Jonathan Shikes, known to many as Colorado Beer Man, has been dwelling on the past — 160 years of Denver's brewing past, to be specific.
Shikes has been enthralled with craft beer since he tried his hand at home brewing when he was only seventeen (we can share because the statute of limitations has long expired on this crime). As a professional journalist — he was Westword's managing editor and still contributes regular beer stories — he's had the chance to rub shoulders with the country's top beer professionals. But as a Colorado native and graduate of East High School, Denver is his first love.
The result of his sudsy plunge into the past is Denver Beer: A History of Mile High Brewing, which will be released by Acadia Press on Monday, March 2. "I've been wanting to do a book on brewing history for going on eight years," the first-time author explains. "And I was surprised at how little has been written."
The book begins with the beers that quenched the thirst of prospectors seeking gold in the mid-1800s and carries through to modern neighborhood breweries and their trendy beer styles. Shikes isn't ashamed to admit that he's enjoyed the occasional glitter beer or milkshake IPA, but he's also fond of crisp, traditional pilsners made with exacting methods and a minimum of ingredients.
In the course of his research, the writer discovered that everything old is new again. "Old breweries used to promote how local their products were and that if you bought their beer you'd be supporting the local community," he points out, noting that breweries were proud to use barley grown and malted in Colorado, a trend that's only just beginning to re-emerge.
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At one point, there was plenty of diversity in the Denver brewing scene, he explains, but Prohibition killed off just about every brewery but Coors. Today only Coors and Tivoli survive as representatives of the old guard, and Tivoli was closed for many years before its name and many of its recipes were revived by Corey Marshall several years ago.
Denver Beer also covers the current craft-beer boom and the changing beer scene. "The taproom culture has been the most enormous change," Shikes says. "Before Dry Dock in Aurora and Strange in Denver, taprooms where you could buy a pint really didn't exist. And packaging has also really changed — from mostly bottles and kegs to cans and growlers."
Shikes will be making a few appearances to promote Denver Beer in the coming weeks. On March 7, he'll be at Hops & Pie at noon for a book signing and tapping of several beers featured in the book; on March 13, Cerebral Brewing will host a book signing to coincide with a can release at 5 p.m.; on March 20, he'll be at Strange Craft Beer at 5 p.m. to unveil a beer he helped brew based on a recipe from Charlie Papazian's Complete Joy of Homebrewing; on March 27, Dry Dock's South Dock brewery will host a 5 p.m. book signing; and on April 9, Shikes will join in a joint Q & A with fellow beer writer John Frank at 6 p.m. at Falling Rock Tap House.
The book is now available for pre-order on Amazon, and Shikes says it will soon hit local bookstores and home-brew shops.