By: Chris Wise
Brian Dunn grew up in a family with a true passion for food and drink, and has turned this passion into his life’s work. He may have taken a detour or two along the way, Dunn seems to have found his path in life when he founded Great Divide Brewing Company in 1994. Before that, Dunn spent five years travelling the world, going to developing countries and helping the inhabitants build farms. During those years, Dunn was able taste and experience beers around the world few have ever heard of, and knew he found his calling in life.
Upon returning stateside, Dunn began home brewing in his basement and working on completing graduate school. After graduating in 1993, Dunn began looking for business opportunities when Denver’s craft beer scene began taking shape. Dunn decided to found his own brewery in Denver’s Ballpark Neighborhood, and after receiving some financial help from friends and family, as well as a loan from the city of Denver, Great Divide Brewing Company was launched in 1994.
Dunn remained the only full-time employee for a while, having to brew, bottle and sell his beer, but the brewery grew quickly as demand grew for Dunn’s unique brew. Having to keep up with the increased demand, Dunn purchased an old dairy processing plant which would greatly increase Great Divide’s brewing capacity. This new brewery has allowed Great Divide to continue growing over the past decade; in 2012, Great Divide produced 32,000 barrels of brew, and in 2013 expects that number to hit 38,000. Within a few years, Great Divide expects they will reach their current facility’s limit of 60,000 barrels, and have begun discussing plans to expand their production.
Looking in the River North area of Denver, Great Divide is weighing the possibility of becoming the city’s largest brewery by dramatically increasing their production; if plans for a new brewery are realized, Great Divide will jump from a capacity of 60,000 barrels to 100,000 barrels immediately, as well as the capacity for up to 250,000 barrels eventually. Great Divide, which is currently home to around 45 full-time employees currently, could employee as many as 29 new employees right away. Plans for the project are still in the very early stages, but for a company with such deep roots in the Denver community, this would only strengthen those roots.
Till the plans for the new brewery are realized, Great Divide encourages patrons to stop by their current taproom to sample their latest brews or take a tour of the brewery, both offered seven days a week. Tours are free to the public, operating on a first-come first-served basis with no reservations (no open-toed shoes, no one under 12 years old and adult supervision for those under 21 as well). At the taproom patrons are encouraged to sample new brews direct from the source or grab a six-pack, growler or even keg of your favorite Great Divide brew. Great Divide encourages their customers to “Join us for a beer…in downtown Denver. We do it because we love it—come see how.” Not wanting their customers outside of the Denver area to feel left-out, Great Divide has tried to make their presence felt around the country by hosting numerous events around the country. (A calendar of events Great Divide hosts can be found under the events section of their webpage.)
Great Divide is so eager to spread the word about their beer not only because they are supremely confident and proud in their product, but also take pride in how they produce this outstanding product. According to Great Divide, they brew operate under one simple philosophy: “Let’s do our part for the environment and run our business responsibly.” Great Divide is so proud of their environmental practices, they list them online for everyone to see. Not only does Great Divide recycle 100% of the glass, cardboard and grain they use, they use less water than most other breweries in their process, and focus on producing draft beers because of the conservation of materials associated with draft kegs. It’s refreshing in a corporate world dominated by profit for a company to admit “Our bottom line isn’t our only guiding principle.”
Great Divide’s continued excellence in brewing has allowed the company to become of the most highly regarded in America. Their different beers have landed Great Divide an impressive 18 Great American Beer Festival medals and 5 World Beer Cup awards. As a company, Great Divide has been named both “Top Brewer in Colorado” and 12th on their list of “Best Brewers in the World” by Ratebeer.com, and 7th on BeerAdvocate’s list of “All-time Top Breweries on Planet Earth.” Great Divide has managed to become one of America’s top breweries because of the tasty brews they’re known for producing and the high standard they hold for themselves.
