The Boulder Beer Co. is dead, long live Boulder Beer. To the press release:

Founded in 1979 (a year before Sierra Nevada Brewing opened, and 9 years before Colorado’s first brewpub, Wynkoop Brewing opened), Boulder Beer is ready to reintroduce itself to the public!

Shortly after reaching the milestone of its 40th anniversary in 2019, it looked as if Boulder Beer and its storied history might be in jeopardy. In October of that year, owner Gina Day announced that the brewery had planned to discontinue distribution and in January 2020 it was announced that they would close their Boulder brewpub space. 

But Matthew Osterman, founder of Denver-based contract brewery, Sleeping Giant, a brewery silently famous for helping multiple Colorado brewers increase production beyond their current capacities, saw an opportunity to help keep the storied brand alive, and modernize the brand, while still preserving its legacy.

Through this re-launch, Osterman and the Sleeping Giant team have been able to modernize recipes and reimagine the overall look and feel of the brand to pay homage to the spirit of the city of Boulder. Additionally, Sleeping Giant has partnered with Stem Ciders, to help manage the sales and marketing which aims to create greater efficiencies and opportunities to quickly scale up both brands’ distribution footprint. 

As the re-launched Boulder Beer begins to hit store shelves this week, long-time fans can rest assured to hear of the return of some familiar favorites including Hazed & Infused – The Original Hazy, Mojo – High Altitude IPA, Shake Dark Chocolate Porter (including a year-round Nitro version and a limited edition Laws Whiskey House Barrel-Aged version) and SKO Buffalo Gold, an updated version of Buffalo Gold earmarked for Colorado distribution only.

The brand re-launch will also feature the debut of an entirely new entry in Bubbly by Nature, an innovative fusion of styles that aims to fill the white space between an IPA, Lager, and Hard Seltzer.

Tristan Chan, Founder of the Porch Collective.

It’s been just over a year since Boulder Beer Co. closed its doors (I wrote this memorial for Boulder Weekly last January). Frankly, it was a surprise. Boulder Beer was the foundation of the Colorado’s craft beer movement, and though it hadn’t been cutting edge, it remained a cornerstone of Boulder’s cultural relevancy. It was the first brewery erected in the county since Prohibition. The brewers who cut their teeth working the bottling line and the brewhouse on Wilderness Place went on to start the Overland Stage Stop in Longmont, help out the burgeoning Avery Brewing Co., found Sanitas Brewing Company. When Boulder Weekly tasked me with covering every brewery in the county, I started at Boulder Beer. A little more than a year later, I concluded the tour with a visit to Boulder Beer on Walnut, the then newly-rebranded brewpub formerly known as Walnut Brewing. A year later, Boulder Beer rebranded the whole company to attract new drinkers and reinvigorate their base. And then, in 2019, they became the first craft brewery to make it 40 years. One year later, they were on mothballs.

Boulder Brewing circa 1984. Photo courtesy of Boulder Beer Co.

Who knows what’s in store for Boulder Beer Redux, but one thing is for sure: They won’t have to blaze any trails to do it. When Randolph Ware and David Hummer started Boulder Beer back in 1979, virtually nothing they needed to function as a brewery existed on the micro-scale. Everything had to be built and configured. To say nothing of the permits and licenses they had to acquire:

“We decided that we would build a one-thousand-square-foot building with an attic, a main floor and a cellar,” Ware said. The building would mimic the three-story, gravity-fed system of English breweries, with the grinder in the attic and fermenters in the cellar, “before they had all the modern convenience of electricity.”

It would cost roughly $25,000, not to mention more paperwork and a building permit—something Boulder County could easily deny—grinding everything to halt before it even got going. “If we go into Boulder County and say, ‘We want to build a brewery,’ they’re going to say, ‘No. Can’t do that, nobody’s ever done that,’” Ware explained. “If we go in and ask permission to do this, it’s going to threaten them, and they’re probably not going to have the creativity or inclination to approve it, so let’s just build it,” Ware told his partners in crime. “We’ll have to catch up later with the law.”

It helped that they had a federal and state license, which granted them some amount of legitimacy. But after Nelson built the new brewery, there was another hurdle to clear: if they were going to sell beer commercially, they had to get Boulder County Health’s approval. And with no building permit, there would be no approval from Boulder County Health.

“They shut us down,” Ware said.

So, Ware met with the head of the Boulder County Planning Board.

“What do we do?” Ware asked. “We got the building. We got the license. We got this; we got that.

“If they could have just said, ‘No,’ that would have solved their problem—if we hadn’t built the building. But the building was there. What were they going to do with the building? Are they going to force us to tear it down? Or condemn it? What are they going to do? They have to do something.…So, it became the type of problem that couldn’t just disappear by saying, ‘No.’

The planning board’s answer to Ware: grease the wheels. Ware hired a recently retired committee member, paid him for six months—“I don’t know what he did”—and at the end of the six months, the head of the planning board came back and gave Ware the OK. As the head of the planning board signed the paperwork, he told Ware, “You know, Stick, if you’d come in here and asked me if I would approve building a brewery, I never would have let you do it.” If Ware wasn’t smiling on the outside, he certainly was on the inside.

On July 4, 1980, the Boulder Brewing Company delivered its first case of Boulder Beer to the Gold Hill Inn—a rustic fine dining restaurant overlooking Boulder Valley. Colorado’s craft beer movement had officially begun.

Boulder County Beer: A Refreshing History, Goat Shed Revival
The 1981 American Homebrewers Association National Homebrewers Conference post-conference gathering at the original Boulder Brewing Company. Front Row (left to right): Michael Jackson, Otto Zavatone and Fred Eckhardt. Second Row (left to right): Charlie Papazian, Al Nelson, Al Andrews and Tom Burns. Back Row (left to right): Steve Gering and Lee Damkoehler. Photo by Weldon Gregg, courtesy Boulder Beer Co.

For more on the early days of Boulder’s craft beer renaissance, pick up Boulder County Beer wherever fine books are sold.

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