Popular brew makes temporary comeback
Times Staff Writer
It’s not often that a choice of beer can be considered a statement of solidarity with an important cause. But for years, when people in the Gunnison Valley bought Red Lady Ale from the now-defunct Crested Butte Brewery, it was a small way to say that the mountain that gave the brew its name was important to them and worth protecting from mining.
This weekend it’s fitting that a party to commemorate the 40th anniversary of High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA) — the grassroots community group that led the fight against mineral development on Red Lady — should bring back the beer for a night, to toast the organization and celebrate what appears to be a permanent end to the conflict.
Last year, the current owners of mineral rights on Red Lady — mining giant Freeport-McMoRan — agreed to a plan that would withdraw the claims necessary for mining molybdenum from the mountain. Though some legal wrangling remains before the deal is done, officials are optimistic about eventual closure.
Crested Butte’s Irwin Brewing Company has agreed to brew two kegs of the vintage Red Lady Ale for the occasion — in addition to providing a pilsner of their own.
“We have a small pilot system here at the brewery, about 11 gallons,” said Irwin brewer Max Lyall. “So I did a triple batch (of Red Lady Ale) on that system in one day. It’s fermenting away right now and will be ready for the party on Sunday.”
“This plan started with brainstorming different fun ideas to celebrate the anniversary and at the same time get more people engaged,” said Mel Yemma, HCCA outreach director. “It clicked when I saw an old poster of Red Lady Ale, and I thought, I love beer and it really brings people together.”
The recipe for Red Lady Ale is patented and still owned by the former owners of the Crested Butte Brewery — including Joellen Fonken.
“I think this is a good way to have fun with bringing back the beer for people who really loved it, but also to honor some Crested Butte history,” Fonken said. “HCCA’s passion really shows. They believe in what they’re doing, and now the town and valley get to celebrate what they’ve accomplished.”
The potluck party will also feature a silent auction, live music by Bill Dowell and a keynote address by W Mitchell, former mayor of Crested Butte in the early days of efforts to save Red Lady from mining.
“It’s exciting to see how everyone came together to make this happen,” said Yemma. “The combination of the beer and the 40th anniversary should really bring a lot of people out. I hope so, because there’s going to be a lot of it to drink.”
What: Dinner at the Depot, HCCA’s annual membership meeting and 40th anniversary celebration
When: Sunday, July 30, 5 p.m.
(Alan Wartes can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or email@example.com.)