The beer—brewing scene in Colorado in the early 1990s was small, convivial and fairly tight-knit. Only a very few brewers had been able to leave the ranks of several popular home-brewing clubs and turn pro. And since there were still only a handful of breweries around, anyone who wanted to get some experience would typically ask for a gig volunteering in the brewhouse, in the taproom or wherever they could get a foot in the door.
Some of those breweries have survived, including Wynkoop Brewing Company, New Belgium, Odell Brewing and Breckenridge. Others, like Vail’s Hubcap Brewery and Kitchen, have faded into memory.
Late last month, two former Hubcap brewers revived one of those memories, though, by tapping Vail Pale Ale, a beer that was first brewed at Hubcap in 1992 and then later made at a sister brewery in Dallas.
“I have always drank IPAs. Mostly Ballentine IPA when it could be found,” writes Station 26 head brewer Wayne Waananen, a longtime home brewer before he got his first pro brewing job at Hubcap in 1991. But he also drank what was, at the time, Sierra Nevada Brewing’s only IPA, a seasonal Christmas offering called Celebration. “As mud season in Vail approached and the brewpub slowed down, I decided to brew a batch based loosely around Celebration Ale, mostly for myself. If others liked it, well and good.”
It turned it that a lot of people did like it. Known originally as Solstice Ale, the beer won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 1992. Then, after a name change to Vail Pale Ale, it won gold again in 1994.
That same year, a second Hubcap, financed by a group of investors, opened in Dallas, and Waananen was asked to help set it up and to train the brewers on the beers he brewed in Vail. One of those trainees was John Sims, a would-be brewer who had volunteered at local breweries until someone hired him.
Although Waananen only spent a week in Dallas, he brought a lot of know-how — and the yeast strain that he used in Vail. In fact, the Texas version of Vail Pale Ale went on to win another GABF gold.
"Fast forward 22 years and I am working at Station 26 and I am introduced to the latest in a long line of head brewers at Wynkoop,” Waananen recalls. “It turns out he was one of the brewers I trained in Dallas for the Hubcap. We chatted for a bit and both decided we needed to brew Vail Pale Ale again.”
While Waananen had gone on to become the founding brewer at the Sandlot at Coors Field before working various jobs in the brewing and tech industries and eventually returning to brewing, Sims spent the next two decades honing his craft, at Hubcap, Copper Tank Brewing and Four Corners Brewing. He served as president of the Craft Brewers Association of Texas and got his diploma in Brewing Technology from the Seibel Institute of Technology. In 2017, he took over as the head brewer at Wynkoop.
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When he met Waananen again, he realized that the yeast strain he’d been using all those years is the one that Waananen had brought from Vail — and that Waananen had originally acquired it himself from Russ Schehrer, the founding brewer of the Wynkoop. Schehrer, who died in 1996, and Waananan had been great friends; they started a home-brew club together and helped each other with recipe development at their breweries.
“It’s full-circle kind of thing,” Sims says.
In April, Sims and Waananen got together at Wynkoop with another Wynkoop brewer, Charles McManus, and re-created the beer, using the same beer and the same hops varieties, Cascade and Centennial, which Sims points out were cutting-edge in the 1990s. They made about fifteen barrels and have tapped it at both Wynkoop and Station 26. A clean, crisp beer, it has a classic, hoppy profile. It will hopefully be on tap for another week or so.
"Wynkoop has played quite an important role in my brewing career," Waananen writes. "Making Vail Pale Ale at Wynkoop was a lot of fun and a wonderful closing of a circle for my brewing life.”