Notes From The Beer Cooler
Ask The Experts
10 Questions with the Brewer
Charlie Berger, Wynkoop Brewing Company
By: Brad Hargrave
1. Wynkoop's offerings are primarily German, English, Czech or Belgian in style. Why such an old world influence?
When the Wynkoop started in 1988, they primarily brewed English cask ales which opened many people's minds at the time that beer could be something other than light lagers. We still keep at least 3 cask ales on at all times, but have recently won some GABF gold medals for our German beers: B3K Schwarzbier and our Wixa Weiss. We do try to make a couple of Belgians throughout the year and our Two Guns Pilsner is a Czech Pils. We are lucky to be able to offer such a diverse range of brews, and we love to push the envelope with crazy American Brews as well!
2. Wynkoop started brewing over 20 years ago, but you did not start widespread Denver distribution until late 2009. Why now?
This place has been and always will be known through Denver as a fantastic Brew Pub. We constantly have a bar full of friendly faces enjoying our classy fare. But we in the brewery wanted to challenge ourselves and raise our profile by getting our beer to our fans who live a little farther away. It is an ambitious project, but we are enjoying it.
3. Why cans instead of bottles?
Cans are the future of Craft Beer! They are a better package for the beer (it stays out of the light and fresher longer), they are more environmentally friendly (100% recyclable and cheap to ship), and they are highly portable (cans can go places glass can't, golf courses, beaches, hiking, etc.). We love bottled beer, but cans are way better. Plus our Colorado consumers are getting past that old myth that canned beer is cheap beer.
4. Canning beer by hand must be a painstaking process. What does a day of canning look like?
A day of canning is pretty repetitive. We are doing it on such a small scale that everything is done by hand. We have three guys who put on some tunes and can some brews. The first guy fills the cans, the next guy seams them, and we have one guy 6packing them. All day. They can get up to about 12 cases an hour when they are cruising.
5. Most of the beers I sell are sold from the brewery where they are made to a distributor who specializes in selling beer to liquor stores. Wynkoop skips this step and self-distributes its beer. What is it like to distribute your own beer?
I love that we self distribute. It often means that the beer on your store shelf has been canned that morning. We never have to rotate the stock of warm beer sitting in the distributor’s warehouse. I get to check in on the stores selling our brews and see customers who pull a 6pk off the shelf. The tough parts are competing with much bigger distributors who can flex some muscle through their economies of scale.
6. Later this summer, Avery plans to jump into the can market by canning four of their brands. Other breweries like Wynkoop, Breckenridge, and Boulder started by canning only their flagship brand. Why not jump in with both feet and offer a full line of Wynkoop cans?
Well I can only speak from our perspective, but there is a huge obstacle for craft breweries who want to can beer. We have to buy our cans from the same manufacturer who produces Dr. Pepper and Coke cans. It takes the Ball Company 2 hours to set up the machine to print our cans, and 45 minutes to actually print the minimum order of 155,000 cans. Since we are filling those one by one, we couldn't justify purchasing 310,000 cans of two brands without first proving that we could handle one brew. But we are ready now and looking forward to it! You should see the square footage that that many empty cans takes up!
7. I think most Denverites are familiar with the Wynkoop flagship, Rail Yard Ale, but your second canned offering, Silverback Pale Ale, is brand new. Can you tell us about the history of this beer and the Mountain Gorilla Conservation Fund it is benefitting?
This beer is an exciting partnership between us and the Mountain Gorilla Conservation Fund. The Mountain Gorilla Conservation Fund (MGCF) is dedicated to the conservation and protection of the highly endangered Mountain Gorillas in Africa, their habitat, and working with the people around the National Parks. We have partnered with them in the past with a Silverback Smoked Porter, but we wanted to can a beer that has a little more mass appeal! Thus we invented a Pale Ale, brewed with an African spice, Grains of Paradise. That's the "secret" ingredient that adds a unique lemon peppery note to this very drinkable American Pale Ale
8. What about the brewing process and ingredients?
Hopheads will appreciate the generous amounts of Centennial hops that we infuse into this beer using our pressurized hopback. The hot wort strips as much of the soluble oils that give beer that floral, citrusy aromatic as possible. The Grains of Paradise are hand ground by our in house gorillas (also known as our brewers) and added in a bag to the whirlpool and to the fermentation tank. It is light in color, heavy in flavor, and huge in aroma.
9. Any idea what will follow Silverback? I know I'd love to see some B3K Schwarzbier cans.
I agree with you. I hope we can continue to see success with this venture and eventually end up with 4 or 5 different beers in cans. But that is way down the road. For now to drink B3K you are going to have to come down to the Pub or head to several of the other establishments who are carrying it on tap (Cherry Cricket, Watercourse Foods, Wazee supper club, Mercury Cafe, and a few others).
10. Does Wynkoop have any plans to expand distribution beyond the greater Denver Metro?
Not anytime soon. We do have a few stores in Boulder and several in south Denver with our beer, but we are doing our best just to keep up with the local demand for our locally made brew. But who knows?
Notes From The Beer Cooler
Ask The Experts
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