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Brewed In the Flood


Every fall, folks from around the world flock to two major cities to take part in world famous celebrations: beer drinking. Here in Denver we host the Great American Beer Festival, and over in Munich, Germany there’s a little event known as Oktoberfest. Oft forgotten in the mix of brats, pretzels and beers are the 200-year-old festival’s true origins. Planned in honor of the 1810 wedding between Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen on Theresas’ fields, the festivities were an open invitation to all the people of Munich to celebrate love, family and community, helping forge early Bavarian culture.

Though we’re separated by some 5,200 miles, it seems the people of Colorado share much of that same appreciation of community, camaraderie and beer. And though the state is considerably younger in institution than Bavaria, we’ve seen an assorted mix of pioneers, transplants and vagabonds come together over the years to create a great deal of growth and development, from mining to tech startups to craft breweries. When many in the state geared up to celebrate the gorgeousness of fall by traveling the very canyons and highways that mark that hard-fought development, we quickly found ourselves battling the elements in an effort to preserve the very integrity of towns and cities people had worked so hard to build.

Of the many unfortunate towns to have been caught in the so-called 100-year flood, one of the hardest hit towns was Lyons. Covering only 1.2 square miles, and the home to some 2000 residents, Lyons became a household name after a week’s worth of national news coverage. For those passionate about craft beer, however, Lyons has been a well-known name for some time now due to its claim to fame as the home to the original Oskar Blues Brewery. Like so many businesses in the area, no measure of age or worth mattered against the onslaught of water flooding from the St. Vrain Creek. Luckily, brewery equipment is pretty sturdy and all of the stainless steel tanks acted as a safeguard for the beer fermenting inside. As did brewer Jason Buehler.

In the true spirit of Colorado craft beer, Jason made his way through the disaster area and into the brewery as soon as the National Guard would allow him through—five days after the flooding started. “At that point you put your limitations aside and attempt to take care of your family and a product you’ve put a great deal of work and pride into,” Jason said.  In keeping with the season, one of the beers Jason was hoping to rescue was an Oktoberfest lager, a fan favorite scheduled to be tapped just two weeks later at an Oktoberfest celebration.

With zero power, Jason was unable to control the temperatures of the fermenting tanks. In a stroke of good luck, many of the tanks’ temps were near where they needed to be, but seeing as beer is a living product (and an extremely finicky one at that), Jason was still in a race against the clock. The challenge then was to find a way to filter and keg the beer – and clean the fermenters – in a brewery without any electricity, water or draining capabilities. Imagine trying to clean a full sink’s worth of dishes without any lights, using gallon jugs of cold water to wash and rinse everything but not having the ability to let any of the water go down the drain – then, just to keep it fun, multiply your water usage by 250 percent. MacGyvering his way through obstacles, that’s exactly what Jason was able to do, transporting clean, cold water in 250 gallon totes from the Oskar Blues Longmont location up to Lyons.

Once there, and with the help of some propane and his trusty generator, he would pump the water into what empty tanks were available, then heat what water he needed on what could only be described as an advanced homebrew system; then – once the cleaning cycles were over – pump what dirty, used water was created back into the totes for a zero-drop regimen in an already saturated building. This process helped to create a clean and sanitary environment in which Jason was able to empty every single tank before shutting the brewery down for an indefinite length of time – a proud but sobering time for a man who’s spent that last year-and-a-half of his life trying to brew world-class beers in what many considered an idyllic Colorado town. “We’re taking the opportunity of downtime to make improvements in the Lyons brewery,” says Jason,“and when we can open, things will be even better than before the floods.”

It’s a simple reminder of the fragile relationship between man and nature in a state known both for its entrepreneurial focus and connection to the outdoors. There’s no question that the reverberations from the floods will have a long-lasting impact on the people, landscape and economy of Colorado, but we as proud friends and neighbors can undoubtedly take pride in our powerful sense of strength and resolve – and love of craft beer. “The first tapping of the Oktoberfest happened in Longmont and it brought in a pretty solid crowd, even with a lot of the town still recovering” Jason said, before adding, “Actually, my dad’s in town to help rebuild the flooded basement of my house,” Jason said, “and the first beer we drank together was the Oktoberfest.” Just a glass of beer, it’s also a symbol of family and of community, and of a shared experience a long time in the making.

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