Congratulations to Kerri Van Aken on completing the quest to visit every currently open Colorado brewery! She has now earned the title of “Colorado Brewery Master,” joining a small group of beer enthusiasts who have also accomplished this feat.
I first met Kerri along with her husband, Glen, after he became a Colorado Brewery Master a couple years ago. While Glen had taken advantage of traveling throughout the state in his pursuit of climbing 14ers and visited many breweries along way, Kerri, who is just as much of a craft beer lover, hadn’t been to many of those mountain breweries. With the wonderful support of Glen and strong encouragement of the other ladies of the Colorado Brewery Masters, (Ruth, Dev, Robin, & Ashley) she endeavored to visit those that she was missing.
I am now happy to welcome her to the Colorado Brewery Master family and, as I have done previously with the other Masters, I was pleased to ask her some questions about her journey…
Who is Kerri Van Aken? (Tell us a bit about yourself.)
I was born and raised in Northern California. I was an ESL Resource teacher for 5 years and a Kindergarten teacher for 10 years. I stopped teaching when my family moved to Arizona and I chose to stay home and raise our 2 boys. Now that the boys are grown, I enjoy reading, traveling and lace making.
My love of Craft Beer started in college. I graduated from Cal State – Chico, which is the home of Sierra Nevada, (and where I met my husband and fellow Colorado Brewery Master, Glen Van Aken). In the 90’s the craft beer scene was just starting. Glen and a friend would go off to new breweries as they opened. I figured I could either be a beer widow or join him. We got a bit more serious about craft beer when we started having annual beer tasting parties nearly thirty years ago, (first in CA, then in AZ and now in CO). We would drive to all the breweries around town and buy numerous different styles of local beer in hopes that our friends would find something they liked besides Bud Light.
When and what was the first Colorado brewery that you remember visiting?
My first Colorado brewery was Coors. I visited it with my brother 35 years ago, when I came out to CO to visit my newborn niece. Then 15 years later, my family and I were on vacation and drove through Colorado. By now my love of craft beer had taken root, so of course we had to visit some. I am not sure on the order, but we stopped at Golden City Brewery, Strange Craft, Avery, Odell’s, and New Belgium. Our son liked the bicycle theme at New Belgium and got a bell for his bike. We also had our first sour there, which should have been my last.
When and where did you accomplish the status of having visited every Colorado brewery?
The final push came over a two-week period. I did the road trip out west to visit Colorado Boy in Montrose, Lake City Brewery, and The Irwin Public House and The Eldo in Crested Butte. The following week I made it to Parts and Labor in Sterling and Tumbleweed in Yuma. On the last day Zymos opened. I went to Denver Beer Company’s Littleton location for lunch, then that evening, I finished the quest at Zymos, joined by a number of other brewery masters who were there to help me celebrate, (or just wanted an excuse to go to another brewery!)
What are some of your favorite memories of your quest?
Meeting great people and seeing some beautiful areas in this state. Fiction, during a snowstorm, having my first smoked beer. Going to Brewability Lab when it first opened and being so relieved that there was a place that completely understood my son. Foam and Folly, enjoying all the cool decor and having a wonderful conversation with one of the locals. My dog Bonzai having a wonderful time playing in the dog park at Coal Mine Ave Brewing.
What are your favorite styles of beer and your top breweries in the state of Colorado in terms of your beer taste?
Not sours! I’m a very situational drinker. So much depends on the weather, what I’m eating, my mood, etc. I like lighter beers such as Hefeweizens and Pilsners on hot days and Porters and Stouts during snowstorms. But I will never say no to a barrel aged beer, Huckleberry beer, or a good Barleywine.
What are some of your favorite destination Colorado breweries?
I’m all about the experience – sitting on the patio overlooking the Crystal River at Casey’s Brewing & Blending Barrel Center, viewing the peaks from Ouray Brewery, looking at the fall colors from Riff Raff on the Rio’s patio, or grabbing a book off the shelf at Fiction.
What is your favorite hang-out brewery? (Where are folks most likely to run into you?)
I love Brewability Lab in Englewood. The owner, Tiffany Fixter, has created a wonderfully inclusive environment for both patrons and staff – adults with disabilities who have been deemed unemployable by the state, but thrive with Tiffany. I’m also getting to Burns Family Artisan Ales more since they’ve opened a second location closer to home. Locavore was a great place to hang while my son was practicing next door at School of Rock.
What advice would you offer others trying to become a Colorado Brewery Master?
- Take your time and enjoy the journey. I saw so many beautiful parts of the state that I would never have, had I not gone to the breweries. Lake City, Crestone, Ouray, Paonia, and Creede, to name a few, are wonderful little towns that I probably never would have visited.
- Plan extra time at each brewery. You want time to be able to enjoy good conversations with the staff and locals instead of having to immediately run off to the next brewery.
- Frequent the Colorado Brewery List’s Upcoming Breweries page so you don’t get blindsided when a brewery on the other side of the state opens the week before you finish.
Congratulations again to Kerri for finishing “The Quest.” I’m looking forward to sharing many more beers with you!
Are there any other Colorado Brewery Masters out there that I have missed? If you have been to every Colorado brewery or are close to doing so, I would love to hear from you!
Do you want to learn more about the other Colorado Brewery Masters? Check out this CBM blog page which has all of the articles about us, (except me but you can read a bit about my initial quest here).