Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Friday, May 6, 2011

Friday Beer Post: Coors Brewery Tour

It's a right of passage for any Colorado beer geek to walk the haunted halls of the Coors Brewery in Golden.  Yes, Coors may clog the aisles and airwaves with over-indulgent advertising for less than inspiring product, but they are a Colorado institution.  It's a simple fact that any serious discussion of beer in Colorado must include the Golden behemoth.  Sure I've been there a few times before, but when presented with an opportunity last weekend to get a VIP level tour of the joint, I couldn't say no.  It's still beer, afterall.

The thing that differentiates Coors from the smaller breweries I visited a few weeks ago is pure scale.  Just approaching the brewery gives you a sense of awe.  At first sight it's slightly frightening as the series of ugly gray buildings harken back to bygone years of industrial "splendor," when aesthetics were hardly ever considered during construction.  It's huge and expansive from every perspective, and easily dominates the skyline of the tiny city of Golden.
That's what's called sticking out like a sore thumb.

Once inside, just past the opportunistic photo booth, you can immediately get down to brass tacks with a "short tour" or take the normal tour. One of the ugly secrets of the current brewery tour at Coors is that it's a pathetic down-scaling of what was once an excellent tour. The old "normal" tour of the facility (a expansive, personally-led excursion through the entire brewing process) has been reduced to a pathetic self-guided sham.  Instead of knowledgeable tour guides, the every day visitor now gets a pre-recorded radio thingy, and a shortened route.  The Wonka-esque trip through nearly every level of the main complex, replete with looks at every level of the brewing process, is gone, and the whole thing seems to be designed to get you out of there as soon as possible.  Luckily, I know people.

Having a friend who works at the brewery, and who used to be a tour guide, allowed me to see what used to be the full tour.  We kept going in and out of the "regular" tour areas, routinely jumping through doors that now say "Employees Only."  Hey, it's fun to poke around a brewery, and I want to see as much of it as I can.  Maybe some people just want to get to the tasting room, but I wouldn't drive down to Golden just for the beer.
One of the many areas that we normally wouldn't have access to was the areas associated with the creation of malt.

One of the key parts that got cut away when they changed the tour program was a full view of the malting process.  The ability to germinate and roast their own grains is one of the things that sets the big-3 apart from smaller breweries.  It's an impressive and interesting process that speaks to the scale of the business, and one they should show off.  When you take that aspect of it away, it's just like every other brewery in the world, just with more mash-tuns and an internal plastics plant.
I want to see the roasting rooms, I really do.

At the end of the tour came the ubiquitous stop at the tasting room.  Along with the standard tastings of Blue Moon and Colorado Native (still not sure what I feel about Native) they have an interesting brew called Batch-19.  It's based on a pre-Prohibition recipe unearthed after a flood of the records room, and the only place it's served in Colorado is the tasting room at the brewery.  Not as simplistic as, say, Coors Original, Batch-19 definitely has a taste of old-world German to it.  It's very grainy with a little kick of hops.  It was certainly the most adventurous thing I tried while I was there, and can pass for good. 
If you can find Batch-19, give it a taste.

I'm glad I went, simply from the perspective that every trip to Coors allows me to contemplate the place of macro-brews in a beer culture that is constantly moving towards craft brewing.  However, this visit revolved around the ability to re-connect with a good friend, and to try a beer outside of my comfort zone. That's worth a trip down Hwy 93 in a way that "ice-cold" samples of Coors Light can never be.

Happy Friday!


Rico said...

In the heart of that behemoth is its best kept secret, AC Golden. They make some of the best small batch lagers (including Colorado Native) out there. It's the old pilot brewery, but now they use it to make beer only for the Denver Metro Area.

It's technically owned by Pete Coors, not the corporation, so you could make an argument it's still a craft brewery.

RumblinBuff said...

Still struggling over how I feel about AC Golden. Calling them a "craft brewery," even if they deserve the name, gives me squigglies in my stomach.

However, I could make the argument that [insert really inappropriate comment about Pete Coors] and that he [yet another inappropriate comment about Pete Coors].