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Pumpkin Beer

It’s Pumpkin Time Again in the World of Craft Beer

 

Pumpkin beer! Nothing divides the ranks of beer lovers so deeply as the fastest growing seasonal specialty in the craft beer universe.

When the first settlers clambered off their ships and looked around the Atlantic shore, they needed something to ferment. Grain was hard to come by, but native pumpkins provided an obvious starch and sugar source. The same early creativity that led to our traditions of holiday pies had pioneers growing pumpkins for both food and beverage purposes.

The early brews (and the pies, for that matter) lacked the sumptuous qualities granted by “pumpkin pie spices” such as cinnamon, nutmeg and clove.

By the time Bill Owens dug up a recipe for pumpkin ale from the papers of George Washington and made a batch for his Buffalo Bill’s brewpub in Hayward, California in 1986, the association with spices had become baked in to the American palate. He had to add a can of blended holiday pie spices to the brew to give it the familiar “pumpkin flavor.”

Love it or hate it, almost all modern pumpkin beer is now spiced beer. Sometimes there is no actual pumpkin killed in the making of your pint. The style appears on the shelf as early as late summer and can usually be found through Halloween and Thanksgiving, perhaps into the Christmas beer season.

Some local brewers embrace the style, others eschew it. If you do like a mug of “liquid pie,” you may enjoy comparing the offerings each year, since brewers often adjust their spice and sweetness levels over time. Some interesting variations include bourbon barrel aged pumpkin ales and darker roast variations such as pumpkin porters.

For a delightful guided tour including access to all seasonal beers and special releases found en route, please contact us. We’ll make sure you can drink the beers you love (and laugh at the ones you hate) as you adventure into Denver’s world-class beer community.

 


An ethnic history of Denver, as it relates to drinking

 

Ethnicity is a key to the history of Denver, and at the center of ethnicity are the saloons each group established, clustered around Larimer St.

There’s no better way to get a feeling for the origins of this town than via a history of Denver, as it relates to drinking. Early residents of Denver, no matter their ethnic origins, enjoyed a good beer. While all groups enjoyed beer, they enjoyed it most in the company of their own ethnic group, where they could relax and enjoy the comfort of their native languages and cultures.

Originally part of the Territory of Kansas, what became the Denver area was sparsely settled until 1858, when three different groups established settlements in the area. General William Larimer, a land speculator from eastern Kansas, jumped the St. Charles claim and staked his own one-mile square claim, renaming it “Denver” after the governor of the Territory of Kansas, James Denver.

Although Denver didn’t “pan out” as a mining community despite an initial flurry of activity, it grew rapidly as a supply hub once the Gold Rush began. General Larimer’s claim, and the saloons around Larimer St., were at the center of activity as immigrant communities found themselves at home in them. Various ethnic groups “relished their taverns as ethnic clubs and community centers for a wide range of social, political, and economic activities.”

By 1880, more than 1/3 of Denver saloons were German-owned. Inside these establishments, “customers could speak and sing German, enjoy German music and dance, read German newspapers and magazines, procure strudel and sauerkraut, and quaff German beer and wine.” The best-known of these German establishments was Turn Hall, established in 1889.

Germans were wealthy and politically powerful in Denver and enjoyed great influence until first, Prohibition in 1916, then World War II, diminished their influence. Because of their wealth and prominence in the saloon business of Denver, Prohibitionists targeted them, and many Germans lost their jobs in the liquor industry. Irrational hatreds related to the War made life even more difficult for Denver’s German population.

Nonetheless, Denver benefited from German music and culture — and enjoyed Bock Beer Day. In 1874, “Otto Heinrich ‘s saloon at Sixteenth and Larimer set the record for Bock Beer Day, serving some 3,000 glasses of beer, 50 loaves of bread, and 125 pounds of meat.”

Many Irish arrived as part of the railroad crews and settled in working class neighborhoods near the tracks. Also well-received, Irishmen soon established bars strategically placed between their homes near the tracks and their jobs. Irish saloons promoted Irish clubs and organizations, Gaelic literature, lectures and band music and distributed the Rocky Mountain Celt, the “only” Irish-American newspaper in the West.

By 1900, the Irish were less than 3% of Denver’s population, but they owned 10% of the bars. Irish political clout came from a triangular partnership between saloon owners, politicians and policemen. “Saloon-keeping Irish councilmen included James Doyle, John Conlon, Andrew Horan and William Gahan. Of these bartending aldermen, one of the most successful and long-lived was Eugene Madden. Madden served nine consecutive city council terms with strong support from his Larimer Street saloon and the nearby police department, where his brother was a captain.”

