DENVER — With Colorado’s craft beer industry exploding, you can find IPAs, pilsners, saisons and stouts on almost every corner.
And starting Thursday, you can find it on the the corner of E. 8th Avenue and Pennsylvania St. right inside the Colorado Governor’s Mansion, now the first official governor’s residence in the country with its own draft beer system.
“It just seemed appropriate,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper, a former brewer who founded the Wynkoop Brewing Company in LoDo back when downtown was a ghost town and craft beer wasn’t anything close to the $800 million a year industry it’s become with 232 federally licensed breweries and brewpubs in Colorado.
“If you’d have told me we’d one day have 235 breweries, I’d have laughed,” Hickenlooper told FOX31 Denver Thursday. “I think it’s a symbol of Colorado; I think it stands for freedom, having a lot of choices.
“The mansion is another symbol of Colorado. It’s where we entertain. It’s where we kind of show off Colorado, and beer has become a big part of what Colorado is.”
Not surprisingly, a Wynkoop beer, Silverback Pale Ale, was the first small batch keg tapped at the mansion on Thursday; and the plan is to rotate unique small batch brews from breweries all across the state.
“We’re going to try and rotate all the different breweries, all the different beer,” Hickenlooper said. “So it becomes a showcase for the quality of Colorado.”
The taps will be ready in time for a party at the mansion Friday night to kick off Colorado Craft Beer Week, a celebration of an industry that now employs around 5,000 Coloradans.
“With more than 200 different breweries in Colorado, we’re probably brewing several thousand beers in a year,” said Steve Kurowski with the Colorado Brewers Guild. “These are some of the freshest, some of the most world-class beers being brewed around; to have these on showcase at the mansion is very exciting for our industry.
“They will create a conversation; it’ll be very unique every time there’s an event here and these beers are being poured.”
The industry has grown steadily since the first brewpub was founded in 1979; but the growth is really frothing of late, with 53 new small breweries licensed just last year.
“That’s one new brewery opening up every week,” Kurowski said. “It’s just getting bigger and better every single day.”
Installing the taps inside the mansion’s historic first-floor parlor, already home to a bar and photographs of every governor in Colorado history, wasn’t a done on a whim but with months of planning and consideration for preserving the integrity — structural and historical — of the mansion itself.
But it wasn’t as difficult as some staffers thought it might have been.
“We were lucky,” said Kevin Patterson, Hickenlooper’s deputy chief of staff. “The drain worked extremely well; we were able to just run [the tap line] straight up from the basement. We only had to add a little bit of electrical power for the refrigeration unit downstairs.”
Patterson, who’s been involved with this project from the start, says the former brewpub founder governor hasn’t left much to chance, wanting to sign off on the pint glasses and the pours.
Hickenlooper, who’s been criticized by GOP rivals heading into his reelection year as a “state bartender”, isn’t worried about the new craft beer offerings at the mansion, being tapped now just a few months into Colorado’s recreational marijuana experiment, impacting his own fortunes or the state’s.
“Craft beer doesn’t fit into that notion with the legalization of marijuana that Colorado is a party state,” said Hickenlooper. “If you’re going to get drunk, you’re not drinking craft beer.
“Craft beer is really about drinking less and partying less to some extent, but really enjoying it more. It’s about the flavor and bouquet of the beer.”