Tasting Denver–a tale of three breweries

As a member of the credentialed media at the 2016 Great American Beer Festival, it is my privilege and duty to report on the proceedings here no matter how fuzzy my brain is from disrupted sleep patterns, road warrior weariness, chronic dehydration, geographical dislocation—oh, and tasting dozens of beers one or two ounces at a time.

Professionalism requires starting early. So I joined two busloads of similarly credentialed media at noon yesterday on a tour of three breweries in Denver—Great Divide, Mockery and Tivoli. We were informed that the selection of these three was intended to show the diversity among Colorado brewers, and that point was made successfully.

Great Divide's Yeti imperial stout is the brewery's signature beer. Photo by Lee Graves

Great Divide’s Yeti imperial stout is the brewery’s signature beer. Photo by Lee Graves

Great Divide is the alpha dog of the three in terms of volume and reach. Ro Guenzel, brewery manager, told me (as we stood in the barrel-aging room at a cool 50 degrees with pours of Great Divide’s pale ale and 22nd Anniversary ale being offered in small plastic cups) that the brewery cranks out approximately 37,000 barrels annually with distribution going to 36 states (one barrel equals 31 U.S. gallons). Great Divide deserves great recognition for balancing consistent quality—particularly with its signature Yeti imperial stout—and innovation (the 22nd Anniversary brew, for example, is a dark American sour ale aged in red wine barrels; we also sampled a barrel-aged version of Hibernation, an English-style old ale). Great Divide is contributing to the renaissance of the River North (aka RiNo) Art District of Denver, with plans for a beer garden and restaurant on a five-acre plot that now is an eyesore jumble of stuff.

Cans, which make up about 20 percent of Great Divides packaging, await delivery. Photo by Lee Graves

Cans, which make up about 20 percent of Great Divide’s packaging, await delivery. Photo by Lee Graves

Mockery is just across the street and a polar opposite. The name comes from the brewery’s intent of making a mockery of the Reinheitsgebot, the German purity law passed in 1516 that established the four basic ingredients of beer—barley, hops, water and yeast (not in the initial law but added later).

Mockery's atmosphere is one of fun and creativity. Photo by Lee Graves

Mockery’s atmosphere is one of fun and creativity. Photo by Lee Graves

Zach Rabun, owner and brewer, told us that Mockery is content to be a small, neighborhood destination with the goal of creativity, to the point of not brewing the same beer twice. “For the most part, everything we do is one and done,” Rabun said. “We’re brewing the beers that we want to drink.”

So there’s no flagship, which he acknowledged creates some head-scratching among patrons who have been told by a previous imbiber to try a certain beer that no longer is available. The environment is infectiously fun (check out the tank named “Steamy Ray Vaughn”), and the beers are challenging.

We sampled four brews, including Turn That Brown Upside Down (a sour brown ale made with cherries and cocoa nibs), Shout at the Pineapple IPA (resonating with pineapple, peach and pink peppercorn) and Fresh Hop Brown IPA (balanced and bitter with 87 IBUs). Mockery has been open about two years and uses a 15-barrel system to crank out roughly 1,000 barrels annually.

Tivoli's towering facade indicates its stature as Colorado's oldest brewery. Photo by Lee Graves

Tivoli’s towering facade indicates its stature as Colorado’s oldest brewery. Photo by Lee Graves

The upstart ambience at Mockery contrasted significantly with the relative antiquity of our next stop. Tivoli Brewing Company dates to 1859, making it the oldest site of brewing in Colorado and second only to Yuengling in venerability in the U.S. (Yuengling started as the Eagle Brewery in 1829 in Pottsville, Pa., in case you were wondering, and continues as America’s oldest functioning brewery).

Tivoli also has a Virginia connection, in that the Robert Portner Brewing Company that started in Alexandria in the 1860s and became the largest brewery in the South offered a Tivoli lager it marketed as “I Lov It” spelled backwards (another bit of trivia you couldn’t live without). Corey Marshall, founder and CEO of the revived Tivoli brewery, led us through a maze of equipment that paid homage to the past as well as promise for the future. We sampled the helles-style lager based on the original 1859 recipe.

The recipe for Tivoli dates to 1859. Photo by Lee Graves

The recipe for Tivoli dates to 1859. Photo by Lee Graves

We also saw how new brewing tanks had been squeezed into the tightest of spaces. “You couldn’t put a hair between them,” said one of my credentialed media companions.

Corey Marshall, founder and CEO of Tivoli, explains the history and current operation of the brewery. Photo by Lee Graves

Corey Marshall, founder and CEO of Tivoli, explains the history and current operation of the brewery. Photo by Lee Graves

Part of Tivoli’s future is through education. Located on the Auraria Campus of Metropolitan State University of Denver, the brewery participates in the brewing program of the school’s Department of Hospitality. Students get a taste (sorry, couldn’t resist) of professional brewing through courses in the bachelor of science Brewery Operations Program.

Visiting those three sites consumed the bulk of the afternoon. All counted, we sampled approximately a dozen beers (a few ounces each). Yet to come was the first session of the Great American Beer Festival, where 780 breweries would be offering 3,900 beers.

As a credentialed media personage, duty required that I participate. That yarn is yet to come. Don’t change the dial.

About admin

I am a writer. And a musician/songwriter. And a husband/father. I love good beer, the outdoors, the embrace of family, the company of true friends, the telling of a good story and the inner peace derived from quiet reflection in solitude. Recently I have specialized in beer writing. In October 2014, my book, "Richmond Beer: A History of Brewing in the River City" was published by History Press. Another book on beer and brewing, history and current scene, is in the works. Send me an email at rvabeerguy@gmail.com. As you can see from this site, however, my interests are broader than beer. Spend time, leave a comment or just enjoy. Lee
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