Beer Man

Great Divide Changes Denver Pale Ale To Fit a Growing City

Denver has grown a lot in the twenty years since Great Divide Brewing began making a pale ale named for the city, and next month the beer will change with the times as well.

Great Divide, which first brewed Denver Pale Ale in 1996, has completely revamped the recipe, updating it from an English-style pale ale to an American-style one, and taking down the alcohol percentage a little. The brewery will also begin selling the beer in cans — and only cans — with new artwork created by a local artist. And it will pull back distribution to primarily Colorado.

“It has been a great beer for us,” says Great Divide founder Brian Dunn. “It has won three or four medals at the Great American Beer Festival and is number three for us in terms of volume. But we wanted to make the beer more contemporary, and we wanted to have a Denver-specific beer as a nod to the support we’ve gotten over the past 22 years since we were founded.”

Tinkering with a recipe, especially one for a top brand, is always risky, but Dunn says tastes are changing: the hops varieties, primarily Sterling and Golding, will be replaced with two that American craft beer drinkers are more familiar with: Centennial and Simcoe. “I will miss the original version, but I will enjoy the new one probably more,” he says. “The change could affect that number three ranking, but we’ll see. I also think it could really grow in Colorado.”

That’s because the look of the beer is changing even more than the flavor profile. For starters, Great Divide will stop packaging Denver Pale Ale in bottles, moving it exclusively to cans. In addition, that can will feature a cityscape by Denver artist Josh Holland. And each year, the brewery will update the can with a new piece of art by a different local artist.

“There were a lot of things that we wanted to change about Denver Pale Ale, but not the name. It has a great name and name recognition,” Dunn says.

In fact, Denver Pale Ale is the only packaged beer with Denver in its name — something that is partially a result of the trademark that Great Divide has on it. Although Denver Beer Company also uses the city’s name — and has its own trademark — it doesn’t make a beer with Denver in the name. Dunn says the name issue hasn’t been something that was worth fighting over.

Great Divide only just began canning beers for the first time last June when it opened a massive new fermentation warehouse and packaging hall in River North. Since then, the brewery has canned the majority of its regular lineup and will complete this process this fall.

“Cans have been going very well for us, and we’re really happy with how they are being received,” Dunn says. “They are tasting great, and we like the package. I am positive it will grow for us.”
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes