I stood among towering tanks filled with fermenting wort. It was January, and snow was falling around a group of about 7 or 8 of us. A man in gold shoes explained some technical jargon about how the device in his hand worked. He called it a Pig Tail. He hooked the thin, coiled tube of copper with a straight end to the base of one of the tanks and a stream of liquid began shooting out the end into a glass. He handed the glass off to a group member; they put it to their lips and nodded their head in approval. Finally, it’s my turn to have a glass filled. It’s half full of lightly hued ale and I take a sip of the freshest Collette known to mankind. To me, standing among the fermentation tanks getting ready to walk back into the brewery at Great Divide was one of the best moments since I had moved to Denver.
In case you haven’t picked up on my gist yet, Denver is a town for wanderers. You can easily skulk around the whole city in a day, and even better, wander the bulk of it while stumbling around from bar to bar. Just a quick stumble from the heart of the city you’ll find Great Divide, one of my favorite breweries. As you wander down Arapahoe, you suddenly start to see a silhouette of fermenting tanks along the industrial skyline. Next to those tanks, is their tap room.
Upon walking in, the bar in the front room is the first thing you’ll likely see. Next you’ll probably notice a wall of tap handles, all ready to spout off some of Colorado’s finest beers. As you walk around the bar, you’ll see it modestly opens up in the back for tables and additional seating. Glass windows give you a perfect view into the heart of the brew house. I’m a big fan of the size of the tap room. A quiet weeknight can be a lot like sitting at your own basement bar with a couple of good friends pouring you beers. In contrast, if you walk in on a Friday or Saturday night, you can find yourself elbow to elbow, ass to crotch with what seems like half of the beer drinking population. Some of the loudest nights I can remember were sitting at that bar. Yet, these were some of my other favorite nights. It’s not for the agoraphobic.
Flash back to the moment in time where I was standing among giant beer-filled silos: Up until recently, Great Divide would open the brew house doors on a monthly basis and hold meetings of the Hop Disciples. At each meeting, a brewer would take an hour or two from his day and talk about beer. He might talk about filtering, pairings, the brewing process or whatever comes to mind. Once, we basically watched someone go through the mashing process on his shift. Looking down into the mash tun while a protein rest took place was awesome as a home brewer. Hell, just standing around in an operating brewery was an enlightening experience. The open nature of the brewery and staff was something completely unfamiliar to me. Tours are one thing, but this was immersion.
We would try beers that had just come off the line. We were able to experience a filtered, an unfiltered and a final blended version of a beer. We tried a small test batch that a brewer had experimented with. I don’t think I ever heard the words “I can’t answer that question,” come out of a brewer’s mouth. People would show up with their own home brewed beers for everyone to try and compare. This is how you get people to really attach themselves to a brand. This is consumer engagement in its finest form.
Even with Hop Disciples now discontinued, I recommend anyone visiting to stop by Great Divide. The beers are bold, the tap room is, in my opinion, the epitome of what a brewery experience should be, and it’s the only place I’ve been where you can guarantee a Yeti sighting. Get your ass there.
An open mind and a few beers can make anywhere an adventure.