Beer Man

Boulder Beer ends distribution of Planet Porter, the oldest craft brew in Colorado (the U.S.?)

Boulder Beer Company, which invented Colorado's craft brewing industry in 1979, is planning to stop bottling Planet Porter, one of its three original beers.

While the brewery will make Planet Porter occasionally on its three-barrel pilot system, the decision ends the sale and distribution of what has been the longest continuously-produced craft beer in Colorado and, arguably, in the entire country.

See also: Boulder Beer has been shaking up its lineup, most notably with Shake

"I am comfortable with that claim," says Boulder Beer spokesman Dan Weitz. "And that is the reason that Planet Porter has maintained a position in our portfolio over the past five years. It is such a part of our heritage and our history."

But things have changed.

Sales of the beer were doing well in 2002 after the company renamed it from its original moniker, Boulder Porter, and rebranded much of the brewery. But they "plateaued" around 2009 and have fallen off since, Weitz says. "There is a lot of craft competition out there; people like to move around and try new things."

To stay relevant, Boulder Beer has recently updated its lineup, adding new beers like Shake, which is also a porter, but one that is more suited to 2014, he adds. "As people's tastes evolve, they are looking for more complex flavor profiles. That is why Shake Chocolate Porter is doing so well. It's the nature of the business."

Boulder Porter, along with Boulder Stout and Boulder ESB, were the brewery's first three recipes when the company was founded 34 years ago in a goat shed on a Boulder County farm by University of Colorado physics professors -- and homebrewers -- David Hummer and Randolph "Stick" Ware, along with Al Nelson, who owned the farm.

Ware credits Hummer and Boulder Beer's first brewmaster, former chef Otto Zavatone, for the recipe. Hummer, he adds, had "an amazing palate. When we first got started he could taste if there was something wrong with the beer before anyone else."

Neither Hummer nor Zavatone could be reached for comment, but Ware, who still hangs out at Boulder Beer sometimes, didn't seem too put out by the company's decision, saying he loves its replacement, Shake. "It's good stuff. The chocolate is subtle."

None of the original founders are still associated with Boulder Beer, which has traded hands several times over the years and is now owned by CraftWorks Restaurants & Breweries, which also runs the Old Chicago, Gordon Biersch, and Rock Bottom chains.

"It's often said that Boulder Beer saved the porter style. They were the first to brew a porter in the United States since Prohibition," Weitz points out.

As for the claim that the beer is the oldest and longest-continuously produced craft beer in the nation, Weitz says some people say that title should go to Anchor Steam, which has been around since the 1860s. But Boulder Beer -- which owns the 43rd brewery permit ever granted in the U.S. -- is the oldest "modern craft brewery" still operating.

Pennsylvania's Yuengling is also older, but the Brewers Association, the Boulder-based trade group for the craft brewing industry, doesn't consider it to be a craft brewery since they use "adjuncts" like corn and rice rather than barley in its beer.

The final fifty-gallon batch of Planet Porter was bottled in November, and a few six-packs are still available on the shelves at liquor stores. In the future, small batches of the beer will be brewed periodically and served only on draft and only in the taproom.

Sales of Shake, meanwhile, have taken off, and Weitz says the brewery has made more than 2,000 barrels in the past six months. The beer, which will become a year-round offering for the company, was test marketed at Old Chicago restaurants for two years as a house brew called Black Diamond Chocolate Porter.

"We have eight year-round brands now, which is pretty much what the market will bear," Weitz says. "It was an award-winning beer, but it's hard to convince our accounts to take two porters, two of the same style.

"We are sad to see it go," he adds, "but we have been around for 34 years, and our walls are covered with brands that aren't around anymore."

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes

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