AC Golden’s Copper Kettles
AC Golden Brewing Company is located in Golden, CO, and operates out of a small section of the Coors facility. AC Golden brews in what was once the pilot brewery for Coors – which focused on trying new recipes and qualifying new varieties of barley and hops. AC Golden Brewing Company was founded by Pete Coors in 2007, and is run by President and Co-Founder, Glenn (Knip) Knippenberg. As Knip describes the company “At AC Golden all we care about is the customer. Our goal is to brew quality beer that our customers will enjoy.”
In 2007, Pete Coors was looking for a way to be able to create good new beers without breaking the bank to do it. Over the years, Coors, Miller and Anheiser Busch had attempted to market many new beers, and had seen their efforts add up to the loss of large amounts of money. Pete had the idea to start a small, separate company that would be able to focus on brewing new beers, selling them locally and using a smaller geography to determine whether or not to expand them. He also envisioned a separate sales force to avoid distracting the mainstream salesforce – who needed to keep their eye on the brands that paid the bills…Coors, Miller Lite, Blue Moon, etc. The new company would be able to focus efforts on the most important thing – the beer.
Glenn (Knip) Knippenberg originally starting working for Coors in 1983. He left the company and was living in Kentucky when he got the call from Pete. Pete invited Knip to come back to Colorado to run AC Golden, which was going to focus on small-batch beers. As Knip put it “Coming back was a no-brainer, it was a great idea and I knew it was what I wanted to do.” The opportunity to brew craft beers was too good for Knip to pass up. In April 2007, AC Golden Brewing Company officially began brewing in the old pilot brewery at Coors. They expanded the capacity from 1,000 barrels annually, to 8,000 barrels by adding a new fermentation cellar, commissioned in January 2010.
I had the great opportunity to spend time with the team at AC Golden last week. After sitting down with Knip for a few minutes, it is obvious he loves what he does, and he brings a passion to the team at AC Golden. Pete Coors definitely knew what he was doing when he asked Knip to run the company. Knip is happy to talk about AC Golden, and especially its most popular brand, Colorado Native Lager. On top of meeting with Knip, I was also able to meet with Head Brewer, Jeff Nickel and Brewers Steve (Fletch) Fletcher, Jason zumBrunnan and Ben Knutson. Everyone on the team was excited to discuss their role – and especially the beers they brew. They were all smiling quite a bit too – I’m guessing the beer might have had something to do with that! I know it definitely brought a smile to my face. I can’t explain how great it was to meet them all, and to find out about AC Golden Brewing Company.
AC Golden Brewing Company is best known for Colorado Native Lager, which is a very unique beer for a few reasons. Colorado Native is brewed with all Colorado ingredients. The barley, hops, yeast and water are all sourced from within the great state of Colorado. To take it a step further, Colorado Native Lager is only available for sale in Colorado. To say this is a unique beer is putting it lightly. AC Golden came up with a great idea, but they also did a ton of work to make it possible to actually brew this beer. To be able to source hops from Colorado, AC Golden actually got involved in the process of growing hops. They set out to find farmers that could grow for them. They also planted different hop varieties on the Coors farm in Center, CO. They started with 8 types of hops and eventually narrowed this down to 3 hops – the 3 that are currently used in Colorado Native Lager (Cascade, Centennial and Chinook). Once they figured out which hops to use, AC Golden found more farms in the San Juan Valley, and Western Slope that were able to grow those hops as well. Today, there are 11 Colorado farms that grow hops that are used in Colorado Native Lager!
AC Golden Brewing Company is best known for Colorado Native Lager, but they brew other beers that are very good as well. Herman Joseph’s Private Reserve is a German style lager, and is also only available in 16 restaurants in Colorado. Born of German heritage dating back to 1868, Herman Joseph’s Private Reserve recipe combines the finest European and North American hops with prized Moravian two-row barley. Herman Joseph was Adolph Coors’ two middle names.
Winterfest is the third beer that AC Golden currently brews. Winterfest is a limited release beer, just for the holidays. It was originally brewed just for friends and family. 2013 will mark the 27th year for Winterfest. The more it was shared, the more popular it became, and the more of it was brewed. Winterfest is also brewed with Moravian two-row barley malt with choice hops from the Hallerrtau region of Germany.
The fourth beer brewed by AC Golden is a German Pilsner called Barmen. Barmen Pilsner was first brewed in what is now the AC Golden Brewing Company. It was initially offered on November 12, 1997. The brewing was later moved to the Sandlot Brewery at Coors Field. In February of 2012, Barmen brewing was moved back to AC Golden Brewing Company. Barmen was born of Pete Coors’ desire to brew a German Pilsner that tastes exactly like the great pilsners of northern Germany. The beer was named after Barmen, Germany; birthplace of Adolph Herman Joseph Coors. Barmen is offered in only a few bars and restaurants in and around Golden, CO. To ensure you enjoy the full Barmen experience, bars and restaurants offering Barmen are requested to honor the traditional “German Seven-Minute Pour” and to serve the beer in the proper Barmen branded pilsner glass. When properly poured, it should look like this.
I was able to find out about some new things in the works at AC Golden. The brewers are working on some new beers that should be released later this year or possibly next year. I can’t provide too much info about that, but I’m looking forward to it! I was able to sample some sour beers the brewers are aging in oak barrels at the pilot brewery. These were a nice change of pace, and much different than any of the other beer offerings from AC Golden. The brewers were really excited to talk about the flexibility they have to work on new styles and recipes – and ultimately the next production beer they will be releasing.
Oak aging new recipes at AC Golden
My visit to AC Golden Brewing Company was great for many reasons. It was awesome to learn how the company works, and to be able to dispel some misconceptions about the brewery (which I believed myself). Many beer enthusiasts, and other brewers, think that AC Golden is just Coors coming up with new packaging and marketing campaigns. Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The team at AC Golden is small, and passionate about brewing great craft beer. They want their customers to get world-class beer, and they use the best ingredients in order to make this possible. In fact, AC Golden is so passionate about their hops, they have done a great deal to introduce the crop to many farmers in Colorado. I sat down with Brewer Steve (Fletch) Fletcher for a solid 20 minutes just talking about the selection of hops.
Another misconception about AC Golden is that they brew with the same equipment as Coors. This is not true. The equipment they use was part of the the pilot brewery, but is very small in comparison to the large brewery. The AC Golden brew kettle is 30 barrels while the Coors brew kettles are closer to 500 barrels. AC Golden operates in its own section of the brewery, has its own brewers, and operates completely separate from Coors. There is a separate sales team, marketing team, and leadership team. It was nice to see this first hand as I had heard a few theories as to how the company operated, and they were all pretty far off base.
I would like to thank everyone at AC Golden Brewing Company for a great visit. I thoroughly enjoyed talking, sampling beers, and touring the pilot brewery. If you are a craft beer drinker and want to try a great local beer, definitely try Colorado Native Lager. Colorado Native has a rich, full-flavor with slight fruitiness, and clean finish. Just make sure you are in Colorado, or you won’t be able to find it! Of course, you can always try Herman Joseph’s Private Reserve, Barmen, or Winterfest when they are available as well. I’ve added beer locators below:
AC Golden Brewing Company
1221 Ford St.
Golden, CO. 80401