To say that Coors is a giant is an understatement. It’s an international brand, its name is plastered on an MLB stadium, and you can’t drive five minutes in the Denver-metro area without seeing a Coors advertisement. It is so big, in fact, that AC Golden Brewing Company, the Coors craft beer division, is housed inside the flagship brewery in Golden, CO. That’s right, there’s a brewery within a brewery—it’s like Inception but with beer. Somebody should start homebrewing inside of AC Golden and really blow people’s minds.
Depending on how steadfast your principles are, the existence of AC Golden can be viewed positively or negatively. You can look on the bright side and believe that Colorado is so beer-centric that even the big boys want to serve their best possible product. Coors doesn’t have to serve craft beer; they do just fine with the fizzy, yellow stuff but they want to supply the craft beer-loving public with the quality brew we demand. Or, you can turn to dark thoughts and believe that AC Golden is an insidious rouse to get uninformed consumers to buy into a corporation; it doesn’t say “Coors” anywhere on an AC Brewing bottle and those not in the know might think they’re buying from a “mom and pop” brewery. Thus, real microbreweries lose revenue every time a well-meaning, "buy local" touting consumer chooses AC Golden. I’m not going to tell you which to believe because, really, I don’t think either notion is completely right.
A few days ago, Aimee Valdez, an AC Golden rep, e-mailed me out of the blue and asked if I would like to have a private tour of the brewing facility and meet some of the people that run the business. The brewery isn’t open to the public so this was a special invitation. She didn’t tell me why she was offering and she didn’t tell me how she knew me (I write for this blog, Denver off the Wagon, and Examiner but I didn’t know which one she read) but I really didn’t care because I love special treatment. I may flip-flop on my opinion of AC Golden but I’d take a tour of the Hannah Montana Museum if they treated me like a VIP so I scooped up Nicole and my sister, travelled to Golden, and met Aimee for the beginning of our tour.
|Coors is in the festive mood|
We followed Aimee to the AC Golden HQ housed inside the “big brewery”—as the main Coors brewing facility is called—and donned hard-toed, rubber slippers and Colorado Native Lager baseball caps/hardhats. We met Glenn “Knip” Knippenberg, the president of AC Golden, our tour guide and headbrewer, Jeff Cornell, and were off on our voyage to explore the bowels of the operation.
We started the tour talking about Colorado Native and where the hops and malts—all Coloradoan—come from (some from the northern Front Range, some from the San Luis Valley, some from the Grand Junction area). Then, we entered a vast room housing a forest of beer tanks where saw the mash press which is a contraption too complicated to describe; just know that it is the mechanism that extracts the sugars from the grains.
We descended a level, had some Colorado Native straight from the tank, and that’s where I started piecing things together. Earlier, I casually asked Aimee where it was that she heard my name and she said it was from Examiner.com. I thought back, tried to remember if I had ever written a review for an AC Golden beer. I had: for Colorado Native. I gave it a mediocre rating. Then, Jeff made a remark about how good Colorado Native is when it's fresh and that I probably had a past-prime can when I wrote my review. That pretty much cleared up any confusion; I wrote a so-so review and that’s why they brought me to the brewery—to kill me out of retribution. Well, if I’m going out I’m going out drunk so I tasted my beer. Damn. Colorado Native is pretty good when it’s fresh. It's citrusy and has a slight hop aroma but no hop burn. Even better, they decided not to kill me. Happy day!
|The mash press. Figure out how it works and you get a cookie.|
|Colorado Native straight from the tank|
Next, we saw the kegging station and the bottling and packaging station (often manned by School of Mines students). While in the bottling/packaging room, Knip told us about the special little icon on Colorado Native that will, if you take a picture of it with your smartphone, give you a $1 coupon to send to friend who can then buy a $1 Colorado Native at a participating bar. Even better, you can send the coupon to yourself and get a $2 Colorado Native! Get those phones out and start clicking.
Next, we went into the room where the next new AC Golden beers were being created. I can’t say much because they’d like to keep their “in development” beers hush-hush but I will say this: be on the look-out for a sour beer and—not an IPA—an IPL. The sour beer wasn’t ready to be tasted but the IPL was and it’s quite tasty. You'll just have to wait and find out, though.
|The kegging station|
|Jeff pouring an IPL from the tank|
|The IPL and some sort of idiot in the background|
We thanked the AC Golden crew for hanging out with us and giving us the VIP tour and headed home. What’s to be learned from this experience? For one, beer geeks should understand that good beer can come from a big brewery. I wouldn’t suggest forgoing the microbrewed beers altogether but there’s nothing wrong with picking up a little AC Golden on occasion. Second, if you’re looking to make contacts in any given industry, start a blog or an Examiner.com page and write like hell; eventually, a higher-up will be in contact with you (if you write as well as me, that is). Lastly, I learned that I will be rewarded by the breweries for which I have written mediocre reviews. I guess I need to start writing outright terrible reviews so more companies will invite me to the premises to prove me wrong. Or, to beat the crap out of me.
Thanks again, AC Golden crew; it was a fun experience.
P.S. Remember in that last post where I told you that Beer in Colorado is now on Twitter and Facebook? Well, that’s still true so check us out!