Beer Man

Thirty Years Later, Wynkoop and the Class of ’88 Have Diverging Stories

The Wynkoop celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this year.
The Wynkoop celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this year. Jonathan Shikes
The year was 1988. President Ronald Reagan was battling the Iran-Contra Affair, the Phantom of the Opera took the stage for the first time on Broadway, Sonny Bono became mayor of Palm Springs, and a few little breweries opened up in various parts of the country, bringing the nation's total number of breweries to 199.

“That year was notable not only for its new American breweries...but also due to how many of those breweries would thrive,” writes author and journalist Josh Noel in his new book, Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out: Goose Island, Anheuser-Busch, and How Craft Beer Became Big Business. "After starting as brewpubs, Goose Island, Deschutes, Great Lakes, Rogue, and North Coast would all grow to be among the nation’s fifty largest craft breweries.” Brooklyn Brewery was also founded that year, though it made its beer elsewhere and has since become a top-fifty craft brewery as well.

In Denver, John Hickenlooper and his crew of wacky partners would create Wynkoop Brewing in the historic J.S. Brown Mercantile Building — launching a neighborhood, a culture and a political career.

But the fates of those breweries, and the others founded that year, would diverge drastically over the ensuing years. “Initially, it seemed that everyone was in the same boat. All these breweries were part of the same movement and doing the same thing for their local communities,” Noel points out. “Goose Island was trying to revolutionize beer in Chicago, Deschutes was trying to revolutionize beer in Oregon, and Wynkoop was trying to do it in Denver. But they were each on their own island.”

“But as the industry grew and became more complex, “a bunch of paths emerged, and then their paths diverged,” adds Noel, who will sign his book at two events next week in Denver and in Fort Collins.

click to enlarge JONATHAN SHIKES
Jonathan Shikes
Deschutes and Rogue, both in Oregon, would grow national while remaining independent. Great Lakes, in Cleveland, would entrench itself as a regional powerhouse in the Midwest. Goose Island, on the other hand, sold out to Anheuser Busch InBev, the maker of Budweiser, in 2011, and also went national. Noel’s book primarily tackles that history, but it also covers AB InBev’s ensuing purchases of eleven other craft breweries around the nation, including Breckenridge Brewery in Colorado.

Wynkoop Brewing, in the meantime, stayed small and local. In 2010, it merged with Breckenridge Brewery before its owners — minus Hickenlooper, who had left to become the mayor of Denver — spun Breckenridge off to AB InBev, where it now shares management with Goose Island.

“1988 is a fascinating case study. It’s a microcosm of what has happened to the entire industry over the last several decades,” Noel says.

To note the milestone, Wynkoop brewed 30th B-Day Imperial Pils, which fittingly weighs in at 8.8 percent ABV, like the year, and 30 IBUs, like the birthday. “The brew crew [headed by John Sims] wanted to pay homage to the great lineage of Wynkoop Brewers who have shaped the craft-beer scene we enjoy today,” the brewery says. “We are honored to carry on the torch.”

The brewery will also tap a few beers from Deschutes, Goose Island and North Coast Brewing and host an ’80s-themed thirtieth birthday party on Friday, September 21, at 7 p.m.

Noel will appear at Epic Brewing to read from his book and talk about brewery sellouts at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, September 19. He will also be at New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins at 1 p.m. on Thursday, September 20.
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes