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Posted: March 25, 2009

Coors brings back the mystique

With Herman Joseph’s Private Reserve, brewer introduces high-end German-style lager

Jay Dedrick

Give the folks at Coors in Golden some credit for understanding the importance of one crucial ingredient in beer.

I don’t mean water; I mean mystique.

In the ’60s and ’70s, Coors Banquet Beer grew into an icon partly because it wasn’t widely distributed. Out-of-state friends and relatives would beg Coloradans to squirrel away a case or two that could be loaded onto a station wagon at the end of the next family vacation. Burt Reynolds and Jerry Reed trucked it across country while smashing a few dozen cars along the way in “Smokey and the Bandit.” Coors gained a lot, obviously, by eventually growing its brands nationally. But one thing lost in the process was mystique. That’s back in a new form with an old name: Herman Joseph’s.

The brewery sold different beers under the brand in the ’80s and ’90s. This latest incarnation is based on a recipe from the ’60s – the 1860s, that is. The super-premium, German-style lager currently is available only in 12-ounce bottles sold at a few dozen Colorado restaurants. You won’t see TV ads or hear radio jingles for it, at least not anytime soon. The makers are relying on word of mouth – mystique.

Coors goes craft

Glenn Knippenberg – Knip to anyone who’s met him – is the Coors vet who serves as president of AC Golden Brewing Co., which is separate from MillerCoors while still operating out of the Golden brewery. That remains the largest single brew house in the world, but Knippenberg and his brewing team occupy a very small corner of this kingdom. While mass-market beers are brewed in several 500-barrel kettles, Herman Joseph’s Private Reserve is crafted a few feet away in 30-barrel kettles, and then ferments in space shared by the big brewery’s research-and-development team.

So this is a craft brewery project inside a giant brewery – except it’s a craft brew that has to share equipment with other projects, meaning Knippenberg can’t brew quite as much as he’d like. “We have more demand than supply right now, and that’s something you have to be happy with in this economy,” he said, adding that he hopes to ramp up production in the fall. If it sold in liquor stores, it would go for about $10 a six-pack, Knippenberg said; that’s comparable to some craft beers and imports. The more affluent drinker who chooses those products is the target market of AC Golden.

Herman Joseph’s may not be for the budget-minded, but there are good reasons for the higher cost, Knippenberg said. The small batches begin with four types of malt and four types of hops. No rice, corn or oats are used to augment the malt, a brewers’ cost-cutting tactic that grew in popularity after the end of Prohibition. The brew spends more time boiling and fermenting than more common lagers and ales, too, meaning it’s tying up production of other products.

Knippenberg, his brewers and anyone else who has a free hand are enlisted to hand-package the beer, too, about once a month. The bottle has a decidedly rich look, with metallic gold accents, embossed name -- even the latitude and longitude coordinates of the brewery are noted on the bottom of each container. The presentation continues on the case box, sealed with an ornate label that must be sliced open by the vendor. Private reserve, indeed.

And how’s the stuff inside? I found it to be terrifically balanced, with hoppy bitterness at the start, and a smooth, malty finish. The deep gold color is one of the prettiest you’ll see in a lager, and the body has a heft you wouldn’t expect in a beer that’s 5 percent alcohol by volume. Definitely worth seeking out – and the easiest way to do that is to check out the restaurant locator on the Herman Joseph’s Web site,

Knippenberg says three other small-batch beers are in development at AC Golden … but that’s all he can say for now. Mystique, you know.

Click here to watch a video about the making of Herman Joseph's.

In other beer news...

When is a tuna sandwich and a beer not just a tuna sandwich and a beer? When it’s on the menu at Boulder’s Flagstaff House. Because that’s where the sandwich boasts ahi tuna carpaccio, terrine of foie gras and extra virgin olive oil -- paired with Avery’s White Rascal Belgian Style White Ale. Wow.

That’s just the first course at Flagstaff’s April 15 beer pairing dinner. For $68 you’ll enjoy five courses from executive chef Mark Monette; Adam Avery, president of the Boulder brewery, pairs each dish with one of his standout beers. For details and reservations, which are required, call 303-442-4640 or click here.

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Readers Respond

Herman Joseph's was the Best Beer I Ever Had. And I've had'em all, all over the world! I look forward to my next trip to Denver to watch my Braves smack the wonderful and charming Rockies - hopefully HJ will be available at Coors Field. Houston Ball By Houston Ball on 2009 05 17
Wow, the Nuggets are back in the playoffs and HJ is back in business. All is right in the universe! Herman Joseph's was my favorite beer during its last run in the 80's. I think I bought the last case after it was cancelled. I look forward to trying the new version. By Steve Baker on 2009 05 14

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