"Beer in Colorado" is dedicated to that divine elixir born of the marriage of water, malt, hops, and yeast as interpreted
by those living in Colorado. Follow the author as he visits every brewery in the state, creates experimental homebrews,
attends beer festivals, tries interesting beers from around the world, and spreads the good word of beer. Prost!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

VIP Treatment at AC Golden Brewing Company

Venture outside the state lines and ask a craft beer enthusiast what comes to mind when they think "beer in Colorado."  More often than not, the reply will be New Belgium or perhaps Great Divide or Breckenridge Brewery.  Now, venture outside the state lines and ask a person with little to no craft beer knowledge what they think when they hear "beer in Colorado."  I bet 100% of the time Coors will be your answer.  That’s the nature of the situation; we are a state filled with countless small to medium craft breweries all living in the shadow of a beer juggernaut.

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

Before we left, Knip gave us the rundown on the benefits of “liking” Colorado Native on Facebook.  The long and short of it is that they have a lot of prizes to give out and they specialize their prizes so that only people who are interested in certain hobbies are notified e.g. a skier would not know about the AC Golden snowboard giveaway.  Also, it is on Facebook that the brewery announces their special releases so, when that sour beer and IPL are released, those on Facebook will know first.

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!

An antique mash press

It was fun weaving through the inner workings of a brewery. I have been on a few brewery tours but this was by far the best. Why? Because I got to wear a hard hat, spiffy shoes, and earplugs. Plus, we got to see parts of the brewery that you usually don't get to see on a tour. AC Golden is composed of several puzzle pieces that have been scattered throughout the Coors Brewery and, luckily, we were able to put the whole puzzle together because, unlike a jigsaw puzzle, the family dog didn't eat any pieces. As we talked about upcoming beers, I told Jeff that I they should consider making a pumpkin beer; I am always looking for a new favorite. We seemed to be on the same page in thinking that a good pumpkin beer should taste like a creamy slice of pumpkin pie ready to top off with a swirl of whip cream (perhaps that could be a nice beer cocktail: pumpkin beer and whipped cream vodka. Sure it would be sweet, but it would be like dessert in a glass).

Another things we learned about on the tour was their hop growing program. Chris and I will definitely sign up for this in the spring. We started growing hops last spring in hopes of brewing with fresh hops rather than pellets. The result was a caramel apple beer that I have yet to try (it is still bottle conditioning). When you grow hops for AC Golden, they give you a Colorado Native Hop Grower patch plus the satisfaction of telling all your friends that you contributed ingredients in the effort to get the beer closer to 100% native to Colorado. If you want to try the batch that was brewed from the hop-growing program it should be on liquor store shelves soon with the batch number Mar2012.



  1. A brewery within a brewery? Is that like a turducken? And yea, straight from the brewery is magical. At the Pilsner Urquell brewery I couldn't stop drinking that stuff, but man, by the time it's bottled and shipped over here, it's kind of skunky tasting.

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