The six beers lined out before us ranged in color from coffee to cloudy fruit juice.
“I don’t like fruity beers,” Laramie Area Visitor Center Assistant Director Mike Gray said, sniffing at one of his samplers. “I’m pretty sure this is grapefruit.”
Chuckling, I raised my first two-ounce tester in salute to our latest adventure — a downtown Laramie microbrewery tour.
“Cheers,” we said in unison, our glasses clinking before we sipped at their contents.
We started at the Library Sports Grille and Brewery, a bar catering to University of Wyoming students and boasting the catchphrase, “Don’t lie to your mom. Tell her you’re at the Library.” Decorated in UW livery, the interior is a mix of sports memorabilia, TVs and book shelves adorned with everything from Chilton manuals to Black’s Law Dictionary.
Mike and I snagged a table next to a large, single-pane window with a view of the brightly lit brewery.
“I’m more of an IPA fan,” Gray noted, setting down a rich brown brew and suspiciously eyeing the glass of aged-lemon-colored liquid at the end of his sampler line. “IPA was the first beer shipped from England to India that didn’t go bad, so it’s got that going for it.”
Neither of us are beer aficionados, preferring instead to dabble on the edge of whiskey connoisseurs. But Mike, at least, has experience in home brewing and knows the lingo, so he played the guide as we bumbled through heady menus filled with adjectives meant to inspire the imagination.
“I like dark beers,” I replied, grabbing for the Steamboat Oats & Cream Stout in front of me. “The darker the better. I think I like the weight of a stout. It feels less like drinking dirty water.”
We each selected three samples from the Library’s house brews. Mike went for the Devil’s Tower Honey Amber, Rattlesnake Rye and New England IPA, while I picked the Steamboat stout, Big Nose Extra Special Bitter (ESB) and Pomegranate Blueberry.
“I think the rye is my favorite, so far,” he said. “It’s a more substantial beer than the others, and the rye really sticks to my palette.”
I wasn’t the least bit surprised, since Mike enjoys a good rye whiskey as well.
“It’s the stout for me,” I offered. “It’s smoother than I expected, and you don’t get the bitter aftertaste you do with beers like Guinness Stout.”
We ordered up some hot wings and a pint of our favorites, nibbling as we watched the brewers work their stainless steel vats. The wings were crisp, and the spice complimented the beers well.
The night was slipping by, however, and we had two more stops to make. Mike finished two of his samplers, leaving the fruit-colored one three-quarters full.
“I’m pretty sure that was grapefruit,” he said, contorting his face like a child tasting their first Lemonhead.
A short walk down the street in the brisk not-quite-spring air cleared our heads before our next stop.
Altitude is a classy eatery with an upscale bar area. Known for their excellent steaks, gourmet burgers and award-winning brewery, it’s the type of joint that’s makes you feel like wearing a tie for dinner.
Now in step with the task at hand, we set right to ordering our samplers and a tray of bacon wantons.
“Is there anything bacon doesn’t improve,” Mike wondered as we read over the complex beer menu.
I snorted, “I’d prefer they keep it out of our beer.”
The beer’s at Altitude also bore inventive names like Tumblewheat and Wicked Heart Blackberry Blond, but they were accompanied by buzzwords and monikers such as nitro Irish dry stout. The confluence of verbiage swirled in my head as I guessed at what I might like.
Stay Woke – coffee porter
Glassgow Kiss – barrel-aged wee heavy
7200 Stout – nitro Irish dry stout
African Swallow – barrel-aged coconut brown
Keg Whisperer – German black lager
Altitude Altbier, or Alt/Alt – Dusseldorf Alt Beer
The samples arrived on a chic wooden paddle, and Mike frowned.
“We ordered all dark beers,” he said pensively.
My eyes widened, and a mischievous smile dimpled my face.
“I know, right?” I said, barely containing myself. “Isn’t it great?”
We walked through the samples, tasting each one and offering our thoughts as the wait staff chimed in with the occasional opinion or history of the brews.
“I can taste burnt Scotch,” Mike said, swirling the African Swallow around in a stubby, full-bellied glass.
