The History of Brewing in Gilpin County, Colorado
by Dave Thomas & Buddy Schmalz
Today, there is only one operating brewery in Gilpin County, Colorado. Dostal Alley Brewpub & Casino, located on Main Street in Central City, is celebrating nearly 150 years of the advent of brewing in the “Little Kingdom of Gilpin”. During Colorado’s historic gold and silver rush years from 1859 to the early 1900s as many as fifteen different breweries made beer for thousands of thirsty miners in the “Pointylands.” There were at least five breweries in Central City, six in Black Hawk and three in Nevadaville during the last half of the 19th century. Several Gilpin County breweries pre-date the much larger and more well-known Adolph Coors Brewery down the hill in Golden by more than ten years. The heyday of brewing in Gilpin County was the period between 1864 and 1880 when four to six breweries operated simultaneously. The stone skeleton of one of these, the Rocky Mountain Brewery, also known as the Mack Brothers Brewery, can still be seen about one mile west of Central City’s business district on Eureka Street and was the longest-operating brewery in Gilpin County with a lifespan of thirty-seven years from 1862 to 1898, even surviving a catastrophic fire in June, 1885.
There was no brewing (other than home brewing and moonshine distilling) in Gilpin County for nearly 100 years (1898-1995) due to a combination of mines playing out and driving down the local population, competition from “downstream” breweries and prohibition. Finally Peak to Peak Brewery in mid-county and Dostal Alley Brewpub & Casino in Central City broke the Gilpin County brewing drought in 1995 and 1997, respectively.
Bob Baile brewed Peak to Peak beers from 1995 to 1998 in his mid-county garage behind Roy’s Last Shot Bar & Restaurant (called Pete’s Place back then). He then upgraded his equipment, closed Peak to Peak, moved to Boulder and re-named his brewery Twisted Pine Brewery.
In April, 1997, Bruce and Buddy Schmalz of Central City, attended the Craft Brewers Conference in Seattle, Washington in order to investigate equipment for a small brewing system. They ordered a Specific Mechanical 2-barrel brewing system and began brewing later that year. In June, 2006, in order to keep up with demand, Buddy Schmalz upgraded from 2 to 7 barrels brewing capacity by selling his old brewing equipment to the Blind Pig Brewpub in Champaign, Illinois and buying a 7-barrel system (14 kegs per brew) from the Bottoms Up Brewery of Pinedale, Wyoming.
To honor the old Gilpin County brewing tradition, the Schmalz family named one of their most popular beers after one of the historic Central City brewers. Jacob Mack Brown Ale is a favorite of locals and visitors alike and is the only beer in the world brewed with wild Central City hops, which have grown perennially on local hills, fence lines and walls since F.J. Will, the Mack brothers, William Lehmkuhl, Albert Selak, Henry Hale, J.W. Pitts and other local brewers verbally contracted with homeowners to plant hop vines in their gardens and then harvest, dry and deliver hop cones back to the brewery each August. It is surmised these “home hop gardeners” were either paid in money, beer or the personal satisfaction of participating in creating the “Liquid Art of Beer”.
These happy Humulus lupulus hop vines of unknown varieties have been naturally regenerating for the last 150 years in Gilpin County and surrounding areas. Dostal Alley Brewmaster Buddy Schmalz and Brewer Emeritus Dave Thomas continue this hand-harvesting hops tradition every year. If you would like to help harvest hops this August, or want to discuss 150 years of Gilpin County brewing history over a fresh micro-brewed pint of Jacob Mack Brown Ale, 1874 Smoked Porter, American City Pale Ale, Pub Ale British Bitter, Shafthouse Stout or the latest Brewmaster’s Special anytime, please visit us at Dostal Alley Brewpub & Casino on Main Street in Central City, Colorado.
Gilpin County Breweries: Mack Brewery aka Rocky Mountain Brewery, Mack & Good Brewery, Eureka Gulch Brewery Central City 1862-1898
Union Brewery Black Hawk 1862-1865
Chase Gulch Brewery aka Hale,Alston & Co. Brewery Black Hawk 1862-1865
Nevada Brewery Nevadaville 1864
Exceisior Brewery Black Hawk 1865-1866
Central City Brewery aka City Brewery Central City 1866-1898
Chicago Brewery aka Edwards Brewery Black Hawk Brewery Fourmile Gulch Brewery Black Hawk 1866-1882
Mountain City Brewery Mountain City 1867-1873
Bitzenhofer Brewery Nevadaville 1869-1871
English Ale Brewery Black Hawk 1870-1874
Kirby & Barnes Brewery Black Hawk 1877-1878
Wm. Richards Brewery Central City 1878-1880
Stamm Brewery Central City 1878-1879
Peak to Peak Brewery Mid County 1995-1998
Dostal Alley Brewing Co. Central City 1997-Present