Crossing the Great Divide

There’s a bit of man-wisdom (folly?) that goes like this: All women are crazy. You just need to find one with the kind of crazy you can deal with, and then marry her.

Well, if knowing immense quantities of information about brewing really good beer could be considered a “kind of crazy,” then I’ve found me a second wife (and I’m moving them both to my polygamy commune in Texas). Hilary, the adorable chemist/biologist/tour guide/bar maiden at Great Divide Brewing Co., certainly knows a lot about beer, and she shared some of her knowledge Wednesday with me and Westword web editor Sean Cronin, as we embarked on our second brewery tour that's part of a 101-brewery project we will never come close to finishing (don’t tell Sean).

Our first tour was of the mighty Coors brewery in Golden, which gets around a quarter of a million visitors a year – so many, in fact, that the company gave its last guided tour on April 8 before switching to shorter, self-guided ones two days later. But Coors is not Great Divide.

“Do you give tours?” we asked Hilary after walking into Great Divide’s tasting room at 2201 Arapahoe Street at 3 p.m. (the website says tours are at 3 and 4 p.m.). “I can show you guys around,” she said. “Do you want a beer first?” Crazy. We each had a Hercules Double IPA, which, no offense to the Silver Bullet, is one of the tastiest beers made in this state, and then checked out the scene.

The tasting room, decorated with scruffy on-break brewery employees wearing T-shirts, rubber hip-waders and a variety of experimental facial hair, smells like barley and malt -- which, to some people, is better than the smell of baking bread. The space is small and comfy and pours half a dozen or so standards, like the Hercules, Titan IPA, Denver Pale Ale, Yeti Imperial Stout and whatever seasonal is around.

With our second beers in hand -- this time the Yeti’s enormous cousin, the oak-aged Yeti -- we went through the door behind the bar and into the brewing facility, a former dairy that later served as a practice space for bands. Hilary, also with a small Yeti in hand (did I mention I want to marry her?), started us off in the barley mill, a tiny alcove in the back where the barley and malt begin their life’s ultimate journey.

After that, we moved from room to room, learning about the process of converting raw ingredients into the huge beers that Great Divide makes. We even saw a 100-gallon drum where the oak-aged Yeti is made by dunking bags full of oak chips into the brew. When Great Divide started, back in 1994, it made lighter beers, but it caught on fast to the fact that its bigger beers were selling better, Hilary said. Now, Great Divide is getting a new bottling machine, which will be able to handle 120 bottles a minute, to help it meet demand. Tragically, the new equipment will cut down to nearly nothing the number of “lowfills” – bottles that don’t get enough beer in them to be sold. Lowfills are typically given away to employees as a perk.

Hopefully, Great Divide will work out a new policy for free employee beer because once Hilary and I are married, I’m going to need plenty of suds to deal with two wives. – Jonathan Shikes