Come in, have a beer, have several beers, get a growler, get several growlers, get out.
– Ourayle House Customer Service Policy
James Paul “Hutch” Hutchison, owner of the Ourayle House, a nano-brewery in Ouray, Colorado, is not a good bartender. He will tell you this. “I have never been a guy to hang out in bars,” the full-time bartender says. “And I don’t particularly like doing it now.”
The hitch here is Hutch may be in the hospitality business but don’t expect him to be hospitable. Thus his second nickname: “Mr. Grumpy Pants.” “I may be grumpy, but I love my life.” It’s true, Grumpy Pants may not be much of an innkeeper, but he is an artist with the brew kettle.
Seven years ago, the athletic salt-and-peppered 52-year-old was a home brewer concocting bottled Christmas gifts for the staff at the Beaumont Hotel and Spa in Ouray where he was the chef. “They all said, ‘this is good, you should open your own brewery,’ ” Hutch says in a sing-song self-mocking voice. So he sold his condo, rented a garage off Main Street and moved into a 200-square-foot space upstairs. He still lives there, although the brewery has moved 246 feet away to Main Street. “I thought it would make a difference,” Hutch says, scanning his empty bar one weekday afternoon. “Shows what I know.” He built a bar with salvaged wood. Tables and chairs he acquired second-hand. Then he started brewing, one barrel at a time, also by hand. In the time it takes one of the better-known micro-breweries to brew 100 barrels of beer, Hutch hammers out 1.5. He will tell you he really needs to expand. Someday.
The Ourayle house has the vibe of a simple cowboy bar but not in an intentional thematic kind of way. There is no chrome. No polished wood. No sound system short of the silent boom box by the front door. Everything appears to have had a prior life somewhere else. Barbie dolls pole dance in suspended animation from a piece of salvaged PVC pipe secured floor to ceiling in the front window. (Hutch, on the advice of friends, felt the dancing girls might bring in more people.) Behind the bar, a homemade swing assembled with climbing rope, old carabiners, found wood and barn rail allows Hutch to tend his bar without ever standing. Dollar bills are tacked to the ceiling. Handwritten signs stand in for artwork:
“Welcome to Mr. Grumpy Pants Brewing Company. ‘Welcome’ being a relative term.”
“Miraculously, although be it somewhat begrudgingly, we are open”
“Our beers are brewed 22 feet from here.”
And they are. In a 100-square-foot garage adjacent to the bar. The menu is written on a chalkboard. The header on the first column reads “The Only Column That Might Help.” This being true, considering the other columns are empty. Below it are listed the beers presently on tap: Hoppiest IPA, Lightest-Blonde, Darkest-Stout, Medium-Hopped Pale, Amber, Darker-Smoked Brown Ale. The qualifiers dripping with Hutch’s bone-dry wit as if one cannot be trusted to decipher that a blonde might be the lightest just by nature of the name.
Hutch speaks with clear and concise diction. Each and every word carefully delivered – certainly a deliberate technique to avoid having to, god forbid, repeat himself to another uninitiated out-of-towner.
Rusty Brew (yes, his real name), a too-tall 50-something bony Texan with Wranglers jacked up high and Navy tattoos wearing thin on long sinewy arms, and his wife, a happier and chattier version of the rest of us, are the second and third customers of this particular day. (The first being a freshly-shaved tourist looking for a souvenir. “Do you sell mugs?” “No,” Hutch says. And that’s that. Conversation over.)
“You guys looking for beer?” Hutch’s tone is flat. He will tell you he is not an entertainer.
“I’m looking for a beer, she’s looking for a toilet,” Brew says with a long homey drawl.
“Looks like you both got what you wanted,” Hutch says, reaching for his wooden teacher’s pointer, circa third grade. (“I prefer to call it my baton,” Hutch clarifies, feigning a thick French accent on the last word.)
“This is the beer menu on the chalkboard. Notice we are cash only,” Hutch instructs, tapping his baton on the specified header. Tap. “So far, so good?”
“We are good,” Brew replies, reflecting a former life as the enlisted.
“In that case, welcome,” Hutch says, his tone slightly softening. It’s apparent Hutch approves of Brew. He is a man who doesn’t need things explained a second time.
“We have the one column that explains the six beers I have on tap. Tap, tap, tap … They’re all brewed here.” This is followed by complete silence. Brew’s wife is still in the bathroom.
“Smoked brown ale, that sounds good,” Brew says … his twang sounding like a hymn.
“Made with smoky goodness,” Hutch says. He likes Brew. He is real.
“Can’t go wrong when it’s dark,” Brew says.
“I have his and hers sizes.” At the Ourayle House, there are two sizes. One is bigger. If you order water, depending on Hutch’s mood, it might be served in a genuine sippy cup, the kind used to quench a 2-year-old’s thirst.
Brew takes a careful draw from the heady his-size stein. “Oh man, that is good. I like beers like this. I like beers that somebody has put their heart into.”
“Where are you from?” Hutch has dropped any defense. It is safe.
“Texas. Out in the boonies as they would call it.”
“What do you do?”
And like another hymn, Brew says, “I save lives.” He pauses and takes a long draw of the brown.
“I build helicopters for the Marine Corps. I heat-treat the gears. Every time I see someone rescued, I think, ‘I was there. My DNA is in that helicopter. I touched it and it saved someone.’ ”
In the middle of this ocean-blue autumn day, late-season tourists cram the sidewalk outside while in this empty bar with the homemade feel, a tired Texan silently stares into his mug of smoky goodness.
“Oh. I just want to cry.”
And then, he does.
Hutch tops off his beer, with grace. One misunderstood artist to another. And for a long minute, nothing more is said.
“People are people, you love them,” Brew says, struggling to gather himself. His wife, having returned from her mission, now quietly rubbing her man’s back.
“Yep. You don’t wish ill will on anyone,” Hutch says. And Mr. Grumpy Pants means it.
“I better go,” Brew says, having now polished off the smoky brown.
“Let me give you a splash of the stout before you go,” Hutch offers.
He pulls a half a “hers” and slides it across the bar.
“Oh man, that is beautiful. Thank you.”
“You are welcome.” e