Growing up German-American you deal with a number of cultural misconceptions, as any ethnicity does. The stereotypes are numerous, like the only indigenous music is polka or Kraftwerk, the cuisine is solely comprised of brats and sauer kraut, Germans are as cold and stern as the North Sea, that we’re all blue-eyed and blonde-haired, and don’t even get me started on the whole Nazi thing. Let me just state that yes, there is a whole lot of polka music involved, but that just barely scratches the surface of Germany’s contribution to the arts; some of the best comfort food is schnitzel with spätzle and sweet red cabbage; and I’ve met far more genuinely warm and caring people of German descent than from other, supposedly outgoing cultures. But one stereotype does generally hold true, Germans love their beer, and will seek out the best wherever they are.
Perhaps not since the late nineteenth century has the opening of a new brewery in Denver been as highly anticipated by local German-Americans as that of Prost Brewing Company. Our household was no exception. With a German heritage from both of my parents (on my mother’s side exclusively so), and having lived in and visited the Fatherland, we were hyped and thirsty for the day Prost opened its doors.
The buzz had started well before the brewery was anywhere close to brewing beer. Early media reports on where the brewhouse was purchased, the styles to be brewed, and the fact that Bill Eye, formerly of Dry Dock Brewing, was to be the brewmaster all added up to a beer frenzy for fans of German beer.
Pulled out of Brauerei Hümmer, a small brewery in Bavaria, photo updates of the luscious copper lauter tun and brew kettle enticed as it was dismantled and then slowly made its sojourn from Germany to Denver. And the waiting continued as construction delays wore on and on, due in part to underestimating what it would take to get the 70 barrel brewhouse up and running. That brewing capacity, making it the third largest in Colorado, ensured that the beer would flow eventually, and flow freely without fear of running out prematurely as has been the case with many recent brewery openings. With a capacity like that, Prost has an almost can’t miss business model by using that surplus to contract brew for many of the other local breweries, including Dad and Dudes Breweria, Crooked Stave, and the rise from the ashes Tivoli beers.
A Thursday in late August of 2012 finally saw the doors of the Lower Highlands structure swing wide to welcome in the beer faithful. Opening days at Denver area breweries have become Cecil B. Demille epics, with casts of thousands filling every available nook. The only way to even remotely navigate the crowds is to journey forth from the bar with pints held high in both hands, trying to part the waves of humanity like a barley hopped Moses.
As would be expected, a good number of the patrons filling the Prost taproom that day had some Teutonic connection. Whether of German descent like our family, or having fond memories of Deutschland from either visiting or living there; an exuberant appreciation of that country’s beers pervaded the hall. The serving staff threaded the communal tables and benches, ensuring that a steady stream of the liquid gold met the thirsty in a relatively short time. Just like a beer hall in the Old Country, the titanic tables are shared by friends and strangers alike. Complete strangers quickly became drinking buddies as the taproom filled, and seating grew sparse.
As chance would have it, a Brew Trek follower was seated at our table of old friends and family, with both groups intermingling before the end of the night, quaffing whichever beers tickled our fancy.
We began with a couple of flights for our group, letting the sampling influence our orders of the full sized servings each of us would order later. All of the brews we sipped were very close to style, but with a little something extra, just like the memories you have of a time and place being more vivid than the reality. The Pils, Hefeweizen, Dunkel, and Dunkelweizen offered that night were exceptional, not a one lacking in quality or taste.
The Batch 1 Dunkelweizen tickled my fancy that evening, a slightly hoppy wheat beer, its malty backbone made for a balanced and very drinkable beer. Although most of my orders that night were Batch 1, the Pils endeared itself to my taste as well. Being somewhere between traditional Bavarian and Czech styles, it has become a go to whenever we visit the brewery. Generously hopped, bright, and yet full bodied, it usually caps the end of the night when something a little lighter is in order.
But you could drink the Pils all night long if you wished, especially if you ordered a Maß, the handled, large glass steins that most people associate with German beer drinking. All of the beers are served in authentic glassware appropriate to each style if you order a more reasonable portion. But if you throw caution to the wind and are in the mood to curl up with a huge amount of beer for most of the day or night, you can get most styles served up in a Maß.
It was drinking out of said Maß that inspired us to christen the beer hall with perhaps the first zicke zackes of its existence. The uninitiated thought we were mad as we began the chant, but those in the know quickly chimed in, raising whatever glass their particular beer was in at the end of the extended prost.
No sooner had we set our brews down, wiping the foam mustaches off our grins, when the first official tours of the brewhouse began. The enormous copper brew kettles sit nestled within a tiled platform that gives the impression of permanence and solidity; almost like a shrine to the brewing gods, it fosters an awe that few of its stainless steel counterparts can contend with. And the brass valves, wheels, and gauges of the control panels only heighten the sense that brewing can be an art, in addition to being an industry.
You could see the exuberance for brewing, as well as the relief of finally being open, on head brewer Bill Eye’s face as he elucidated on the fine points of brewing on such a large system. He told me that even though full capacity was 70 barrels, it was much easier, and safer, for him to max out at 60 barrels; which is more than enough for most craft breweries.
We all walked away that night happy and full of cheer. There’s nothing like German beer brewed correctly to put the feeling of all is right with the world into your being. There was no question that we would be back, and be back often, after our first tastings. And our frequent visits since then have proved how right those initial impressions were.
Whether it be for Oktoberfest, the release of their delicious Maibock, celebrating Fathers Day, tasting a Tivoli beer for the first time in decades, or whiling away the time waiting for my scooter at nearby Sportique, every stop in has been enjoyable. And the people associated with Prost make it all that more pleasurable. From Bill’s wife Darlene, one of our favorite servers Janelle whom we first met at Hogshead, to the incomparable Boone that we’ve known from his years at Bristol, all have made us feel welcome and at home.
So if you’re lucky enough to enjoy Prosts outside in the beer garden, or join in the camaraderie of the beer hall, keep an ear out for the zicke zackes, they may be coming from yours truly, and any new friends we’ve made in our latest trip to Denver’s German beer Valhalla.