It’s 2 p.m. on a typical Monday afternoon. I should be working, but instead, I’m enjoying a cold fRYEd Fresh-Hopped Rye Ale and chatting up the friendly bartender at the Pub at Boulder Beer Company. Even though it’s the middle of a weekday, the place is still buzzing with business. There are remnants of the well-dressed business lunch crowd, working to settle up tabs in time to make it back to the office for a 3 o’clock meeting. The loyal members of the regular happy hour crew are starting to mosey in to claim their favorite barstool and order up a pint of their usual beer, served in their personalized mug. There’s the table of rubber boot-clad brewers trying to sneak a meal in between brews. And discreetly mixed in throughout all of the hoopla in the place are the tourists, all branded with Boulder Beer’s logoed wristbands and eagerly waiting for the 2 p.m. brewery tour to begin.
In the past decade, the number of craft breweries in Colorado has exploded, covering everything from industrial parks to downtown buildings in the enticing smell of boiling malts and hops. According to data collected by the Brewers Association in 2013, the Centennial state ranked in at 4th place for number of breweries per capita with 4.7, rounding out the year with a total of 175 craft breweries. Today, there are 377 craft breweries operating in our boozy state, and the response to the demand for more doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.
But once upon a time, the number of licensed microbreweries in Colorado totalled one.
It’s at the beginning of our tour, in a warm and steamy room looking out into Boulder Beer Co. parking lot, that I learn about the true story of the birth of Colorado’s first microbrewery. Over the years, I’ve spent my fair share of time working in breweries, and many a night sipping a Boulder Beer brew at the source— which is why I’ve always passed on the brewery tour. But as I shuffle my way though rows of shiny fermenters and a mesmerizing bottling line with a crowd of nearly twenty other craft beer aficionados of all different levels of craft beer geekiness, I’m enlightened to several new facts about the brewery, brewing process, and the industry itself.
Our confident and knowledgeable tour guide informs us of Boulder Beer’s home-brew beginning which dates back to 1979 when a pair of professors from the University of Colorado Boulder turned a hobby into the 43rd brewing license issued in the United States— the first issued in Colorado. As an aromatic jar of hop pellets is opened and passed around to the group, the story of Boulder Beer’s past unfolds before us. Stories of old farm houses, goats, and cycling-inspired beers are told as we make our way to the last stop on the tour: The walk-in cooler. Wrapping things up in a space loaded with freshly packaged beer, all neatly palletized and ready to start its journey to a bar or liquor store in one of the 36 states that Boulder Beer Co. distributes to, will definitely make you thirsty. So the group heads back to the pub where we’re all seated community-style at a table filled with pitchers of beer, taster glasses, and plenty of stickers. Pitchers of every beer currently on tap at the Pub are passed around by strangers sharing sudsy stories about their favorite beers and breweries, all enjoying the bliss that is a carefree Boulder afternoon.
Boulder Beer’s brewery tours are free and take place every day of the week at 2 p.m., along with an additional 4 p.m. tour on Saturdays. No reservations needed, but it’s wise to arrive at least ten minutes early to add your name to the list and grab a pint of beer for the tour. You can find all of the details here.
Photo credit: Tyra Sutak