Not even craft beer can escape the adage — everything old is new again.
Picture it: it’s 1992. Wynkoop Brewing Company is in it’s fourth year of small-batch beer making in the heart of downtown Denver (before LoDo was even a thing), Mile High mayordom not even a thought on John Hickenlooper’s mind, and those seasoned brewers we know today are still wet behind the ears, just getting started.
During this period of craft beer making – brewers could be likened to migrant workers. They followed the work and moved freely about the country in pursuit of producing the finest craft ales and lagers.
One Colorado beer in particular, Vail Pale Ale, stitches together the rich history of early on micro-brewing with two rather familiar brewers — Wynkoop’s own Head Brewer John Sims and Denver’s Station 26 Head Brewer Wayne Waananen.
“This beer was first brewed as ‘Solstice Ale’ in spring 1992 at the Hubcap Brewery and Kitchen in Vail.” says Waananen. “I have always drank IPAs. Mostly Ballentine IPA when it could be found. Sierra Nevada offered Celebration Ale as their only IPA and it was only available for Christmas. 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.”
As luck would have it, the beer turned out to be a hit. Waananen says that Michael Jackson (the English craft beer one) even reviewed it in his Pocket Guide to Beer.
“It was entered into GABF for the first time in 1992 as Solstice Ale and it won a gold medal. It did not medal in ’93 but with a name change to Vail Pale Ale it won gold again in 1994. In 1994 some investors in Dallas wanted their own Hubcap, so I was down their for a few months working with the trades and training brewers to make the beers I was making in Vail. I left Hubcap in 1995 to open the Sandlot Brewery at Coors Field. The brewers I trained in Dallas entered Vail Pale Ale in GABF that year, and the recipe again won the gold medal.
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. 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.
The beer itself is a “tribute” to Sierra Nevada Celebration with a few twists. For this batch we used Rahr Pale Ale malt and Crisp Crystal 45. Most IPAs these days do not use crystal malt. The hops used are Cascade and Cenntenial. Not very popular these days but they were close to cutting edge 22 years ago. Another difference was the yeast. Sierra Nevada had their own strain similar to what was used for Ballentine IPA. I used an English strain known as Ringwood that was very popular with brewpubs because it would ferment very fast and then drop out of suspension quickly. If under pitched or under oxygenated, it could easily turn into a diacetyl bomb. It was also dry hopped. Something that was not done very often in the 90’s.”
Wynkoop has played quite an important role in my Brewing career. Their first head brewer, Russ Schrerer was a very good friend of mine. We started one of the first homebrew clubs in Denver and we were teaching advanced homebrewing together at a local homebrew store. I helped out Russ when they were opening Wynkoop by installing their music system and I came up with the recipe and helped brew their first stout. Russ helped get me my first brewing job at Hubcap. The yeast I used at Hubcap first came from Wynkoop. Making Vail Pale Ale at Wynkoop was a lot of fun and a wonderful closing of a circle for my brewing life.”
Wayne and John’s (and their respective teams) collaboration on this throwback pale ale can be experienced firsthand this Saturday, May 26th, as Vail Pale Ale makes it’s triumphant return along with the debut of Malty Tasking an unrelated, but equally tasty, Brown Ale served on Nitro featuring flavorful notes of brownies, chocolate chip cookies and malted milkshakes. Information on this tasting and other free tap release events can be found on Wynkoop’s Facebook page.
A special thanks to Station 26, Wayne Waananen and his team, for it’s part in breathing back life into a Colorado classic.
For more info on Wynkoop Brewing Company, it’s history, brewers and beers click here.