Reporter Joel Stein must be Time's real man of the year, because the magazine recently sent him to Denver for three days to drink beer and tour some of our local breweries — a nice job if you can get it. Stein chose Denver, which he dubbed the "Napa of Beer," over other frothy hubs like Portland, Oregon, and San Diego because "it is the most tourist-friendly. It has 74 breweries within 100 miles of downtown, restaurants that often offer beer-vs.-wine pairings," and hosts the annual Great American Beer Festival. He also noted that Denver is the best place for brewery touring "partly because of its water, partly because it's the home of Coors and partly because skier, mountain-biker and hiker dudes love them some beer." But while Stein made a wise choice in visiting class microbrewers such as Lefthand Brewing Company, Oskar Blues, Avery Brewing, the Wynkoop Brewing Co. and the Bull & Bush (which we named Best Brewpub for 2008), he didn't take the famous Coors tour, which boasts a quarter of a million visitors a year.
His loss? Yes and no. For decades, the trip to Golden — and the three free beers that follow the tour — has been a rite of passage for brand-new 21-year-olds, as well as a must-stop for any non-teetotaling tourist. But Coors, now called Molson Coors, has tinkered with the program, replacing its 45-minute, human-guided tours with a shorter, self-guided trip that covers less ground but gets visitors through the plant faster.
To mark this momentous change, Off Limits went along for one of the last guided tours on the very last day they were available: Tuesday, April 8 (for more, visit slideshow.westword.com). Our goal was to see what, if anything, would be lost.
What will stay the same:
• The shuttle trip from the parking lot at 13th and Ford streets to the factory, complete with the driver's perfectly timed tour of downtown Golden.
• Video screens and display panels explaining the brewing process, enemies to beer, quality control and Coors mottos.
• The heady smell of malt and barley.
• The "21 means 21" spiel (and TWINS!).
• The fake aspen trees along the route.
• The fresh-beer tasting room.
• Crotchety-looking employees making their way through tour groups.
What will change:
• The malting house, barley kiln and germination area are no longer on public view. (Loss analysis: not that exciting anyway.)
• You're unlikely to hear Coors elves offer such Golden nuggets as "We know how you're going to see how we focus on quality every step of the way" and "Bill Coors always says, 'Barley is to beer what grapes are to wine.'" (Loss analysis: less humor.)
• Headsets, rather than guides, will reveal Coors facts. (Loss analysis: none.)
• No more tours on Tuesday and Wednesday, but Sunday tours will be offered for the first time. (Loss analysis: none — this is better. Ban all blue laws!)
• The fourteen tour employees will all keep their jobs, but they'll be stationed throughout the tour route rather than leading groups. (Loss analysis: none. No offense to our lovely guide, Denise, but we already knew that Coors is made from Rocky Mountain Spring Water.)
School of Mines student Rees Jones — whom we found relaxing in the tasting room with his three eight-ounce beers — summed up the changes as "lame," adding, "If you're taking the long tour, you might as well do it without the headsets." Then again, Jones hasn't been on the long tour in a while, since he favors "the short tour": a two-minute ride in the elevator, then a walk through the hall and into the tasting room.
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Oh, and one final thing that's unlikely to change is this bit of wisdom from the brewery's world-weary shuttle driver: "Don't forget your ABCs. Always buy cases. Always buy cold. Always buy Coors."
Scene and herd: Vail Chamber head Kaye Ferry resigned this week amid criticism over a quote in which she reportedly called Front Range skiers and snowboarders "riff-raff." It's a strange way to go out, considering that the refreshingly outspoken Ferry said so much worse during a 2006 interview with Westword reporter Jared Jacang Maher. For more on Ferry and a link to Maher's original story, go to blogs.westword.com.