The Colorado craft beer culture started humbly in 1979, with two University of Colorado professors messing around with home brewing.
Home brewing had only just been legalized. Few people were doing it casually, much less as a business. The ingredients, the equipment and the methods were hard to find.
But David Hummer and “Stick” Ware (nicknamed for his height) were curious, smart and motivated (after all, they were astrophysics professors). They hunted down the parts and techniques and experimented with recipes, inspired by the full-flavored ales they’d tasted while traveling in Europe.
Forty years later, it’s hard to imagine Boulder (or Colorado) without craft beer, home brew and more styles of beer than even the beer-iest Boulderite’s taste buds can keep track of. But back then, it was Coors and a few dozen other breweries with mostly lighter lagers and pilsners.
These two Boulder professors would help change all of that.
“They were learning as they went. They were explorers, going into the unknown,” says Tess McFadden.
As the story goes, after a few years, their wives grew sick of the smell of hops in their homes and sent their buckets of brew off to an old goat shed in the Hygiene area.
It was out of that little goat shed that Boulder Beer Co. was born.
Boulder Beer was the first craft brewery in Colorado and the 43rd brewery in the modern brewery era, since the Prohibition repeal. To put that into perspective, today there are more than 7,000 breweries and growing. With nearly 400 breweries in 2019, Colorado continues to have one of the highest numbers of breweries in the nation (and nine breweries per 100,000 residents). It was ranked second in the nation for the total, according to the Brewers Association, up from nearly 350 breweries in 2017.
It’s hard to deny Boulder Beer’s role in the growth. Many breweries in Colorado and across the nation spiraled off Boulder Beer, with former employees going off to launch their own businesses. McFadden, who is a spokesperson for Boulder Beer, can rattle off successful breweries in Oklahoma, Virginia, Wisconsin and even Sanitas Brewing in Boulder that branch off the Boulder Beer family tree.
“It goes all over the place,” McFadden says. “Not just brewers who started here, but also people in different departments who went off to stay in the brewing industry. It’s fun to have a network of people who all have fond memories of this place.”
The historic significance, combined with Boulder Beer’s popular creations, has turned this brewery into a bucket-list destination for beer lovers visiting Colorado, as well as locals.
Boulder Beer celebrated its fourth decade with a facelift: It spruced up its outdoor patio (open year-round) and rebranded its logo and packaging. This summer, it held a big birthday bash and released a special 40th Anniversary Beer (that’s the name). You can still taste the limited-edition beer on tap and in bomber bottles, as supply lasts; don’t worry, they brewed an extra batch this fall for the Great American Beer Festival. Boulder Beer is one of only five breweries that has participated in every GABF since it started in the early 1980s.
McFadden calls the 40th Anniversary Beer a “nice, big beer,” with 9 percent alcohol by volume. It’s an oak-aged, golden ale, but without any Belgian spiciness. It was aged on fresh oak chips and then finished with (get this) champagne yeast and pineapple.
Right. It’s different.
But people love it. At Boulder Beer’s summer party, guests could vote for their favorite beer and the 40th Anniversary Beer won.
“What makes it so unique is it’s big and boozy, but it has a lighter-bodied base beer to start, and the champagne yeast dries it out a little bit, making it effervescent,” McFadden says. “The pineapple’s really subtle, so for being such a strong beer, it has a refreshing aspect to it, too. It’s different and has had such a good response to that.”
And really, you’d expect nothing else.
Boulder Beer has some innovative styles of beer (like a blood orange IPA), yet it’s been brewing IPA for more than 15 years, long before the current IPA craze. Mojo IPA is considered a classic Colorado IPA: hoppy and bitter. For many discerning drinkers, it’s a forever favorite.
Over the years, many names have been interesting, too. Recent releases include Spaceman Double IPA and Gender Fluid Lager.
In true Boulder fashion, Boulder Beer is known for its experimentation, and that has had a ripple effect, encouraging other brewers to get creative, McFadden says.
“Who knows how far that ripple goes, but I have to think they played a part,” she says.
How to Celebrate Boulder Beer’s Anniversary
Here are some ways you can celebrate Boulder Beer’s 40th anniversary in 2019 and 2020:
1. Try a seasonal favorite.
This fall and winter, you can enjoy two of Boulder Beer’s popular seasonals. The Oktoberfest-inspired Festbier is a German-style, helles lager that’s light and crisp.
Irish Blessing is available December through St. Patrick’s Day. It’s an oak-aged coffee stout; the oak chips are soaked in Irish whiskey, and the beer is conditioned on those. Although this is Irish Blessing’s fourth season, it has a new label design.
If you’re in Boulder late March or early April, look for Perilous, the newest spring-summer beer, a prickly pear cactus-infused wheat beer. In a glass, it almost looks like rosé and is just as refreshing on a warm day.
2. Visit the pub on Wilderness.
This taphouse is the old-school location (er, well, since the goat shed), 2880 Wilderness Place, making it a total destination. You won’t just stumble upon it; you have to choose to go there because it’s in the middle of an office park (which grew up around the brewery). But it’s worth the trek. Here, you can get a free tour of the brewery, complete with free samples. One thing many people don’t realize is the Boulder Beer pub also has a full bar, complete with spirits, wine, non-alcoholic options and cider for gluten-free visitors.
The brewery also has a full restaurant known for smoking its own meats onsite. There are lunch and dinner specials daily. From 11 a.m.-2 p.m. there’s even weekend brunch complete with “beermosas.” Think: a blood orange IPA or fruity hop with a dash of OJ. You know, a “breakfast beer.”
The patio welcomes dogs on leash and kids and regularly hosts live music.
3. Learn about beer (and local history).
The free tour brings you through the entire brewery up close and personally, not behind glass from afar. Learn about the brewing process, from fermentation to canning to kegging. Bonus: You end with free beer.
Brewery tours are 2 p.m. every day, with a bonus 4 p.m. tour on Saturdays, first come, first toured. No reservations.