History is important — especially in Denver’s white-hot real-estate market, where it seems like vestiges of the past are torn down daily to make room for new buildings — and the Wynkoop Brewing Company is a living piece of it.
Not only is it housed in a 116-year-old warehouse, the former Mercantile Lofts, but it’s the state’s oldest brewpub and the birthplace of both much of what we recognize today as LoDo and of Governor John Hickenlooper’s career. Hickenlooper co-founded the brewery in 1988 before running for mayor in 2003. (He no longer has a financial stake in the brewery or any of the restaurants in BW Holdings, the company that grew out of the Wynkoop.) As for the historic brewing equipment inside the building? Well, sometimes change is good. Later this month, BW Holdings will begin the process of replacing its decades-old brew kettle, lauter tun and open-fermentation tanks with a brand-new system.
“It was just time,” says Wynkoop sales director Jon Hanke, who explains that the Wynkoop’s brew kettle cracked some time ago. Although it was professionally repaired, the company needed to replace it eventually.
On top of that, the Wynkoop used fermenters with open tops, something that is unusual in modern craft brewing because it doesn’t allow the brewers to control the beer’s brewing environment as well as closed fermenters do. “I’ve asked about it, about the mentality of having those. The best answer I got was that it was the best way to do creative brewing then,” Hanke says.
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The brand-new brewing equipment, from JV Northwest, will include a twenty-barrel system along with at least three twenty-barrel fermenters. The system has the same capacity as the previous one, but will allow the brewers to work more efficiently.
But the change won’t be easy. To pull it off, the Wynkoop will have to shut down its brewing operations for up to three months — though the restaurant will stay open for most of that time. To keep the beer flowing, Hanke says the brewers are working ahead, trying to crank out as much liquid as they can. To pick up the slack, the Wynkoop may hire another brewery to make its beer for a little while. “January is our slowest month anyway,” he notes. “We hope to up and running by [the Rockies’] opening day.”
In the meantime, the Wynkoop has arranged for some collaborative efforts with other breweries that can be sold at bars and restaurants around town.
When the project is finished, though, that will change. “The Wynkoop will always be here in some way, shape or form,” says Hanke, “and we want all of the Wynkoop beer that is on tap here to have been brewed here at Wynkoop.”