Some say beer is food. Others say it is art. In the case of Kurt's Mile High Malt, the Wynkoop Brewing Company is hoping to put wisdom and prose into a can.
The beer, which is being packaged for the first time, is a coffee-infused lager that is based on a recipe by author Kurt Vonnegut's grandfather, Albert Lieber, who ran the Indianapolis Brewing Company in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Kurt's Mile High Malt is the first in a series of new and redesigned beers and beer labels that the Wynkoop plans to release this year.
"This beer has such a cool history and such cool artwork that it made sense to can it, especially with our new design," says Wynkoop spokeswoman Shannon Berner. "People love it. Every time we brew it, people talk about it and ask for it."
A satirist who wrote classics such as Slaughterhouse-Five and Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut gave the recipe to Wynkoop co-founder-turned Governor John Hickenlooper, who brewed the beer in 1996 as part of series dedicated to the Denver Public Library.
The two met when Vonnegut was in town for an art show and became friends after they realized that Vonnegut had been in the same fraternity at Cornell University as Hickenlooper's father, who died when John was seven years old.
Wynkoop brewed the beer again in 2007 when Vonnegut died, and once more in 2013 as part of a Vonnegut-themed beer dinner called Breakfast of Champions.
To make it, Wynkoop head brewer Andy Brown teamed up with Denver's Novo Coffee, which provided the Ethiopian Anyetsu coffee used in the beer. The brewery added Munich and pilsner malts to balance the coffee and provide a clean mouthfeel.
Novo will hold a pre-release party for the beer at its Glenarm Street location on Friday, April 18, from 5 to 10 p.m. But Sunday, April 20, is the official release day, when the Wynkoop will also hold a bunch with items named for Vonnegut books. The beer should hit liquor stores shelves over the weekend or early next week, Berner says.
The can will show off a packaging redesign that the Wynkoop has been working on for several months, Berner says. By the end of this year, all of the brewery's cans will have the new design, which was done to ensure some consistency on store shelves.
"When we first started canning, we used existing artwork," she explains. "But now, all of our cans don't necessarily look like they're from the same brand. So it is important to streamline them, especially as we put more of our beers out there."
Wynkoop is also making some changes to its lineup.
For starters, it will replace Silverback Pale Ale with Mile High Pale Ale, which is a lower-alcohol, less hoppy version of its Mile HI.P.A. That beer will join Rail Yard Ale, B3K Lager, Belgorado and Colorojo as year-round offerings.
A for seasonals small-batch releases, Wynkoop will continue to can Patty's Chile Beer, Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout, Pumpkin Ale, and Kurt's Mile High Malt. It may also add a few more seasonals down the road, but is still playing with which ones.
Eventually, Berner says, the brewery hopes to get a larger canning line. It currently hand-cans and hand-labels its seasonal and a few of the others on a tiny, two-head filler. Rail Yard and B3K, meanwhile, are brewed and canned at Breckenridge Brewery, which is owned by the same parent company as the Wynkoop.
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