Beer

Browns Canyon Brewing Company in Buena Vista Was Built for Post-Adventure Relaxation

Browns Canyon is very likely the smallest brewery in Colorado.
Browns Canyon is very likely the smallest brewery in Colorado. Browns Canyon Brewing Company/Instagram
Not many breweries can claim to have a mountain-bike park on their property, let alone river access to excellent rafting, but Browns Canyon Brewing Company can. Located just off Highway 285 on the southern tip of Buena Vista, north of the tiny town of Nathrop, it opened quietly in early 2021 at the adventure-focused Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center (RMOC).

The property, which is owned by Brandon Slate and his family, boasts a free, public-access mountain-bike park, a permanent food truck, paid camping spots and river access. While RMOC is also employee-owned, Slate and two other RMOC principals share ownership in the brewery.

At an estimated 24 barrels of beer produced in 2022, Browns Canyon is very likely the smallest brewery in Colorado. "Last year we brewed [five-gallon] batches on site," explains Slate. "We had a beer called Toothless Smile IPA and another called InLAGERation. They were tasty, and they sold really well, but we were losing a dollar on every pint." This year the brewery opted to focus on brewing the majority of its beers at Elevation Beer Company, which is located just down the road in the small town of Poncha Springs, where Slate also lives.

Browns Canyon currently serves two beers under its brand: the 5 percent ABV Citra dry-hopped Shred Session IPA and the 5.5 percent ABV Shuttle Bunny Blonde Ale. The former is an easy-drinking yet bold and flavorful IPA. The blonde is light, clean and refreshing. These are the kinds of beers one imagines drinking after a day on the trails or in the water, and that's exactly how Slate intended it. "We're a place to unwind after an adventure," he says. "We're a place to chill after playing outside." The brewery also offers guest taps from local breweries such as Irwin Brewing out of Crested Butte and Buena Vista's Eddyline Brewing, which helps diversify the beer offerings. Crowlers are available to go, as well.
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The original drop in for the bike park.
Junk Yard Bike Park
Outdoor adventure is really the focus of RMOC, a company that provides everything from guided rafting and kayak excursions, water safety classes and mountain biking trips in the summer to snow gear rental, ice-climbing expeditions and avalanche education courses in the winter. What helps make the company unique, however, is the mountain-bike park out back, which is referred to as Junk Yard.

The name comes from the fact that the bike park was built gradually over the years, primarily with recycled materials — or in some cases, literal junk. "The place was kind of a dump when we moved in [about six years ago]," says Slate. "As we were tearing up concrete slabs, we were just piling it over in this field and burying it in dirt and making jumps." A station wagon was originally the start of a short jump run, until a school bus used to house rafting-guide gear was repurposed into a much larger drop-in.

When state authorities required that one of the three exits off Highway 285 be removed in order to move the brewery license forward, Slate had to dig up the pavement. He and fellow bike enthusiast and longtime RMOC guide Ryan Coulter buried that double-thick asphalt out back, further expanding the bike park.

But the area was really transformed when a neighbor down the road had a large pile of unwanted dirt left over from highway construction. The neighbor told Slate that if he was going to haul it away and use it for the bike park, he could have it for free. One hundred truckloads of dirt later, the park had really come together. Today it includes a pump track in the center and multiple jump lines on the outside, with varying degrees of difficulty, including a jump feature over a decommissioned car.
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The team built a large drop in area for the bike park on top of this guide bus.
Junk Yard Bike Park
The team also hand-built four downhill trails on the bluffs of the Arkansas River, next to the bike park, using natural rocks and terrain to build rollers, jumps and drops. These lines range in difficulty from medium-hard to very difficult, making them the perfect place to work on the skills required to conquer some of the difficult trails that the surrounding valley is known for.

At the bottom of the downhill lines is a paid camping spot, which costs around $100 for up to fifteen people. Campers can set up right on the banks of the Arkansas River and enjoy river access, mountain views and all of the amenities of the property. Lower-priced camping spots are available at the top of the bluffs.

Back at the brewery, the plan is to eventually add a 1.5-barrel brewhouse in another building on the property and brew more small-batch beers on the premises. Slate already has the plan sketched out, and hopes to install the brewery in the coming years. Live music on Thursdays has helped gain the attention of the town's residents, and the crowd is starting to diversify from the core outdoor enthusiast and RMOC customer base that primarily filled the bar and patio in the early days. The brewery closes much earlier than most others, at 6 p.m., so it's become a place for beer fans who are just getting their night started.
A wall mural in the brewery by local Salida artist Brink.
Ryan Pachmayer
There is also a food truck out back in the beer garden, helmed by veteran chef Nate Skiba. The menu is small but interesting, highlighted by a popular vegetarian burger called the Widowmaker Walnut Burger. Skiba puts his own twist on this fan favorite, with an herbaceous tzatziki-like sauce on top of the veggie patty, which is served on a grilled brioche roll with fresh vegetables and house-pickled onions. In addition to the burger, the truck offers a triple-decker grilled cheese, BBQ pulled pork and turkey bacon melt sandwiches, as well as a new po'boy made with pan-seared, Creole-rubbed cod. Rumor has it that an off-the-menu staff favorite, Skiba's take on a Taco Bell Crunchwrap, will be added to the menu next year.

Despite the fact that there's so much going on at the property, Slate says the team has no plans to slow down. Immediate plans include hard-packing the dirt jumps in the bike park, expanding the pump track to include more options, increasing the technical bike lines that line the bluff and building a wind-protected structure for the kayak roll instruction pool.

While the brewery officially closes for the season on October 15, winter visitors stopping by to rent backcountry skis, take an avalanche course or even do some ice climbing can always ask for a beer, Slate notes. "If RMOC is open and you want a beer, we'll serve you a beer," he says, ensuring that any adventurer in the valley is covered after a day of play.

Browns Canyon Brewing Company is located at 23850 U.S. Highway 285 in Buena Vista and is open from noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday through October 15. For more information, visit
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Ryan Pachmayer is a beer writer living in Arvada. He has written for publications such as Craft Beer & Brewing, Zymurgy, Porch Drinking, Homebrewing DIY and Punch. He is also the head brewer at Yak & Yeti Brewpub, marketing director at New Image Brewing and a BJCP Certified Judge.