Pagosa’s ‘Ale Evangelist’

Local beer brewer Tony Simmons calls himself an “Ale Evangelist.”

It only takes about a minute of conversation with him to see why, for Simmons radiates a love for beer. If you ever find yourself asking Simmons about brewing beer it is advisable to stand back a bit as you pose your questions. The man is so passionate about his chosen profession that he needs a little room to move around as he takes you through his brewery and shows you the various life stages of his beloved beverages.

You don’t want to get in the way of a man with a mission to bring the world better beer.

Although Simmons took became a professional brew master and owner of Pagosa Brewing Company just two years ago, his penchant for turning grain into beer has been life-long.

“I almost got kicked out of high school for trying to brew beer in my locker,” Simmons told The SUN during a recent interview. “The principal asked me if I had a drinking problem, but it wasn’t anything like that. I didn’t even particularly want to drink the beer I was trying to brew, I was just fascinated with the alchemy of brewing. It was like a chemistry experiment. Turning one set of ingredients into something else entirely. I wanted to try it,” he said.

Happily, Simmons made it through high school, despite the beer-in-the-locker incident, and he spent many of the next years of his life living in Europe where he tasted his way into an even deeper appreciation for the nuances of individual brews. “Every time I went to a pub in Europe, I would try something different. I kept a little journal and made notes about what I liked and didn’t like.” All the while, Simmons was training himself to pick out distinct flavors, and identify their sources.

For his honeymoon with wife, Julie Simmons, for example, the couple visited Belgium and, not surprisingly, there tasted a bevy of beers.

“We found one particularly amazing Belgian ale,” Simmons recalled, “so later on we imported the most authentic ingredients we could find to develop a similar recipe. We even went so far as to recreate the water profile of the Belgian monastery that had supplied the water for the beer we loved so much.”

This intimate understanding of beer’s complexities allowed Simmons to develop his recipe for Poor Richard’s Ale, which won national acclaim when it was chosen by the Brewers Association — in cooperation with The Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary, a non-profit organization established to mark the three-hundred-year anniversary of Benjamin Franklin’s birth (1706-2006) — as the winning recipe for a beer that Americans nationwide brewed in January 2006 to honor the 300th birthday of Benjamin Franklin.

The event was conceived as a celebration of one of America’s first brew crafters. Franklin was a “beer lover, scientist, statesman, and revolutionary,” as the Brewers Association put it. “Poor Richard,” according to the association, “is the name Franklin adopted to write his best-selling almanacs.” Hence the name of the winning beer that, to this day, remains one of Pagosa Brewing Company’s most popular selections on tap.

Contestants in the recipe contest were asked to research the history of American brewing and develop a recipe that would reflect the most likely ingredients and techniques our forefathers may have used to ferment drafts in their day.

What pressed Simmons’ recipe on to victory was the use of corn, the Brewery Association reported. Simmons had chosen corn as an ingredient, and defended this component before the judges, based on research citing the high cost of imported malt and the unreliability of local barley crop harvests in Franklin’s time. Indeed, according to the Brewery Association “Franklin, writing under the pen-name ‘Homespun,’ encouraged Americans to make more use of native foodstuffs – including corn — to avoid colonial dependence on Britain.” More than 300 brewers nationwide followed Simmons’ recipe for Poor Richard’s Ale in January of 2006 so that Americans across the country could unite in a beer experience celebrating 300 years of legacy from Ben Franklin’s contributions to the nation.

Even when he’s not entering a contest, Simmons devotes this type of time to research and refine his recipes in developing many of his brews. “I like to really target the essence of what a certain type of beer is supposed to taste like,” Simmons said. “If I want to make a good Irish red ale, than I try to find the very core of that taste. Same with an English stout or an American pale ale.” For Simmons, taste is both a science and an art form.

Beer is also a celebration tool, and a way to mark the passage of time. Simmons loves to create original recipes for special times of year. His pumpkin porter, for example, will make a debut at Pagosa Brewery this Halloween. The brew features hand-roasted pumpkin and a deep, rich flavor. Simmons explained: we want to educate people about pairing beer with food, and this pumpkin porter will go really well with things like pumpkin short ribs and squash mashers. It’s pumpkin with a whole new, entirely delicious culinary purpose. And it’s beer in a whole new light. And that, it seems, is what Simmons aspires to.

You can get a taste of the pumpkin porter for a limited time only, or try one of the 12 to 14 other original recipes on draft at the Pagosa Brewing Company.

There, you can also find supplies to try your hand at brewing your own inspired homebrew recipe. Tony Simmons and “the millions of yeast babies” he produces everyday can be found at 100 N. Pagosa Blvd. (behind the Buffalo Inn).

SUN photo/Anna Lauer Roy
The passion and gift that Tony Simmons has for creating delicious, one-of-a-kind beer is evident from the 11 national and international awards that his brews have received in just two years, since he began as a professional brewer. Here Simmons is shown with three of the awards.

SUN photo/Anna Lauer Roy
From left, Jamie Eichmann, Ken Rodgers and Tony Simmons are the brew masters at Pagosa Brewing Company, where they not only seek to make delicious beer, but also strive to do it in the greenest, most sustainable manner possible. “We use wind power, all-natural ingredients in our recipes, and we mainly distribute beer locally in an effort to make our company as green as possible, “owner Tony Simmons explained.