Brewing Innovation in Denver

Denver is one of the best beer cities in the U.S., but it's not resting on its laurels. Here are three new ways of accomplishing one of the oldest human diversions: drinking beer.
Beer is big business in Denver. Breweries, brewpubs and tap houses are springing forth faster than coffee houses and marijuana shops. But along with this growth in pubs and breweries are a few outliers: CO-Brew, First Draft and Pat's Backcountry Beverages. The minds behind these three enterprises are expanding the boundaries of an industry that is deeply entrenched in Denver.


CO-Brew is a triple threat in the world of craft beer: It is a homebrewing supply store, a brewing school and a neighborhood nanobrewery for the Capitol Hill and Golden Triangle neighborhoods.

Central Denver was definitely in need of a homebrewing supply store, so the Broadway and 11th Avenue location was a natural. But the genius of this business is multi-purposing everything. While other nanobreweries use their brewing equipment only for brewing their beer, CO-Brew presses their 10-gallon high-tech brew kettles into double duty. While the electric brew kettles are small even for a nanobrewery, they are large for most homebrewers who are accustomed to brewing in five-gallon batches.

I have a few homebrewed beers in my background, but I'd never created a full-grain brew. I had always used pre-packaged homebrewing kits with malt extract as the base for my exploits. I discovered CO-Brew when I was in search of ingredients for a batch of barleywine. Janna Williams, one of the founders of CO-Brew, helped me locate a recipe, and then co-founder Jamie Williams (and Janna's husband) took over and helped me source the ingredients from their inventory.

The next step came when I discovered that CO-Brew provided brewing classes. A friend and I signed up for a brewing session with an instructor for $180, a price that included ingredients to produce 10 gallons of beer. We chose a pretty adventurous style for our first full-grain session, an Imperial Stout, so we had a slightly higher grain bill.

Had it not been for Will Brandt, our CO-Brew instructor, we would have been way out of our depth in brewing a beer of this magnitude. He patiently answered all our questions and guided us from the selection and grinding of our grains to capping wort buckets. He also made certain we didn't leave out any ingredients, miss any steps or fail to sterilize anything that came into contact with our brew. With Will's help, we created a very drinkable beer we named Double Dirty Dog Imperial Stout.

Janna and Jamie tell me that they have been "surprised by the number people that have come in for brew sessions for office team building purposes," or "father-daughter, bachelor parties and birthday parties" or just a groups of friends coming in for session of brewing and drinking. No matter your homebrewing experience, CO-Brew can assist you.

CO-Brew is celebrating one year in business by brewing a few special beers for their anniversary party the weekend of April 30 and May 1. They'll have a band on Sunday and are putting together a homebrewing equipment yard sale on Saturday.

First Draft

First Draft has elevated the art of tasting craft beer to new level. You can now be your own "beertender" and browse the selection of tap beers one ounce at a time.

When you arrive at First Draft's location in RiNo -- in what was formerly a construction salvage warehouse -- the hostess outfits you with a magnetic card linked to your ID and credit card. It is a bit overwhelming when you first face down the row of tap handles, but you soon figure out the proper location to wave your card to activate the tap. Pour yourself a beer and settle in at a table in the industrial surroundings, then get back up again for another beer. Each handle has a screen that provide a few bits of information on each beer: style, alcohol by volume, in some cases IBU (international bitterness units) and a short blurb on the beer.

With prices starting at 59 cents per ounce, a pint a of beer is no bargain (at $9 or more) but the range of beers you can taste is impressive.

"First Draft is committed to bringing some of the best beers around the country and even the world to Denver," says owner Mark Slattery. The 38 taps (predominantly dispensing beers, but also wines and ciders) are in perpetual revolution with new kegs being tapped nightly. If you see it tonight, you better grab a glass -- it may not be here tomorrow.

Pat's Backcountry Beverages

Concentrated beer is an innovation that the brewing industry has been seeking for many years and for many reasons. When I first learned of Golden-based Pat's Backcountry Beverages, I imagined that it was dehydrated to form concentrate that would be rehydrated into beer again. CEO and founder Pat Tatera came at the issue of concentrated beer from a fundamentally different perspective and pioneered what he calls the "nested fermentation approach." Rather than removing water from the beer to form a concentrate, he developed a greener process that never put water into the brew in the first place

Tatera, a chemical engineer by training, explains, "We are brewing a regular beer but at a critical step in the process we remove the alcohol from the beer. Alcohol is one of the limiting factors that prevents the yeast from continuing to ferment. At the same time we remove the alcohol, we refortify the beer with new fermentable ingredients and that allows the yeast to continue to ferment further. So every time we do that, the beer is gaining concentration and at the end [of the process], all the alcohol is returned. So anything that was produced during the fermentation is ultimately part of the finished product."

The motivation for the innovation came from a very personal experience that Pat had back in his twenties. After a great day of hiking with a friend in Canyonlands National Park in Utah, he realized that "the only thing that could make this a better moment is if they could be enjoying it with a cold beer." From this moment nearly 20 years ago came the inspiration for Pat's Backcountry Beverage. However, it took another 10-plus years until the light bulb came on in 2007, and he incorporated the business the next year and patented his proprietary process. The company was founded in Alaska, but Tatera relocated to Golden for a better cultural match. "Colorado fits the culture of who Pat's Backcountry Beverage is," says Tatera. He's now working with the local beer community to push the boundaries even further with new and improved products.

The next time you are stocking your pack for a few days in the backcountry, consider adding a four-pack ($10) of Black Hops, American Lager or Pail Rail and a carbonation bottle ($40) to your supplies so you can enjoy a beer at the end of the trail.

Read more articles by Jerome Shaw.

Jerome Shaw is a writer, photographer and beer lover from Denver. His travel blog is Travel Boldly. You can find him on Twitter @JeromeShaw or email him here.
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