Car traffic backed up foliage watchers — leafers — for a good half mile at the southern port of Nederland this past weekend. Human traffic backed up wing eaters — wingers — at the doorway of Wild Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery.
The traffic in both places made sense. Now is prime leaf-watching season on the Peak to Peak Highway where dense packs of birch trees scarring forests of pine make for reflexive oohs and ahhs from inside the car. The light up there, just after the autumnal equinox, is soft and low, except for in the yellow birch leaves where it shines.
The traffic at Wild Mountain has more to do with the glisten of their chicken wings than of the leaves in sight from the wooden front porch, where we wait with the rest of the patrons in limbo. Several cool breezes and loose dog run-bys later — mountain folks love their dogs — and we were sent to the back patio for lunch.
First, a round of beers. Wild Mountain does brown well. Their ESB, dubbel brown, Oktoberfest and amber are phenomenal fall beers, and I tried each of those. The Aliyah’s Amber (named after the brewer’s daughter when Wild Mountain opened) was my favorite of the bunch. It’s a malty, smooth, exceedingly drinkable amber built for long-sleeved afternoons in a bit of sunshine.
A bloody mary was also ordered after seeing too many of them fly by our table and looking so, so good. Wild Mountain packs theirs to the brim with chotchkies: a pickle, a pepperoncino, cucumber, I think there was a 100 Grand in there, one of those Nederland dogs. An old “Yes on 64” bumper sticker. Anyway, it was rimmed with some seasoned salt, and it was thick and spicy. It was downed in minutes and worth the extra order.
But the star of the show at Wild Mountain is their chicken wings. They come with a buffalo sauce that varies in heat depending on how you like it. Ours were “atomic,” or, pretty hot.
The wings at Wild Mountain are smoked and then charred, imbuing in the fiber of their being the wonderful taste of smoke and the slightly bitter, earthy flavor of char. Also by doing this, they retain the juiciness of the meat inside the wing. What was also excellent was the consistency and application of the atomic sauce. It was neither too thick, nor too runny. It had a well-balanced vinegar tang, with the slightly sweet flavor of tomato and pepper. These might just be the best wings around, and the folks at Wild Mountain are eager to share how often people drive up from Boulder just to take a massive order of wings home for a big game or for just a good old fashioned solitary chow down in the inflatable children’s pool out back.
We also had some ribs and a veggie burger on the table; for science, of course. The ribs were lathered in a robust tomato barbecue sauce, and their tender meat sliced cleanly off the bone. The veggie burger was notable due to its spiciness and crispiness — made with quinoa, black beans, tomato and some excellent blend of red spices, it had some kick and girth.
You may have to wait to get into town, and then wait again to get into Wild Mountain, but the payoff is in the wings. Just keep telling yourself that when you’re up there.