It’s not just Coors anymore. Golden, Colorado is Booming with Beer
Golden was Colorado’s first capital, founded in 1859 during the Gold Rush. These days, though, Golden’s boom is in beer, with several new brewpubs opening in the last two years, some of which make up a craft beer downtown walking tour.
When Charlie Sturdavant opened his Golden City Brewery back in 1993, his slogan was “The Second Largest Brewery in Golden.” The only other brewery in Golden back then was Coors, the biggest brewery in the world. Today Charlie’s isn’t even the second largest, though he keeps the fun slogan. Golden City produces all of 1,000 barrels a year, something Coors does every few minutes.
Charlie’s beer garden is in his back yard, and the bar – the size of the average living room – is in what was the Carriage House of his home next door. “We still live in the house,” Charlie says, “but we close early so I can get some sleep, and also because of the neighborhood. I originally did home brewing when I was in the oil business, but then the business started going down. For a while I called myself a consultant to the oil business, but I just didn’t have any clients! In other words, I was unemployed. I had a machine shop in the back, and started brewing on a bigger basis. These days I am back in the oil business, but I’m still the Brewmaster.”
Golden City always has five of its brews on tap, plus a cider, and a seasonal ale. The current seasonal is a Golden Summer Ale and their regular favorites are a simple, reliable range: Legendary Red Ale, Mad Molly’s Brown Ale, Evolution IPA, Lookout Stout, and Clear Creek Gold Pale Ale. Though their output is small they sell 85% of it in their own bar. It’s very much brewery as family business, with Charlie’s wife, son, and other relatives all involved.
From Golden City it’s a 5-minute walk to Barrels and Bottles, past street names reflecting Golden’s mining past: Miner’s Alley, Prospector’s Alley. Downtown still has the look of a Western town, with its sidewalks and historic buildings, and this small city with a population of only 18,000 is easily walk-able. They say it’s where the West starts, in the foothills of the Rockies but only 15 miles west of Denver. Recently a bear was found in downtown Denver, thought to have ambled its way there along the bike trail from Golden.
Barrels and Bottles only opened in September 2013, and is also owned by former home brewers Zach and Abby George. Zach (an ex-Marine) and Abby (who worked in the Department of Defense) only came to Golden in 2012 but fell in love with the city and decided to go for their dream and design their own brewpub.
The result is Barrels and Bottle. There are 22 craft beers on tap, including six of their own, and 24 wines on tap too. An innovation is their beer infusion machine, which on the day we stopped by was infusing a Hefeweizen with coffee beans to produce a darker-colored beer where the coffee taste cuts the strong wheat flavor for a well-balanced drink.
“We do a different infusion every day,” says the bartender, “and they’re incredibly popular. We’ve used things like mangos, chocolate chips, and woodchips, and choose an appropriate beer. The machine was invented by Dogfish Head and there are only a handful in the country, partly because they’re expensive and also need a lot of maintenance to clean them out every day.”
If the busy crowds on a wet Monday afternoon are anything to go by, it was a good investment. But it’s equally crowded ten minutes away on the far side of Clear Creek at Mountain Toad Brewing, which opened May 2013. With plans to open a canning room and their own barrel room, business is booming here too.
Mountain Toad’s focus is on American ales with some Belgian-style brews from time to time to stop them from getting bored. They would like to produce 100% Colorado beers, but there’s one problem with that, as the bartender explains: “You can’t get Colorado hops,” he says.
“Colorado has good hops but the big guys like Coors purchase 95-100% of them. In 2012 Coors actually bought 100% of the Colorado hops that were available. The smaller breweries can’t compete so we simply can’t do all-Colorado beers.”
Not that they’re letting this hold them back. Their current flight includes their own stout, IPA, a cream ale, an amber, and a wheat beer. For food they use a different food truck every day. Their background is yet another story of home brewers turning pro. According to the barman the founders went to college together, then went into engineering together, and when things went bad in the economy said: “Screw it, let’s open a brewery.”
Slightly further out of town – all of a 15-minute walk – is Canonball Creek Brewing, which was founded in January 2013 and whose motto is “We brew the beers we like to drink.” At the moment they’re enjoying twelve beers, including a rosemary sourdough, a Belgian-style golden blonde, several IPAs, an English-style brown ale, and a west coast-style red ale.
And looming over all, of course, is Coors, the world’s largest single-site brewery. It opened in Golden in 1873, only 14 years after the city was founded. It may be the oldest and the biggest brewery in Golden, but it’s clearly no longer the only game in town. You get the feeling that waiting in the wings are others who have also recently said: “Screw it, let’s open a brewery.”