“You can make a beer out of salmon, can’t you?”
“Sure, we can just put the salmon in the blender, like a Bass-o-matic.”
The members of bluegrass band Leftover Salmon laugh, looking up at the tanks of beer towering above them in the back of Breckenridge Brewery. They’re making their way to a picnic table outside, Andy Thorn playing the banjo the entire way. This year, he and his band mates are celebrating their 25th anniversary, and they decided to partner with an old friend also celebrating its 25th anniversary: Breckenridge Brewery.
The band and brewery started just five weeks apart. Leftover Salmon began in Boulder in 1989 and played in the newly opened Breckenridge Brewery in early 1990. The relationship between the two Colorado institutions has been strong ever since. With the coming of their silver anniversaries, Leftover Salmon will release a new album, Breckenridge Brewery will open a new location on twelve acres of an old tree nursery in Littleton, and together they’ll throw a Hootenanny at the new location on July 18th.
In July, Leftover Salmon will be the first to play in Breckenridge Brewery’s new “beer utopia,” but today, the band is there to design a new beer to commemorate the milestone. “The more beer in the pond, the higher the boat floats,” says Leftover Salmon’s Vince Herman of the collaboration. “We’re always conspiring with someone. It just feels good. Plus, they gave us a six pack.”
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The band itself was originally a collaboration of musicians from different bands. Hoping to find gigs playing ski towns in the winter, Drew Emmitt and Herman decided to start a new bluegrass group with electric instruments and a drummer, and on their way to their first show in Crested Butte, they combined the names of their existing bands, Left Hand String Band and the Salmon Heads, into Leftover Salmon. It was an odd name for a new sound, but it stuck.
“I don’t know, we’ve got some weird ideas,” says Herman to brewer Brian Reinecke, who is there to make sure they don’t end up with a beer that actually tastes like salmon. “Have you heard our name?”
The band ultimately decides on a light spring beer, something you can pound all day at a summer festival, something that tastes like Colorado and feels like bluegrass. Reinecke suggests a hybrid lager brewed at ale temperatures, an indigenous American brewing style invented during the gold rush. In a few weeks, the band will go back to the original Breckenridge Brewery and taste their creation, “Salmon Tale Ale," which will be released at the Hootenanny this summer and come with download codes to Leftover Salmon’s new album.
“So, this will be the flavor of the Hootenanny,” Reinecke says, closing his recipe book with their final decisions, “rosehips, elderberries, and salmon berries.”