Like other ethnic groups, Jews found the liquor business relatively easy to enter. Albert Wongrowitz’s popular saloon and delicatessen, located next to a synagogue, was one of the first sources of kosher food. Despite anti-Semitism, Jewish immigrants, many originating from Germany, were successful in Denver. The fact that Denver elected a Jewish mayor in 1889 signified a relatively easier integration process. Blacks, Asians and Italians suffered from more violent and intensive discrimination.

Italians, recruited as cheap labor for the railroads and other industries, suffered from a more unwelcoming reception in Denver, but they, too, eased their entry by establishing saloons that served them as cultural centers.

Starting in tents and shacks in the bottomlands, and operating grocery carts and businesses, Italians, with the help of more well-established compatriots with whom they connected in the Italian saloons, eventually achieved success and moved into the tree-shaded neighborhoods of north Denver. Here they established popular restaurants and bars. Italians, who viewed consumption of alcohol as healthy, were largely unaffected by Prohibition, simply moving into their basements.

Finally, the Slavs (Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenians, Serbs, Croats, Poles, and Russians, including many Russian Jews and non-Slavic Germans from Russia) established a significant community in Denver. By 1920, the Russians became the single largest group immigrating to Colorado.

The Slavs settled in Globeville, the smelter factory town just north of Denver. As had other ethnic groups before them, the Slavs enjoyed their many saloons in Globeville, not only for the beverages but as community centers. Like the saloons in other poor areas, these also served as banks.

Among the many cultural institutions that immigrant groups brought to Denver, saloons were perhaps the most numerous and conspicuous. They played a key role in bringing their customers into American life and into the life of the city. Few immigrant taverns reappeared after Prohibition, but the effects of these influential business qua community centers remain.

In 1988, it became legal in Colorado to produce and sell beer to retail customers on the same premises. The WynkoopBrewing Company ran a close race against Carver Brewery to claim the title as the oldest micro-brewery in Denver.

John Hickenlooper, founder of the Wynkoop Brewing Company and now governor of the state, looks back on those anxious early days. He remembers the all-consuming effort required to open Wynkoop first, which it did on October 18, 1988, selling 6,000 cups of beer at 25 cents each.

Today Denver continues to enjoy its beer in its many micro-breweries. For more information or to schedule a micro-brewery tour, please contact us.

 


Law and thirst shaped Denver’s beer history

 

By the time the frontier settlement of Denver was just two years old, following an initial mad dash to scoop up gold at the Platte River, there were already 35 saloons built and pouring. Pioneer Denver figured out just about everything in a local bar. Because constructing churches, schools and other community meeting halls lagged behind, Denver had no choice but to invent itself over drinks. The first city government gavelled itself to order at a saloon called the Apollo Hall, in the original Larimer Square. That was just respectable enough to get things going. However, the city fathers appear to have had the sense that some restraint might be in order, so an early law stipulated that booze couldn’t be sold on the streets or out of wagons and tents.

In the 20th century, a chain reaction started that would propel Denver to a unique status in the American craft beer revolution. In 1976, President Jimmy Carter signed a bill to adjust the legislation that had ended prohibition. The earlier repeal allowed citizens to legally make wine at home again starting in 1933, but it failed to mention beer, so home brewers were still practicing their hobby underground, with limited access to ingredients, supplies and recipes. At the time of the legalization of home brewing, a Boulder, Colorado resident and experienced brewing enthusiast named Charlie Papazian launched a homebrew newsletter, followed by writing a beer recipe book and then by forming national associations for both amateur and professional brewers, both based in Colorado. These steps led eventually to the massive gathering known as the Great American Beer Festival, still held annually in Denver. By welcoming top beers and brewers from other regions to town for this elite brewing competition every year, Denver’s local brewers may have gained an advantage in understanding brewing quality and diversity without having to get on an airplane themselves. Taste local examples with us and see if you agree.

The free-flowing history of Denver, as it relates to drinking, is full of delightful tales that we love to tell on our beer walking tours. Whether you are a visitor or a proud resident, a seasoned beer appreciator or a craft brew novice, contact us to walk Denver for a taste of beer history, along with guided sample flights that will let you find the current local brew you love the best.