Known for producing big, bold brews that are long on flavor and complexity, Great Divide’s brews are what set the company apart from the tasteless, faceless varieties of beer that dominate the market. Great Divide has a wide variety of brews to accommodate the wide variety of tastes among beer drinkers. Their Hercules Double IPA comes in at a whopping 10% ABV and has been named #48 on BeerAdvocate’s “Top 100 Beers on Planet Earth,” while their new release Lasso IPA is a much more tame 5% ABV. Great Divide offers three different seasonal varieties, which are rotated four times a year, and are known for their seasonal line of Yeti Imperial Stouts. Offered as the year round variety, Great Divide’s Yeti Imperial Stout is the recipe that kicked off the incredibly popular Yeti line of brews.
For a company that has experienced great success in their relatively short run, Great Divide has not lost sight of their goal: producing great tasting, full-bodied beers while trying to repay and respect the community that has allowed them to flourish. Poised to expand their influence over the craft beer world even further over the next few years, Great Divide is a brewery to keep your eye on. Whether you prefer the big, bold tastes of their Yeti line or less intense but still-complex flavors of their other brews, Great Divide has something to offer all fans of great beer.
Yeti Imperial Stout
Coming in at 9.5% ABV, their flagship of the Yeti line is an onslaught of the senses. It starts with big, roasty malt flavor that gives way to rich caramel and toffee notes. This recipe gets its bold hop character from and enormous quantity of American hops. Coming in at a hefty 75 IBUs, this stout has won the silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival twice for best Imperial Stout, and rates a perfect 100 on RateBeer.com.
Espresso Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout (January-March)
A generous infusion of Denver’s own Pablo’s espresso adds yet another layer of complexity to this beer, combining with the vanilla oak character, intense roasty maltiness and bold hop profile to create a whole new breed of magical creature. It’s official: You can now have Yeti with breakfast. With a 9.5% ABV and another perfect 100 on RateBeer.com, this Yeti was named #43 on RateBeer.com’s list of “Top 50 Beers in the World” in 2013.
Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout (April-June)
Another revered incarnation of Great Divide’s legendary Yeti line, they toned down the hops a bit to allow coco nibs to contribute some pleasing bitterness, while vanilla notes from the oak combine with the cocoa to create an aroma and flavor akin to a gourmet chocolate bar. A dash of cayenne keeps things lively, adding just bit of heat to the finish. This Yeti incarnation comes in at 9.5% ABV, and was awarded the Gold Medal at the 2013 Great American Beer Festival in their Chocolate Beer competition and won their Yeti line its third perfect 100 rating on RateBeer.com in a row.
Oatmeal Yeti Imperial Stout (July-September)
This big, bold and dark variety of the Yeti line has all the familiar tastes of a delicious oatmeal cookie; The addition of rolled oats softens Yeti’s notoriously roasty backbone and the small amount of raisins added in the brew kettle create a unique dark fruit character. At 9.5% ABV, this Yeti is just as strong and just as admired as those that came before it, pulling in a 99 rating on RateBeer.com, one point shy of another perfect rating.
Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout (October-December)
The sophisticated sibling of the mainstay Yeti Imperial Stout, this Yeti may be from the same clan as the original, but has a personality all its own. Oak aging gives this 9.5% ABV brew a subtle vanilla character, rounding out the Yeti’s intense roastiness and huge hoppy nature. This tamer version of their wild Yeti line earned the #29 spot on BeerAdvocate’s “Top 100 Beers on Planet Earth” list and another perfect 100 rating on RateBeer.com.
Hibernation Ale (October-December)
Great Divide’s celebrated winter tradition since 1995, this robust, dry-hopped ale has a malty richness balanced with a complex hop profile and hearty, warming character. Coming in at 8.7% ABV, Hibernation Ale was awarded Gold Medal at the 1997 Great American Beer Festival in the Strong Ale/English-Style Old Ale category, Silver Medal in the same category at the 1998 World Beer Cup, and a 98 rating on RateBeer.com
Great Divide Beers are proudly distributed locally by Galli Beer Distributing Company.