Winter Ale, an imperial stout aged in Montanya rum barrels. There’s also a solid selection of booze-friendly grub to line your stomach with, including their gooey chorizo fundido spiked with their English-style brown ale.