For the first time since it was created in 2008, AC Golden Brewing in Golden plans to release three of its specialty, small-batch beers in 750 ml bottles.
All three are sour fruit beers that were aged for ten months in oak barrels and fermented with brettanamyces yeast and souring agents. The brews, made with peaches, apricots and cherries, will be sold only at Mile High Wine & Spirits in Lakewood -- and all will be part of the brewery's Hidden Barrel Collection (formerly called Brewmaster's Reserve).
AC Golden, a brand incubator for MillerCoors, primarily brews Colorado Native Lager and Herman Joseph's Private Reserve, but it also produces dozens of other beers that are only served on tap in small quantities at festivals or at a select few bars around town.
The company specialized in German-style lagers, and won several awards at the Great American Beer Festival, but decided last year to experiment with other styles.
"Barrel-aged is part of what is going on in the segment now, and being an incubator, we've got to get into it," says AC Golden president Glenn Knippenberg. "And it's something we're going to get into bigger."
To do that, Knippenberg is going to have to find more room inside the massive MillerCoors brewery where AC Golden operates, however. The original room where AC Golden's brewers had secretly been stashing their barrels is now too small.
"We call it the Hidden Barrel Collection, and it all originated when the guys started fooling around and putting some things in wood," Knippenberg says. "They found a room on the top floor of the brewery that wasn't being used, and one of the more renegade brewers of the bunch, he got with the locksmith, had the locks changed so no one could get in the room but them. But that was something that came to no one's attention since [MillerCoors] wasn't using the room."
The brewers were able to hide their barrels -- most of them from Colorado or California wineries -- until they were finally discovered. But the story gave name to the series.
All three beers -- Hidden Barrel Kriek, Peche and Apricot -- were made using fruit sourced from Colorado's Western Slope. (AC Golden also made a raspberry sour, but it didn't turn out enough quantity for sale.) The Kriek was brewed with 2.5 pounds or sour cherries per gallon, and there will be about eight cases for sale; Casey and the other AC Golden brewers got to watch the farmer harvest the cherries in Hotchkiss last year. The Peche and the Apricot were each made with two pounds of fruit per gallon; there will be eight cases of the Peche for sale and fourteen cases of the apricot.
"That's whats fun about sour beers," Casey says. "When we're making Colorado Native, we know how everything is going to turn out, but with sours, you have to step away and let them do their thing. You can't rush them."
AC Golden has already bottled the beer and is just waiting for label approval from the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Once that is secure -- by the end of March at the latest -- the beer will all be sent to Mile High Wine & Spirits, Knippenberg says. "When we start producing larger quantities, the distribution should expand."
It will retail for $21.99 per bottle. That's steep, but it's a price range that barrel-aged beer drinkers are becoming more used to in Colorado, especially as these beers, which can take more than a year to make, start to be compared with decent bottles of wine.
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"It's very labor intensive to do this," Knippenberg says. "It's also more expensive to make, but we're finding that consumers appreciate it and are willing to pay for it."