The Durango Brew Train sounds too good to be true, and it almost is. Twice a year, a luxuriously restored 1920s steam locomotive travels deep into the Colorado wilderness, with local craft brewers on board to host guided tastings. Each trip culminates in a beer- and music-fueled party in the middle of the forest.
It’s part of a global rail renaissance. Once associated with overstuffed Amtrak cars and stale sandwiches, train travel is cool again. “Luxury train travel is back in vogue,” declared Canada’s Globe and Mail this March. Two months earlier, Forbes celebrated 10 luxury train trips beneath the headline, “Slow Travel is Back.”
Booze-fueled trains are particularly popular. Thirsty travelers can opt for tequila tours of Guadalajara, Mexico with Jose Cuervo, take the aptly named Uncorked wine train through North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains, or travel aboard an Adirondacks leaf-peeping liner fueled by wine and beer.
The Durango Brew Train was originally part of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, created in the 1880s to haul gold and silver ore from mines in the San Juan Mountains. It was privately purchased in the 1960s, and relaunched after an extensive renovation to a public increasingly thirsty for train travel.
In late September, trips depart Durango, Colo., for five-hour jaunts through southwestern Colorado’s picturesque Cascade Canyon, winding along the tree-filled Animas Valley and crossing its river a few hundred feet above. Local brewers from BREW, Steamworks, Ska, Animas Brewing Company, Durango Brewing Company, and Carver Brewing accompany each ride, leading tastings on board and hosting a killer, Bavarian-style picnic in the wilderness, accompanied by live music from local bands.
The website has details on accompanying brewers and booking information. If you’re curious about which train cabin has the best views, or where to stay overnight in Durango, look no further. Here is everything else you need to know about riding the beer train through Colorado’s craft beer countryside.
Why You Should Go
The historic luxury train gives riders a glimpse of untouched southwestern Colorado mountain scenery, and sample brews from all the area’s breweries, all without needing to drive.
On board, each of the breweries takes 30 minutes in each train car to talk about their brewing process and share samples. There are also two rounds of beer trivia on each departure.
The riverside picnic in Cascade Canyon wye includes pastas, brats, and live performances by local musicians. This year the lineup includes the StillHouse Junkies, a gritty bluegrass outfit, and The Wild Rose Gang, an all-female group that plays a mix of soul, jazz, rock, and country. At the picnic site, you’ll get a chance to chat with brewers and fill your glass beer mug with more beer from whichever brewer you choose.
It’s well worth it to spend a little more money on your ticket to sit in either the Nomad or Rio Grande cars. The Rio Grande, a first-class car, is a gondola-style car with a windowed ceiling, leather seating, and unobstructed views. The Nomad, a presidential- class car, was built in 1879 as the private car for the wife of railroad owner General Palmer. It features a private, open-air platform plus dark wood panels, lush red velvet curtains, and plush seating. Both provide a trip back in time to the golden era of rail travel.
What To Order
The Brew Train’s brewery lineup varies by departure, but participating brewers include Steamworks, a brewery that has been racking up Great American Beer Festival awards since 1997. Its Kolsch is an easy-drinking lager with a malty, chocolatey nose. Ska, founded by music-loving friends in 1995, is best known for its Modus Hoperandi, an IPA with citrusy, piney notes. Durango Brewing Company dates back to 1886 and brews several lineups, such as a seasonal series, railroad series, and taproom series. Animas Brewing Company is known for its IPAs and saisons, while Carver Brewing Co. makes lagers and Belgian ales, plus a handful of seasonal brews.
The brewers take a lot of pride in bringing a selection of beers for train-goers to try. They’re technically encouraged to only offer one choice, but most will offer guests several brews to sample if you ask politely.
Where to Stay
Durango’s historic hotel, The Strater, has been family-owned for three generations and is two blocks from the train depot. Staying at the hotel is like stepping back in time to the era of the Wild West when Durango was a stop on the mining route. Its rooms are covered in hand-painted wallpaper and decorated with antique Victorian furnishings. The Office, a bar serving craft cocktails, is packed for happy hour and offers live entertainment, and the Diamond Belle is styled as an Old West saloon. Rates start at $197 for weekends in September.