Before he cofounded Ska Brewing Co. in 1995, Dave Thibodeau and his partner Bill Graham were avid homebrewers who created big in-your-face recipes that satisfied hop cravings, and bucked the conventional norms of the time. Opening a brewery meant quick access to a lot of flavorful beer, and what they make is still his go-to. But we asked him to go beyond the brewery in Durango for a 6-pack of beers that inspired him over the years. He took us down memory lane where we were happily surprised that he included one beer that’s likely on a lot of Colorado-based brewers lists, but is rarely mentioned aloud. “Most of the beers that are my favorites are beers that have been around for a while, and it’s not because I haven’t had beers that have tasted equally as good recently, I just haven’t formed a relationship with them,” he says.
Left Hand Brewing Co. (Longmont, Colorado) “This is a beer that got me really into drinking beer and brewing beer. Tabernash Brewing was the company started by Eric Warner after he graduated from Weinstephan. In the late 1990s the brewery merged with Left Hand and eventually the beer was phased out, but their weisse beer, when I first had it, was something that I’d never tasted before. I thought it was pretty heavy on the banana esters, but I had never tasted anything like it before.
“It no longer exists—I think Left Hand brewed it for a while, then it morphed into Haystack Wheat, which also may not exist anymore. I miss this beer, and we’re going to have to figure out a way to resurrect it. It was an elemental beer for me and I’m not alone in this. We do a bike ride every summer with Avery Brewing Co., The Boulderango, and we either ride from Avery to Ska or Ska to Avery. The first year we were doing it, we were trying to figure out a beer that we could brew together and Adam [Avery] and I started talking about Tabernash Weisse. We both just kind of freaked out because it was Adam’s favorite beer at the time also. We tried to brew it together and… it came out nowhere close.”
Rodenbach Grand Cru
Rodenbach Brewery (Roeselare, Belgium) “Rodenbach Grand Cru was the first sour beer I ever had and I think it’s probably the most refreshing beer I’ve ever had—I can drink it in the summer when it’s hot or even in the winter when it’s freezing. I was introduced to this by a guy named Doug Corson. When Left Hand merged with Tabernash they started Indian Peaks distributing. Eventually we became the Southwestern arm of their company and early on we carried the B. United portfolio, an importer that carries a fair amount of Belgian beers. Doug would bring the B. United beers and we’d just sit around and drink. I don’t know if Rodenbach was in the portfolio or if he’d just brought it with him, but it was amazing. That beer always hits the spot for me. It takes me back to my early days and discovery of flavors. As many good sour beers as there are out there, Flanders beers, etc., it’s just my favorite… I’ve never been disappointed by it. It gives me a feeling when I drink it, and I can go back to a point in time in my formative brewing career. There’s a few beers on this list that could be a desert island beer for me, and you’d think a sour wouldn’t be a desert island beer, but Rodenbach Grand Cru could be mine.”
Brauerei Heinrich Reissdorf (Köln, Germany) “This might be another Doug Corson introduction but Reissdorf Kölsch was the first Kölsch I ever had. In Durango, we’re right on the edge of where the desert and mountains meet and it seems like it’s always 100 degrees out there in the summer. We had a bunch and it was chilling in our cooler, so we opened bottles while standing on black asphalt and, man, that beer hit the spot. So delicious and so clean. Tasted like a lager to me, but there was a little peach or pear note that added another dimension to it and gave it a little character beyond a fizzy yellow lager. It was so refreshing on a day like that.
“I haven’t had it in a number of years, but every time I have one, it’s a beer I like to drink really cold, and it just goes down. I love the Kölsch style in general, because it’s more of a sessionable, cleaner, easy-drinking kind of beer. Although I do love hops, for me this Kölsch is what someone like me, who drinks a lot of beer, drinks when we sit down to drink a lot of beer. Talking about it right now makes me want one.”