Setting down the deceptively easy-to-drink Keg Whisperer, I nodded.
“You know, Mike,” I started, “not everything has to remind you of whiskey.”
Laughing, we cleansed our palettes with wantons and moved on to our next samples.
“Mmmm, I like that,” I cooed, knocking back another swig of the 7200 Stout. “It’s like Thanksgiving dinner in a glass.”
Mike kept going back to the Alt/Alt, but it was too light for my tastes.
“Now that has, um, spunk, I believe is the word,” Mike fumbled, testing the Glassgow Kiss.
Truth be told, it about knocked my socks off. It was sour and bitter, fruity and sweet all at once, and it packed a wallop.
Picking up the final glass, Stay Woke, Mike sipped gingerly, commenting, “It’s like drinking cold, black coffee. You’re going to like it.”
I did, but I thought it tasted more like cold, black, camp coffee — the kind that would keep a spoon standing straight up.
Around the corner, we popped into Coal Creek, a tap house and coffee café with a sign on the door welcoming rabble rousers.
“I’ll do the ordering this time,” Mike said. “No more loading up the list with dark beers.”
People were starting to pour into downtown at this hour, so finding an empty seat was a bit challenging. But, I managed to snag us a table next to the large storefront window that serves as the building’s northern wall.
The blocky wooden tables and booths blended well with the hardwood floors, and the taps were sunk into a white, tile wall, providing nice contrast.
The building is deceptively large as it is split evenly between the coffee side and the tap-house half, but our waitress informed us we were welcome to drink in either area.
Mike ambled over to our table, grinning.
“Don’t worry, I got you a dark beer,” he said. “I got you a red, too.”
Instead of our usual six, the sampler was only four beers this go round. Truthfully, I was relieved. Even at two ounces a pop, they add up, and I was starting to feel the craft beer’s high-alcohol percentage set in.
“Let’s order a pizza,” Mike suggested. “A bit of food in our stomach’s will probably go a long way.”
Perusing the menu, we debated whether Italian sausage and all its grease would be the best option.
“If we eat the spinach bacon ranch, we can at least say it’s healthy,” I noted.
Mike nodded, adding, “I’m pretty sure bacon is an anti-oxidant, right?”
Bacon wins every time.
We put in our order and set upon the four beers in front of us: Heavy 80, Scottish ale; Rail Town, Irish red; Old Blighty, English porter; and Coal Train, Belgian coffee stout.
Going into this set, I admit I was already biased. Nearly five years ago, I visited the tap house, and Coal Train was the first craft beer I ever tasted. Bursting with rich flavor, full body and creamy texture, it is the epitome of both coffee and beer.
So, I saved it for last and tried to focus on the other selections.
Mike went after the Heavy 80 first.
“Ain’t nothing wrong with that,” he said.
By this point, our beer-tasting lingo was reduced to grunts and simple nods of approval or polite dismissals.
“Dry,” I said, trying to focus on the brew. “Good flavor, but a bit dry.”
“Maybe that’s because you need to drink more water,” he said.
I was feeling a bit dehydrated and conceded his point.
Rail Town was lighter than I would have liked, but caught Mike’s attention immediately.
“It’s a happy little beer,” he commented.
Moving on to Old Blighty, we both gave it respectful gulp, but after so many dark beers, it was hard to differ from the others at this point.
“Mild with a hidden, bitter chocolate aftertaste,” I noted.
“I just taste Guinness,” he said.
Having never tried Coal Train, Mike took the first taste.
“That’s a good beer,” he said, almost begrudgingly. “I taste spice, maybe pepper?”
Our tour complete, Mike settled back into his Rail Town, and I happily finished off the Coal Train. The pizza arrived just in time.
We kicked up our feet and finished out the night chatting about old movies, the beers of our youth and which of the night’s sampled brews might best accompany a fly fishing trip down the Laramie River.
From start to finish, the entire tour was less than two-and-a-half blocks distance. With so many tantalizing options for wetting the whistle, it’s no wonder that all trails lead to Laramie.