The current craze for craft beer in Colorado (“the Napa Valley of beer”) has its roots in the 1850s. Even before there was a Colorado there was locally produced beer.
The “Beer Here: Brewing in the New West” exhibition at the History Colorado Center, chronicles the intertwined histories of Colorado and beer. Sections on beer and the mining industry, Prohibition (“Drinking leads to neglect of duty, moral degradation and crime,” warned its proponents), and the meteoric rise of the craft-beer industry engage visitors.
Since the beginning, beer has been an economic engine in Colorado. By 1900, Denver had nine breweries and 478 saloons, according to historian Tom Noel. There was Coors, of course, but there were also long-gone names, including Union, Neef, Zang, Milwaukee, and Tivoli.
“This exhibit is more than a history of the brewing industry, “ lead developer Sam Bock—it’s his real name—said in a news release. “It is a history of Colorado told over a few beers.”
The exhibit includes early bottles, a re–creation of an early saloon complete with spittoons, posters, and interior photographs of frontier saloons (including the wonderfully named Holy Moly). Saloons were more than places to hoist a refreshing beverage. They also served as meeting halls, post offices, banks, and even churches. There’s also a re-creation of the kitchen of Boulder’s Charlie Papazian, founder of the Great American Beer Festival, who is credited with launching the craft-beer revolution in the 1980s. 1950s magazine advertisements proclaim, “Any time’s a good time for beer.” A clever feature is Pints Peak, a collection of 357 glasses from Colorado breweries which covers almost an entire wall. Count how many you’ve been to.
Coors Brewing Co. and Ball Corp. cosponsored the exhibit and many of the items in the exhibit are from the Coors collection. Some items have never been publicly displayed before, including Adolph Coors’s hand-drawn label for its first bottles. While Coors is a sponsor, said Jason Hanson, History Colorado chief creative director, it had “no editorial control. (But) you can’t talk about beer in Colorado without Coors.” There’s even a look at the famous boycott of Coors in the 1960s.
The state’s love affair with beer is ongoing. Colorado Public Radio reported recently that the state taxed 9.8 million gallons of beer sales in January, 1.6 million more than January 2018. Museum staff shares this enthusiasm: they’re growing hops on the south side of the building and visitors can stop by a bar near the exhibit to sample some of the state’s current offerings. Plus, the museum will host a Historic Styles Brewfest, featuring 25 Colorado breweries, on July 20.
“Beer Here” at the History Colorado Center, 1200 Broadway, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day) through Aug. 9, 2020. More information is available at historycoloradocenter.org.
Dick Kreck, also known as “Mr. Beer” on his license plate, covered beer-related issues for The Denver Post for twenty years. He still enjoys a pint or two.