Coors Brewing Co (Golden, Colorado) “I grew up in Denver, out in Wheatridge right on the edge of Wheatridge and Golden. Many of my friends’ parents worked for Coors, I grew up in the shadow of Coors and most days you could smell the brewery. It was a little bit of a different smell than what I’m used to now. When I’m driving to Ska, the smell I catch from the highway is hops, but the aroma from Coors was like a bready smell. It was just part of the smell of our neighborhood. All of my friends’ parents seemed to work for Coors.
Banquet beer was a part of my life growing up. Our refrigerator was always packed with it. We used to go to Washington or Montana every Summer on vacation, and you could get Rainier up there. My Dad used to pack our car full of Coors Banquet—because you couldn’t get Rainer here and they couldn’t get Coors there—so we’d come back with a car full of Rainier. It was funny, we did it every Summer. Once we started stealing beers out of our folk’s refrigerators, it was always Coors Banquet. To this day, I can crack one open and put it down in a matter of seconds.
When I was in high school, you could do the short tour—skip the entire brewery tour and just go straight to the tasting room and get your two free beers. We were the last year when drinking age changed from 18 to 21 in Colorado—this happened when I was 18. We’d take off from school at lunch, take the short tour, and then go back to school. Until we got caught for trying to trick the brewery into giving us more beer by changing coats and stuff. I would be remiss if I didn’t put Coors Banquet in here. It’s almost always in my refrigerator. It might not go over well with the geeks, but it has to be in my pick 6.”
Allagash Brewing Co. (Portland, Maine)
“There’s something about this beer that’s so drinkable for me, when generally it’s not a style I go for. For some reason, the style never hits it for me like it does when it’s Allagash. If I drink a witbier, something kind of classic with coriander and orange peel there’s always something that’s not quite right for me. And I don’t remember the experience of first having it, but that’s a beer I’ll always pick up when I have the chance. If it’s on draft, I go for it. There’s something about that beer with its thick white head—it’s the perfect balance of that particular yeast with the coriander and the orange peel. It’s another beer I find incredibly quaffable. I have great respect for [brewery founder] Rob Tod and what he’s done at that particular brewery over the years. To me, it’s a fantastic beer that is unmatched in the style. Even something classic from Belgium just doesn’t seem to touch it for me.
This slot in my 6-pack would have to go to either Allagash White, or…”
Boulevard Brewing Co. (Kansas City, Missouri) “This was the first Saison that I really loved. I’d had a number of saisons before this and obviously the style can be all over the place. But this particular one has something about it that just hit me. Somehow, it’s perfectly consistent, it tastes like I expect it to every time. It’s a pretty interesting and complex beer, and it made the style stand out for me and made me really open to trying more types of farmhouse and saison beers from other brewers. Before I had Tank 7, it was a style that I may have shied away from. I was introduced to it because we were fortunate enough to be Boulevard’s distributor in the Southwest, so we had a fair amount of it that we could get into. We probably drank more of it than we sold.”
Odell Brewing Co. (Fort Collins, Colorado) “Our flagship beer is an IPA…Modus Hoperandi. It’s by far what we sell the most of. “We’d brewed a number of IPAs on a small scale over a number of years, but when we decided to add an IPA to our core lineup, we wanted to nail it because it’s a style we were all really into. In our old brewery, probably around 2006-2007, we did a blind tasting with our whole staff. We tried every pale and IPA we could find in Durango. 100% of the votes from our staff went to Odell IPA.
“This sparked our conversation about what we’d like to see out of a new IPA. We talked about everything we loved about that beer, and eventually, that conversation and that blind tasting was really the spawn of Modus Hoperandi. If you taste those beers back to back, they’re not even similar—they taste nothing alike. But it was that conversation and that tasting that got us to what we created when we created Modus. Once again, to this day, it’s a go-to for me. If I just want to grab some beer and walk into a liquor store, when it catches my eye I just grab it. It’s always in my refrigerator. I’m not sure if it’s changed over the years, but to me, it just tastes as delicious as it ever has.”