You're in the wilderness, beauty all around, and there's one thing on your mind: beer.
This is the experience that Eric Steen, local beer blogger and art teacher at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, is providing though his project, "Beers Made by Walking." In local parks, and with sponsorship from UCCS' Galleries of Contemporary Art (GOCA) and Rocky Mountain Brewery, Steen is organizing public hikes led by naturalists and homebrewers. Working together, they're looking for ingredients to work into microbrews.
The plants and herbs, which must be found during Steen's hikes, have so far ranged from prickly pear cactus and chokecherries to ponderosa pine needles. Once they've identified their unique ingredients, the homebrewers have purchased them from local producers. (Picking ingredients in the wild is not only illegal, Steen says, it also sets a bad example for fellow hikers.) Then they've gotten brewing, enjoying access to the brewery and its staff, in eastern Colorado Springs.
As of press time, Steen hadn't yet tried any of the creations. But on Saturday, four of them will be served as a flight at the first of two special tastings at Brewer's Republic downtown. It's the only time they'll be available, barring wild success.
The project was inspired by Steen's travels through the Yukon, where he encountered "walking lectures," and in Scotland, where he visited Williams Bros. Brewing Co., which infuses its beverages with ingredients from the surrounding highlands. Steen's formal education is also influential; before moving to Colorado Springs last year, he earned a masters in Arts and Social Practice from Portland State University in Oregon.
"Essentially what all of social practice does is, it tries to foster relationships and interactions between people," explains Caitlin Green, co-director at GOCA, which considers the project part of its Art Without Limits (AWOL) program. "So where the traditional experience is between the viewer and the object, in social practice the more important relationship is between the two participants."
And for Steen, beer is more than art; it's a means of activism. Beer as "social glue" is an idea he promotes through his Focus on the Beer blog, which for nearly a year now has promoted "Free thinking and beer drinking."
"It's something that brings people together and forms relationships," Steen says. "If you're intoxicated, you can produce really fun and interesting conversations."
Steen says the other half of his art comes in the actual brewing of beer, the interactions of different ingredients and brewing equipment. "It's the same way a painter would consider what paint brush to use," he says, "or what kind of pigment will go into their paint."