Rockslide tweaks its brews, will add more

Photos by DEAN HUMPHREY/The Daily Sentinel—Assistant brewer Casey Dry and head brewer Zorba Proteau examine some recent beer. Proteau recently became the downtown brewpub’s third head brewer since opening in 1994.

Casey Dry tends to a batch of beer at the Rockslide Brewpub.


A bit of Belgium in an
all-Colorado craft brew

The Rockslide last week debuted one of the brand-new offerings head brewer Zorba Proteau has brought to the beer menu — and this brew has some real provincial character.

It’s called Local Harvest, and as the name implies, it’s a brew created entirely of Colorado ingredients.

“I’ve wanted to do one for a while,” Proteau said.

The light gold, hazy and unfiltered Belgian-style beer was born of the best basics Colorado has to offer.

The hops come from first-year local growers 39 North Hops in Palisade, who found an eager customer in Proteau for 40 pounds of their Centennial strain.

The malts came from the Alamosa region, specifically from the Colorado Malting Co. The company touts being able to deliver fresh malt within just week’s of the grain harvest.

As for a Colorado catalyst, Proteau harvested the local wild yeast right here in town. And the water is, of course, Colorado’s own.

The style, Proteau said, is a “saison” — which has its roots in the French-speaking section of Belgium. It’s a style traditionally brewed as an afternoon refresher for field workers, something lighter and fruitier for the middle of the day.

They’ll be pouring it all hours at the Rockslide, though.

“I’m actually really happy it turned out the way that it did,” Proteau said. “It has a different flavor profile that I don’t think people will expect.”

— Duffy Hayes

People who pull up a barstool and order a draft craft beer from the Rockslide Brewpub in the next few months may notice something different — novel new recipes, brighter brews and a fresh approach to beer-making brought on by the hiring of a new head brewer.

Zorba Proteau started at the Rockslide, 401 Main St., in March after years as an assistant brewer at crosstown competitor Kannah Creek Brewing Co. And in that short time he’s already put his distinctive stamp and twist on the pub’s beery offerings.

“That’s the art of brewing for sure — coming up with new flavors and trying out new things, whether they go well or not,” Proteau said. “It’s always been kind of my vision, if I ever got a head brewing position, to offer a wide variety of flavors and alcohol contents.”

Proteau said the standard list of beers that regular customers are familiar with are still on tap, albeit with a few recipe tweaks. He left the popular stout as is. But the pub’s list is getting a full makeover.

There will be a seasonal lager that will flow from taps no matter what time of year it is, Proteau said, but it will change with each new season, four times a year.

He’s got two new brews coming down the line — a barley wine and an imperial stout — both higher-alcohol content and both inaugural styles for the Rockslide.

And a pumpkin ale is planned for around Halloween, he said.

One of the things Proteau was most excited about was getting the chance to brew with the system at Rockslide, which was installed in 1994, the year the brewpub opened. He’s the third head brewer to use it, and he spent a ton of time at the outset to bring the parts back to life, to bring some hoped-for consistency back to the beer.

“The brewing system itself is stellar,” he said, adding, “We have done a lot of work to upgrade and maintain a lot of the equipment.”

“I literally spent the first three months, just 60-hour weeks, doing cleaning and maintenance — just to get everything up to speed to where it should be as far as the system’s ability to produce good beer.”

“There were certainly some funky spots that required quite a bit of cleaning,” he said.

As Proteau learned while he was getting an intensive brewing degree recently from the American Brewers Guild, bacterial contamination can be anathema to quality beer.

He hopes all the work will pay off, and that the fresher menu will gain a new following of local beer fans.

Rockslide has already brewed 51 batches of beer, or more than 1,000 kegs, so far this year. That’s 510 barrels, with each barrel containing 31 gallons.

Proteau hopes the operation will produce 800 barrels this year; last year the Rockslide brewed 740. He said he’d like to see that number jump to 1,000 by the end of next year.


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