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Wake-Up Call: Beer today, gone tomorrow

It was "old home week," Mayor John Hickenlooper proclaimed yesterday at the kick-off for a new event, Denver Beer Fest, which has the town overflowing with more than150 beery happenings between now and September 27. Hickenlooper was referring not just to the setting of the announcement -- the Wynkoop Brewing Co., the brewpub that the then-unemployed geologist started with a handful of hearty pioneers more than twenty years ago -- but the assembled brewers, part of the industry that's made Denver "the Napa Valley of beer."

But it was old home week in another way, too: For ten years, the Westword office was located directly across from the Wynkoop, and Hickenlooper, who no longer has any business connections with the beer and restaurant industry, credited the Westword staff with helping to keep the Wynkoop alive during those formative years.

Westword moved out of that office and down to Broadway ten years ago this fall, but in many ways, we left our hearts in LoDo. And our livers.

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As Hickenlooper described the early days of the Wynkoop, the first brewpub in an area that's now overflowing with them, he also poured out the story -- one of them, anyway, since stories told over bars tend to get very fluid in the memory -- of the start of one of the Wynkoop's most popular brews: Patty's Chile Beer.

Here's how I remember it: Soon after it opened, the Wynkoop was experimenting with putting chile in beer, which has become rather common these days (ditto for fruit), but was a real stretch back then. Knowing I was a chile fan, original brewer Russell Scherer called over to Westword and asked me to sample what his partners had decided was just too hot for public consumption. I ran across the street, took a sip, and was sold. The brew had everything you love about a Mexican meal -- heat and beer.

Patty's Chile Beer has been a mainstay on the Wynkoop beer list ever since, and my major claim to fame. It's also a lovely reminder of Scherer, who passed away several years ago but left us all plenty to remember him by.

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