Beer Man

John Hickenlooper will debut a craft-beer draft system at the Governor's Mansion

The Colorado Governor's Mansion has seen its share of keggers over the decades, thanks to the learning experiences and youthful indiscretions of several gubernatorial offspring.

But the 106-year-old-mansion hasn't had its own draft-beer system -- until now.

Tonight, during a private party feting the state's $826 million craft-brewing industry, Governor John Hickenlooper will unveil the mansion's new three-handle bar -- located in the parlor on the first floor -- which will serve a rotating selection of craft beers.

See also: Colorado breweries employ 5,000, contribute $826 million to the state economy

"The goal is to have geographic diversity from breweries all over the state," says Hickenlooper, who co-founded the Wynkoop Brewing Company in 1988. "We'll try to have a lighter, more accessible beer on the first tap -- like a lager or a pale ale or a wheat beer. On the second, we'll try to always have something bolder, like an IPA or something a little more feisty. And on the third tap, we'll have some experimental beers."

Who will choose the beers? "Me!" the governor says. "The buck has to stop somewhere."

Tonight's lineup includes the Wynkoop's flagship Rail Yard Ale; Colorado Kolsch, made by Steamworks Brewing in Durango; and Centennial Pale Ale, a collaboration between Oskar Blues, Strange Brewing and many other breweries in honor of the Craft Brewers Conference, a national trade show that will be in Denver in early April.

Hickenlooper says he got the idea for a craft-beer bar at the mansion about a year ago, and went into the basement to see if it would be possible to put a cooler down there to hold kegs; it was, and that cooler is now located inside a basement closet. The draft lines extend from there through the ceiling to the bar, he explains.

Although Colorado has become associated with marijuana since January when recreational pot became legal here, the craft-brewing industry has been expanding exponentially as well.

On Tuesday, the Colorado Brewers Guild reported that as of November, there were 232 licensed craft breweries in the state; since then, breweries have been opening at a pace of about one per week. Those breweries employed 5,014 people and contributed $826 million to the state economy in 2013, according to the guild's study. That's up from 179 breweries, 4,493 jobs and $704 million the year before.

"Colorado has become such a mecca for quality beer," Hickenlooper says, and although it is also a mecca for young people, he believes craft-beer lovers drink less of this state's liquid assets since they're seeking out a quality experience rather than the chance to get "hammered."

"This is such a vibrant industry," adds Steve Kurowski, the spokesman for the Colorado Brewers Guild. "It seems very fitting in this state of craft beer that we can show off what we are seeing in Colorado in a showcase like the Governor's Mansion."

Kurowski says that while there is wine cellar in the governor's residence in Oregon and a kegerator in Wisconsin, he believes this is the first draft system in a governor's residence in the United States. "But it's not in there as a joke," he points out. "It's there to truly give people an idea about an industry that employs more than 5,000 people."

And the governor isn't done with his basement planning. "At some point," Hickenlooper says, "we will have to put a small test brewery down there."

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