Thursday, July 31, 2014

Craft Brewing in the Shadow of a Beer Giant in Golden Colorado

What’s the first word that pops into your head when I say Golden, CO? Some will think mountains, others will have images of prospectors panning for gold, but the majority (I assume) will think beer. The images will not be of a random beer but a beer giant. People’s minds will recall commercials with images of clear mountain streams flowing out of a glacier into either cans that read “Banquet” or cans that read “Silver Bullet”.  A beer giant who has everything they need right in their backyard to mass market an image of pure fresh “Rocky Mountain” brew. But the reality is that this international conglomerate kicking out cheap mass produced “Pilsners” and faux craft beers is much different today than it was when that image was reality. It also now has competition. Not just competition in Milwaukee (since they’re partners now) or St. Louis , but from craft brewers right down the street who are serving locals (and Coors employees we were told) beer that is worthy of those images of fresh mountain streams.

Table Mountain overlooking Golden
Golden is neatly tucked between Denver and the Rocky Mountain Front Range in a small valley flanked by the impressive Table Mountain on its east end. The scenery of this small town (which was discovered before Colorado was a state) makes for a very impressive postcard. The mountain stream seen in all those commercials actually does run out of the mountains through Golden. Clear Creek tumbles out of the Rockies through town giving people an opportunity to tube, fish, or just splash around on warm days in crystal clear water. Shops line the streets in Golden for all your western wear, souvenir, or collectible needs. In my opinion, when you put the scenery together with some nice relaxing shopping and good dining choices, Golden is worthy of a stop. Add in a few great local breweries who aren’t afraid to produce beer under the bright neon Coors signs that hang in every establishment and you have a must stop.  I was lucky enough to pop into 2 of these craft breweries recently and was not disappointed.

2nd Largest Brewery in Golden

Golden City Brewery

My first Golden craft brewery adventure was at Golden City Brewery. This brewery billed itself as the “Second Largest Brewery in Golden”. Golden City Brewery dates back to 1993 when 2 geologists decided that the city needed to have something better to drink then what the largest brewery in Golden was cranking out. They turned the machine shop behind their home into the brewery operation, at the time brewing Red and Pale Ales and serving them in their original tasting room (the sunroom of their house). The whole operation has stayed all on their property but the tasting room moved to the carriage house on their property and the back yard transformed into a wonderful beer garden.

Great beer options
Like many places in Colorado the whole operation had a wonderfully laid back attitude. Dogs on leashes were welcome and water dishes were out for 4 legged friends as well. There were 2 ways to order a beer, either in the tap room or through a takeout window situated in the beer garden. I decided I wanted to go inside and soak up some of the conversation going on in the brewery to get a feel for what brought people to this place.
As I got to the front of the line it became decision time.  I stared at the 5 brews available ( IPA, Brown Ale, Kolsch, Stout, Red Ale) and decided on a warm day that a Kolsch would be a great place to start. The Cedar Creek Gold was absolutely the right choice. This Kolsch had a nice hop to it with a floral finish without being overly bitter, and was so refreshing that it needed to be enjoyed outside. After sitting inside and soaking up some conversation I picked up my glass and headed outside. The beer garden was packed with people enjoying this wonderful day. There is plenty of seating for you to bring your lunch and have a beer or grab some pretzels from the tasting room and enjoy the Rocky Mountain air.

Refreshing Kolsch
After I finished my first refreshing pint I wanted to dive into their Legendary Red Ale. Colorado has some famous red ales and this was one of their original brews so a test was in order. This ale made my walk back to the picnic table even more enjoyable. This red ale was not an Irish red, but a red/copper German Altbier. This beer had a clean refreshing flavor, almost like a lager, with a little bit of bitterness and a malty note to it, obviously adding the color. It had a slight caramel tone and a light hoppiness to it that made for another wonderful crisp summer day beer.
Golden City Brewery
Golden City Brew had gone 2 for 2 on a warm summer day. The brewery, with its tasting room and adjacent beer garden, was a great place to relax with very high quality beer. You can get Golden City Brewery beers in multiple locations throughout Colorado (and you should get some), but like I’ve said before, stop in to the heart of the operation and get some straight from the brewery. It’s one thing to drink a good beer, but getting the feeling of how each brewery operates and soaking up the attitude of its staff and fans gives you a personal connection to every beer you travel for and drink.
More Golden beer!
Mountain Toad Brewing

I still had some time left before I had to head back off to Denver and I really wanted to sample another brewery to get another taste of real local brewing in Golden. I made a 5 minute walk across Clear Creek to a newcomer in this town that has been brewing beer for over 140 years, Mountain Toad Brewing. This small brewery was founded a little over a year ago by 4 locals who gave up the corporate world to do something that they loved and would have more fun with, brewing beer. A quick sidetrack, but so many of the breweries we have visited across America are started the same way which adds to the true quality of the beer. People who do things they absolutely love to do, not “have” to do, produce such a superior product. When I found this out at Mountain Toad Brewery, like I also did at Golden City Brewery, I knew I was in for a treat.
More great options
This brewery was located in an old machine shop right across the street from a menacing Coors Credit Union (these poor guys just can’t avoid that name). The revamped building had a long bar with a view street into the brewery operation itself and a number of table tops for drinking and conversing. Like Golden City, Mountain Toad also had an outdoor garden with a rotation of food trucks to serve your cravings. Unfortunately a few clouds had moved in and a little rain was on the horizon so I pulled up a bar stool and looked over my options. On the menu that day were Cream Ale, Wit, Amber Ale, Saison, Summer Ale, Stout, IPA, and Double IPA. There are seasonal ins and outs but they try to keep 6 or 7 on tap at all times.
Summer stout
I had a real itch for a cream ale since you can’t get one everywhere and that sounded great on this still warm day, but I wanted to dive into a whole new genre of Golden brews. Instead of the cream ale I picked the Ryrish Stout which was an Irish stout made with rye. I am a huge stout fan but usually put them away for the summer warmth so this was a nice treat for my senses. The stout had an amazing creaminess right from the pour. This beer almost looked like a milkshake sitting in front of me. The addition of rye gave the Ryrish Stout a little spice along with the traditional chocolate notes which was a nice mix. This beer was very refreshing for anytime of the year as it had lots of flavor and was very smooth going down not leaving it sit around and get overly heavy.
Tap handle goodness
After my Ryrish Stout I needed to try one more to make sure this brewery wasn’t a 1 hit wonder. Since I had a good experience with the Amber at Golden City I decided to do a quick taste test of the Apex Amber. This amber had a nice roasted malt and caramel flavor that you expect to taste with an amber ale. There was a subtle hop to it that added a nice little bitterness that make American craft beers so great. Unlike the water in a can that the majority of people still drink, this beer and all the others I drank that day had been hand crafted with care. Just like Golden City Brewery, Mountain Toad is a must stop on your real beer tour of Golden.
Casting a smaller shadow
When it comes to beer towns in the west, Golden is one of the originals. It’s nice to see some original, local, real craft beer come out of this town like the rest of the Colorado scene. I was asked as I was coming up with this idea if I really needed to throw barbs at the original brewery in Golden. I wondered that as well, but when it comes down to it the advantages that Coors has lobbied and built up seek to crush the local guys across the country. Their brand (which won’t lose any money because of what I’m writing) has successfully crushed craft brewers from state to state with distribution networks and crushing regulations that even they know are unnecessary in the 21st century. And here’s the secret, the only reason they spend so much money keeping their feet on the little guys head is because they know that the product they are serving is inferior. The big brands own over 90% of this industry yet are so frightened by the quality of new brews coming to market that all they can do is throw around money to hold down this revolution.
I’m glad to report that it isn’t working even in their backyard. Golden is a great side trip when staying in the Denver area because of its scenery, activities, and relaxing atmosphere. It’s also great because of its craft breweries serving great beer to Coors employees.