In Crested Butte, the Dawn of a Guild-ed Age
The Guild Café offers yet another reason to head over the hill
Every ski town needs a good coffee house, a place to fuel up for a day outside, hole up when the snow is falling or simply sit around and trade the latest small town gossip. Few ski towns, though, land a coffee house as good as The Guild in Crested Butte.
A partnership between the Mountain Oven Bakery and First Ascent Coffee Roasters, The Guild launched in the spring of 2014 in an auspicious location: the converted Elk Avenue Victorian that formerly housed the legendary pizza joint The Secret Stash. By teaming up, Guild owners Chris Sullivan of Mountain Oven and Mark and Ali Drucker of First Ascent hoped to buck an unfortunate trend in the food business: coffee shops serving bad food, and restaurants serving bad coffee.
“By collaborating we were able to solve that problem,” says Ali Drucker, 37. “It’s exciting because we both get to focus on what we’re passionate about. And before this there was no true coffee house in Crested Butte where people could hang out, socialize, work or do whatever they wanted to do.”
The Guild isn’t just your average hangout spot: The sophisticated breakfast and lunch menu features everything from sourdough pancakes with Vermont maple syrup and house-made almond butter to a Reuben made with bison pastrami. Many ingredients are meticulously sourced from farmers in the North Fork and Gunnison valleys or a backyard biodynamic garden, and entrees are complemented by a bevy of breads and pastries that Sullivan bakes using house-milled organic Colorado flour and a sourdough starter (a slurry of flour, water and wild yeast) he’s maintained since moving from New York to Colorado by bicycle in 2009.
“The bacteria in the starter aid digestion and begin to break down some of the more complex glutens and proteins in the grain,” says Sullivan, 28. “All grains are difficult for humans to digest unless they are fermented properly.”
Coffee lovers will find a particularly happy home at The Guild, since they can drink a rotating slate of premium single-origin coffees while simultaneously watching (and smelling) their beans being roasted in the middle of the café floor.
Mark Drucker, 38, who handles roasting for First Ascent, says he put his five-pound drum roaster front and center for good reason.
“I try to target the busier times in the café to do my roasting,” says Mark. “It’s cool when I can talk to customers and educate them a bit on what I’m doing. Plus it smells really good.”
When they arrived in Crested Butte from New York City a decade ago, the Druckers were already dreaming of opening a coffee house. With the move west, Ali had fled a career in the music business while Mark shed his job as a financial analyst. Yet when the couple started roasting coffee commercially in early 2013, Mark’s obsession with hard numbers persisted.
“Proper coffee brewing should happen at between 195 and 205 degrees,” says Mark, “but our water up here [at 8,885 feet] boils at 195.8!” To overcome that accident of altitude— which makes it tough to keep water hot enough for a full-bodied brew—the Druckers bought Western Colorado’s first Alpha Dominche Steampunk coffee machine, a contraption that looks more at home in a chemistry lab than a coffee shop. The Steampunk uses periodic blasts of steam into its brewing chamber to agitate coffee grounds and keep water hot enough for optimal extraction, yielding a strong yet balanced cup.
“We have a refractometer which allows us to measure the total dissolved solids in our coffee, which is the amount that has actually been removed from the coffee seed,” says Mark. “Our goal is for 21.5 percent of the coffee to dissolve.”
In the end, of course, great coffee is less about the numbers than the taste and experience of drinking it, a truth that the Druckers appreciate.
“It’s a pleasure to see people have ‘aha’ moments with our coffee,” says Ali. “People who thought that specialty coffee would never be their thing see how truly different single-origin coffees can be. And even in small Colorado towns people seem to always be in a hurry, so it’s fun to watch people sit down and slow down and enjoy a coffee break.”
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