Chimney Rock is a sacred Native American landscape. It is thousands of years old, and still a cherished landmark today. Very recently it became a National Monument.
And now it is a beer.
Chimney Rock National Monument Ancestral Ale, to be exact. Pagosa Brewing, located in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, released this limited edition brew in honor of the site’s National Monument designation, which was announced in September. The light beer is a unique blend of wheat and barley, as well as local squash, beans, sweet corn, and a whisper of cactus fruit.
Don't sound like the usual ingredients for beer? Maybe not, but squash, beans, corn, and cactus fruit were essential foods for the Chacoan people that once lived around Chimney Rock, and are still grown on local farms today.
While many brewers put their heads together to create the perfect ale to honor the sacred landscape, the man behind it all is Tony Simmons, president and head brewer at Pagosa Brewing.
Simmons is an accomplished brewer -- he has worked in breweries in Colorado, New Mexico, and California, received scholarships to professional brewing schools in the U.S. and Germany, and won many awards for his hand-crafted microbrews.
He ended up in Pagosa after visiting Mesa Verde 16 years ago and discovering the great history of the Chacoan culture; then, in 2006, he started Pagosa Brewing. He’s visited Chimney Rock several times and recognized at once that this amazing cultural resource was not acknowledged nearly well enough.
“When I heard that Chimney Rock might become a National Monument, I thought that deserved a little recognition from a brewer’s perspective,” Simmons said.
Brewing the perfect Ancestral Ale took some time and was definitely a collaborative effort. He recalled, “We came up with the term Ancestral Ale after talking with an archaeologist at the U.S. Forest Service. We discussed our idea at length. And it took awhile to get the flavor profile right.”
But right they got it. After the official announcement was made in Washington, D.C., Pagosa Brewing sent the White House some of the newly created, special edition Chimney Rock National Monument Ancestral Ale. (Simmons also got a call from the Forest Service asking for samples.)
He said he was “pretty blown away by Secretary Salazar’s enthusiasm over the beer” and thought it was “great to see a little bit of Pagosa going out to a big city.”
The Ancestral Ale was also featured at the Pagosa Brewing tasting booth at the annual Great American Beer Festival, which ran from Oct. 11-13 in Denver. At roughly 50,000 attendees, with more than 2,700 beers being sipped and judged, the festival was a great place to introduce the ale and talk about the significance of National Monument designation for Chimney Rock and the community.
Before heading out for the festival, Simmons told me, “I believe that crafting this beer is a great way of acknowledging the countless hours of the U.S. Forest Service and volunteers. Chimney Rock is really special to our community and significant across cultural lines. We are only as successful as our community, and this is a wonderful thing for our community.”
Side note: I’ve been to Pagosa Brewing and it’s a great place to relax, especially in the “Beer Garden” outside, and drink in the history (literally, you could say!).