It really didn’t take long for Denver to become a beer town. Incorporated in 1861, it got its first brewery 3 years earlier in 1859, founded by German entrepreneurs looking to quench the thirst of Rocky Mountain gold miners. But it was 7 years later (and literally a block away) that a German-born man named Mortiz Sigi built his brewhouse in 1866. The brewery he built remains today as one of only 12 historical buildings remaining in Denver. To no surprise, business ownership in gold-rush-era frontier times changed hands frequently. What was once Sigi’s Brewery became The Colorado Brewery became Milwaukee Brewery, and would settle to become Tivoli brewery in 1900.
One of the few breweries to survive prohibition by producing near-beer, Tivoli Brewery would bounce back to produce about 150,000 barrels/yr in the 1950′s, becoming one of the big power players in American Beer (for perspective, Stone Brewing Company sold 149,000 barrels in 2011). Then, catastrophe. The nearby Platte River flooded in 1965, destroying much of the brewery’s inventory and records. Then a crippling labor strike began the next year. The owners of Tivoli Brewery were forced to close their doors in 1969, 103 years after the first batch was brewed there. The building itself however remained part of the community, protected by the National Registry of Historical Places. Fast forward to 1994 when Tivoli reopened as the student center for the Auraria campus, serving three colleges. In addition to student services, the complex incorporates shops, restaurants and a food court.
Fast forward again to August 2012. Bill Eye, formerly of Dry Dock Brewing Co. in Aurora, opens Prost Brewing Co. about 2 miles north of the Tivoli building. Focusing on traditional German beers, Prost started with a German Pilsener, a Hefeweizen, and a Dunkelweisen, with a 70bbl 40-year-old copper brewhouse acquired from a closed brewery in Bamberg Germany. Most new breweries start with 15bbl brewhouses if they’re ambitious, but Eye’s 70bbl setup allows him to contract brew for other Denver-area startups, like Crooked Stave and Dad & Dudes. With all that extra brewspace Prost can afford to be on several accounts throughout the city, which Eye was fulfilling even before he was allowed to open his taproom.
Prost Brewing’s love of old German styles and old-world brewing techniques attracted the attention of Corey Marshall, owner of the Tivoli trademark (as well as other names from Denver’s 153 year brewing past, including Sigi’s), who collaborated with Eye on recreating the Tivoli Brewery flagship as closely as they could. The result is a 5.1% helles that, although may not be a mirror copy of the original recipe due to non-available ingredients and the natural evolution of recipes over time, tastes darn close enough to make old fans happy.
“I want to bring back something that this culture lost,” Marshall told Westword magazine. “And I think people will want to drink it. There are those who know the history or have been in touch with it, either through their own families here in Colorado or because they like the story. And there are those who don’t know the history yet but who will find it fascinating.” You can find Tivoli Helles on tap at Prost Brewing, or anywhere around Denver soon enough; 25 accounts are planned for by the end of the year, with a goal of 150 accounts before long, primarily focusing around bars in or around historical buildings.
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