Front Range Beer Trip Day 1: AC Golden

Last week Isaac and I were able to make a pretty epic beer journey up the Front Range to see a number of breweries. Because we've been organizing more and more events we wanted to stop in to a few places and introduce ourselves. Some folks we have met a few times and we wanted to re-connect, or we've just chatted over email, and some breweries were brand new and we wanted to see how things were going. By the end of each day we were pretty exhausted and by the fourth day we actually had to cut our trip short because we had hit a mental and physical barrier and couldn't drink any more beer. So, for the next few days I plan to make a post, maybe two posts, for each day of the trip.

Troy Casey in the hidden barrel room at AC Golden

The journey starts in the town of Golden, Colorado at AC Golden. We have talked about Troy Casey and AC Golden a few times in this blog. The brewery makes some extraordinary beer, they won a Silver in the American Brett Style category in the World Beer Cup this year, and they have won a few awards for the Colorado Native. At the Craft Lager Fest and the Saison Festival, they proved to have some of my favorite beers of the day. Even during our visit I was overwhelmingly impressed with the brewery, the playful freedom the brewers experienced, and their dedication to finesse. The thing is,
AC Golden is owned and operated by Coors, and the brewery is literally located half a floor up from the place where Coors beers are produced every single day. This happens to be a tough call for many. Some folks will not buy a Coors product because of the causes and organizations they support, the objectification and misogynist backbone of their advertisements, and/or the industrial gigantic-ness of the brewery itself. Others still say, well, AC Golden is making damn good beer (and believe me, they certainly are!) and that's all that matters. It's a tough line, I have no answers for you. I see the work of Troy Casey and the other brewers there and I'm very happy they are getting paid to make extraordinary beer. Anyway, enough of that. I'm sure these guys are sick of people deliberating over this, make up your own mind on the subject.

AC Golden's brewery with the Coors brewery literally in the background

It turns out what is now AC Golden used to be a pilot-system for Coors. It's a 30bbl German copper brewhouse, built in 1973. Any test beers that Coors wanted to make were brewed through this system. It was set up to work exactly like the larger system, just on a much smaller scale. So, in order to brew more often, the larger brewhouse has all sorts of fermenting and holding tanks for different stages of the beer, moving the beer from one vessel to another, freeing up space quickly for the next batch. The small pilot system is built the same exact way to mimic the larger production. AC Golden, established in 2007, took over the system. The brewery is no longer only a pilot system for Coors, they are an experimentation center, developing their own lines of products, with the eventual bittersweet hope that a beer (say Colorado Native) might indeed be handed off to the larger business at some point. They make mostly lagers, borrowing yeast from Coors, and they use Brett yeast more than they use Ale yeast, which I think is pretty awesome.

When we arrived they were making a 19th century throwback beer called Herman Joseph, which is only available in Colorado, although I've never seen it on shelves. We sampled a Maibock and we also sampled a wonderful Amber beer that was made by a local homebrewer. The beer was loaded with Simcoe hops and dry hopped with Cascade. We also tried two different versions of a Russian Imperial Stout, basically the same beer but one was aged in Leopold barrels for 11 months and the other in Stranahans for 13 months (Oh I'm sorry, I'm supposed to say "Colorado Whiskey Barrels"). Wow, what a treat! Both beers were great, super boozy, rich, and complex, although the Leopold stood out as it had more whiskey and oak notes, less chocolate, and a tad thinner. The aroma wasn't quite as great, but still lovely. The plan is to bottle both of these. I'll keep you posted as that develops.

Looking over the top of Coors into the city of Golden

We were able to meet another AC Golden brewer Steve Fletcher as he was finishing up the Herman Joseph brew. We took a look at the filter and the centrifuge. We also sampled some high gravity Colorado Native, which I must say is a brilliant beer before it passes through the filter. After fermentation they dilute the beer slightly from 6% down to 5.5% and remove the yeast. Because of this, they actually need to add some late addition hops to highlight a more hop-forward nose. This doesn't make it a bad beer, keep in mind this thing keeps winning silver medals. I was really impressed with the pre-filtered version though, and it reminded me a bit of the India Pale Lager that Old Chicago recently tapped. Troy said that the similarities I'm tasting are the yeast and the Chinook bittering hops.

He then took us into the barrel room where we sampled the same base beer from a number of different barrels, each barrel with it's own characteristics. Some of the barrels were 'store bought,' with standardized cultures and had a quite clean but nicely complex profile. Others were red wine barrels, or white wine, American oak, or French oak, and each one was different, ranging from clean and crisp almost honey-like Brett to the more acidic, oaky, and/or pure funk notes. As it turns out, most of Troy's favorites were all closer to a wall or window than the ones in the middle of the room. It's interesting to see how a seemingly negligible space of three feet and slight temperature change can have subtle impact on how the beer develops. This was a wonderful experience, very educational. When we went to the AC Golden tap room, I could certainly discern that base beer and the character of those specific barrels in the Apricot Sour.

Speaking of the Apricot Sour, I'm going to end the post here instead of telling you about the other 5 or 6 breweries we visited that day. This was a long enough post. I just read that AC Golden will release the Apricot and Peche sour beers in Denver this weekend. These are very limited, first come first served, and only available at Mile High Wine and Spirits, call them for details: 303.936.027.

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BeerEric Steen