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September 18, 2013
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Powder Keg: Beer and Beards

Just as the goatee is the preferred facial hair for the hipster barista, so is the full-on beard the go-to look for many craft brewmasters.

So what is it about beards and beer? Why do so many brewers decide on this look? We Powder Keg writers had a few theories of our own — maybe the brewmasters are too busy creating new beers to bother with such trivial things as trimming and shaving. Maybe their beards are like a mean girl’s hair and store secrets. Maybe they are all part of an underground cult of Ninkasi, the ancient Sumerian goddess of beer.

Several of Summit County’s own brewmasters cultivate facial hair from time to time, including Alan Simons at the Backcountry Brewery and Cory Forster from the Dillon Dam Brewery.

Jimmy Walker, head beer man over at the Breckenridge Brewery, offered a little insight into the “beard situation.”

“I think a lot of it comes from the fact that brewers … have a lot of freedom with their facial hair and what they want to do, so they tend to take advantage of that,” he said. “It’s about being creative and expressive, expressing yourself in the beard.”

Creative and expressive certainly do seem to fit the profile of a brewmaster, particularly one in Colorado, where craft beer is king. It’s a brewmaster’s job to step out of the box, taking tried-and-true methods and turning them on their heads, experimenting until they come up with things such as chili stout and mango ale. And after trying out a variety of styles, the beer enthusiast couldn’t care less whether the brewmaster has a beard, a moustache or a mullet.

Walker admits to growing a beard for the winter, a common practice up in the High Country, and says it has little to do with his brewing career. In fact, he said he likes to turn the “beard stereotype” on its head and show up (relatively) clean-shaven most of the time. It’s the next step of the cycle — a few people wear beards because they’re quirky and weird; it becomes popular so lots of people wear beards in order to appear quirky and weird; a few people shave their beards in order to be viewed as quirky and not mainstream — and around and around it goes. The good part is that, either way, the beer drinkers win.

Today, the brewmaster beard has evolved far beyond just a fashion statement. The most extreme case we’ve heard of occurred at Rogue Ales in Oregon. It’s not unusual for brewmasters to harvest wild yeasts to use in their brews, at least it wasn’t before yeast strains came in handy little packets in the mail. The composition of yeast strains used is often a secret, handed down from brewer to brewer, and is not to be shared, even in friendly conversation, with others. Well, it turns out that Rogue brewmaster John Maier actually does use his beard for secrets and storage. Somehow — we’re a little unclear on how exactly — it was discovered that after 30 years of working in a brewery, a completely new yeast strain had started growing in Maier’s beard. Rogue — already known for quirky beers such as Voodoo Bacon Maple Ale — decided it would create a beer using the beard yeast strain. They called it Beard Beer.

So what does the Beard Beer taste like? The folks at Rogue Ale simply state on their website, “Try it. We think you’ll be surprised.” Definitely a novelty item, and one that can always be chased with a swig of tasty Rogue Dead Guy Ale or bitter Yellow Snow IPA.

So that’s basically the rundown on beer and beards. A lot of brewmasters have them, because they can and because it looks cool. Some brewmasters (ahem, Breckenridge!) don’t have them because they’re one step ahead of cool, or so they claim. And some brewmasters use their beards for marketing and economic purposes, because out West, we use every part of the beard.

“I think a lot of it comes from the fact that brewers … have a lot of freedom with their facial hair and what they want to do, so they tend to take advantage of that,” he said. “It’s about being creative and expressive, expressing yourself in the beard.”


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The Summit Daily Updated Sep 18, 2013 08:36PM Published Oct 25, 2013 04:20PM Copyright 2013 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.