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Drinking High on the Hog

iker culture and beer are as inseparable as a Harley-riding man and the female passenger wrapped around his back. "Bikers do consume mass quantities of beer at their functions," notes Roger Unrein. And if he has his way, the beer they'll be drinking is Hardtail Ale.

"Being a biker and loving beer, I just came up with the idea of an exclusive beer for bikers," Unrein explains. "There are so many bikers these days -- they're so diverse that they have different tastes. That's the market I want to explore."

He's starting with Hardtail, named after the old-fashioned rear-shock-less bikes of the '40s and '50s -- the bike of choice for Unrein, his girlfriend/business partner, Gail Lilley, and other motorcycle purists. Like so many beers spawned by the craft-beer movement, Unrein's brew is very personal. "It's the beer I like the best," Unrein says of Hardtail. "It's an amber ale -- my favorite category of beer -- that's full-bodied, got a frosty premium taste without a bite or harsh aftertaste. Along with that, the buzz factor's really good. You can drink less and enjoy the full flavor without getting weighted down."

Roger Unrein hopes to tap into the two-wheeler market.
Anthony Camera
Roger Unrein hopes to tap into the two-wheeler market.
Not about a Restaurant

For the past year, Unrein has been fine-tuning his recipe and perfecting his Hardtail logo, which shows a woman's lower half by the rear wheel of a motorcycle. "That's just another hard tail, standing next to a hardtail bike," Unrein points out. "A lot of people say a Harley is chick magnet."

Unrein hopes the craft/premium-beer-drinking segment of his peer group -- not just old-school riders, but the "weekend warriors" who work high-paying white-collar jobs during the week and ride expensive motorcycles on the weekend -- will be drawn to Hardtail. Currently brewed by Tommyknocker Brewery in Idaho Springs, the beer is designed for the discerning drinker with an extra dollar to spend on his bike and his beverage. Based on an old Tommyknocker recipe that's been tweaked to Unrein's liking, it's brewed with a blend of German malts, including small amounts of Munich and chocolate malts that add a nutty, barely roasted flavor. The beer is lightly hopped with German Hallertau hops to create a flavorful, accessible beer that weighs in at 5.9 percent alcohol by volume.

Unrein slid into the beer trade through the back door. A home-brewer in high school ("I started early," he notes), he took a gig as a process-pipe fitter at Coors, then went to work for himself during the craft-beer boom of the early '90s, doing jobs at the Wynkoop Brewing Co., Great Divide, Breckenridge and other area breweries. While working at a Tommyknocker outpost in Phoenix, he came up with the idea for a beer aimed at his riding buddies.

Today he's gaining market share at biker watering holes, including Mr. B's Roadhouse, Johnny's Bar & Grill and Hart's Corner. Fay Smith, owner of Kermitt's Roadhouse east of Idaho Springs, has carried Hardtail for just over a year. Smith's place attracts skiers in winter and bikers in the summer, and both groups are soft on Hardtail. "People just come in and ask for it now," she says. "It's a real good seller." (Budweiser longnecks are still tops with bikers, though.)

To help promote the beer, Unrein and Lilley have been sponsoring charity events. A recent "poker run" -- riders pick up a playing card at each of five bars, and the highest hand wins a prize -- lured 200 riders and raised $3,000 for Craig Hospital's trauma center, which has rehabbed many an injured biker in its day.

Unrein is not the first to pair beer and motorcycle culture. Harley-Davidson-branded cans are popular with biker and brewery buffs alike. A number of national and regional brewers have issued commemorative cans of bike-branded beer for events and rallies, too.

Roger Galetti, a Florida-based biker, produced a "Born to Ride" beer three years ago.

"Bikers are a viable consumer group," he says. "And if you talk to any biker bar, they'll tell you they sell a lot of beer." The "Born to Ride" beer was named for Galetti's six-year-old motorcycle travel show, which claims six million viewers in two central Florida markets and a few satellite networks, and was released to coincide with a rally in Daytona. "People really liked it," Galetti says. But the beer's run ended when the brewery that was making it folded.

According to Galetti, the overwhelming majority of motorcycle riders -- like the majority of the drinking public -- drink responsibly. Drinking beer to excess and then driving is "against everything we stand for," he says. "Somebody driving a $20,000 to $30,000 motorcycle, they're not going to go out and trash it." Most bikers act responsibly, too: "I try to show bikers in a good light, as the good-hearted people they are," Galetti says. Other biker myths he's out to shatter with his show: the belief that bikers are "mean, smelly guys" and that "biker chicks are loose. They're not; those are the one-percenters. Bikers are the friendliest people out there."

Unrein's certainly keeping his pitch friendly. "We're bikers, selling biker beer to bikers," he says. "We don't have to put on anything. It's much more honest -- and it's working." Hardtail Ale "is something that helps identify you as a biker. You customize your bike, you customize your palate, too."

 
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