Breckenridge: In Several Bottles
The Colorado town of Breckenridge is slightly smaller than the Caribbean island of St. John’s. Even so, it boasts seventy-six bars and restaurants. As the year round population is roughly 3,400, that means there is a dining or drinking establishment for every forty-five people in Breck! If those odds don’t secure your favorite spot at the bar, nothing will.
According to the New York Times, the theory that you get drunk more quickly at altitude is just a myth. Breckenridge sits 9,600 feet above sea level, making it the third highest town in the US, so we decided to embark on a highly unscientific study of our own. We made a beeline for the Breckenridge Distillery’s tasting room.
‘We used to mine gold in Breckenridge. Now we just win it.’ With a slogan like that, our expectations were high when we entered a room that felt akin to climbing inside an aging barrel. The Distillery, founded by a physician, is primarily known for its bourbon, vodka and bitters. Despite the fact that Lane has compared bitters to mouthwash, she tried a shot – mellow, with a gentle finish. Definitely not made by Listerine. Next was the vodka, which slid down far too easily and was crisp and flinty. This place is run by a doctor who knows his medicine.
Last up was the distillery’s bourbon, which has been ranked as one of the world’s top three bourbons. That’s not entirely surprising, seeing as the Breck version lists Rocky Mountain snowmelt water as an ingredient. Pick the perfect water, create a winning whiskey. It’s a simple enough equation.
Several shots later, Lane was rhapsodizing about the caramel tones and total absence of burn. She declared that she wasn’t leaving without a bottle. It seems she was in good company. Jim Murray, the man behind the Whiskey Bible described Breck’s offering, in the 2012 edition: ‘full of character, big-hearted, chewy Bourbon where honey and cocoa thrives and spices make a telling impact… definitely worth buying.’ That’s a much better description than anything I could devise, especially given that my priorities for alcohol are as follows: low cal, no burn, no hangover.
It wasn’t long before we were lured into another store with bottles in the windows and the promise of a tasting room inside. We probably should have read the actual sign first, because our wine tasting was complicated by the fact that we were in a gourmet olive oil and vinegar store. (At least it wasn’t a perfume shop – I’ve heard that Chanel has a harsh finish).
One of us wasn’t disappointed. Personally, I’ve always suspected that ambrosia, or Nectar of the Gods, referred to an eighteen-year old, balsamic vinegar from Medina. Olive Fusion actually had one of these and I snagged a sample. It had the consistency of honey, was rich, and… beyond our price point given the bottle of bourbon we’d just purchased.
Not to worry, there were shelves of other vinegars to sample. I discovered that the strawberry balsamic beat out the raspberry and blueberry, and that all the fruity notes came through surprisingly well. I was ready to skip to the register, when I spied a dark chocolate balsamic. It’s a firm rule that when you add high quality, dark chocolate to anything, its fabulousness is automatically squared. Plus I’ve been trying to find a legitimate way to sneak chocolate into salad for years. Score!
Olive Fusion bottles on the spot, to maximize freshness. Said bottles are secured using actual sealing wax and a hair dryer. Other offerings include white balsamic vinegars (the honey ginger is great in Asian dishes), earthy olive oils, and artisanal salts and sugars.
Seeing as dinner had been of the liquid variety thus far, we went in search of actual food and found the Motherlode – no, really, that’s the name of the tavern.
You know those tough biker dudes, with the word ‘Mom’ written in a heart-shaped tattoo that is splashed across a ripped bicep? Well that’s the vibe of the décor here. An homage to mothers adorns the front room, alongside black and white Prohibition photographs and, a little further inside the warren of rooms, vintage art from the 1970s covers the walls. We headed toward the space adjoining the back patio, where a musician was strumming ‘Easy (Like Sunday Morning).’
Lane rounded out her Breck booze cruise with a Dirty Shirley: cherry vodka, Sprite®, grenadine, and a cherry. This is one of several ‘Shock-Tails’ on the menu, with names like Mother’s Little Helper, Blowtini and White Trash Russian. I was amused to learn that Pimm’s was a key component of a drink called the Pimp’s Cup No. 1. In England Pimm’s is traditionally associated with tennis at Wimbledon, picnics complete linen napkins, and cucumber sandwiches. Apparently, this high above sea level, Pimm’s got itself some swag.
When our entrees arrived, we retrieved our cutlery from an old Campbell’s soup can and tucked in. I was dining from the somewhat limited section of the menu, labeled ‘Rabbit Food.’ I’d begged Lane to test drive The Mother Trucker or The Pregnant Elvis but she was fixated on the White Castle Sliders, which thankfully had as much in common with the fast food chain, as a ski lift has with a gold mine. Think thick, succulent patties, crowned with cheese and onions, accompanied by shoestring fries.
But our adventures with frying and oil did not end there. For years, Lane has wanted to try a deep-fried Twinkie, and the Motherlode was able to oblige. I blame Food Network because, in all the time I’ve known her, she’s never consumed a regular Twinkie.
It arrived. Muffled moaning ensured, followed by the phrase ‘ooey, gooey goodness.’ It’s hard to say if Lane’s trance was due to alcohol, altitude, the Twinkie, or a combination of the three. Either way, I was the one behind the wheel as we climbed the twisting, mountain roads – last time I checked, balsamic vinegar doesn’t show up on a Breathalyzer test.
- If you want to drink and or buy, head to the Breckenridge Distillery’s tasting room at 137 S. Main Street. You can also visit the actual, 4000 square foot distillery, which is at 1925 Airport Road. Life’s casual in Breck and there’s no need to make an appointment – just show up. Tours are free and are available six days a week. Not headed to the Rockies anytime soon? Order online, through the website.
- Olive Fusion is located at 101B South Main Street.
- The Motherlode Tavern is at 103 S. Main Street. Please note that, as the fate of the Twinkie is currently uncertain, we don’t know if that dish will continue to be available at The Motherlode Tavern.
- We met some of the staff of Go Breck (tourism board). Drop them a line with any questions — they are friendly and have a wealth of knowledge.
Lane & Juliet
The writing and photography team behind Southwest Compass, the travel blog for the American Southwest.