Okay, not really. But who could resist an Almost Famous quote whenever you get the chance to drop one? And while neither of us are Golden Gods per se, we did recently visit Golden, Colorado and had a heavenly time. See what I did there?
The beautiful city of Golden is located just west of Denver in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Like many mountain towns in Colorado, Golden was founded during the gold rush, though you may be surprised to learn that’s not how they got their colorful name. Most sources say that Golden was named for settler Tom Golden, who coincidentally was one of the early miners who panned for –you guessed it, gold — in the Clear Creek valley back in the frontier days. Today there is far less gold panning happening in the city of Golden, though if you know anything about beer at all you may know Golden for a golden-yellow colored beverage that has been brewed in this city since 1873 — Coors beer.
We visited Coors, as well as a few other Golden breweries, on a spur of the moment Sunday drive not too long ago. Since we arrived in the late morning we wandered around Golden’s historic downtown until it was late enough for respectable people like us to start drinking. The city of Golden is quaint and filled with history. 19th-Century building line Washington Avenue making a walk down the street feel like a glimpse into the past. It’s also a wonderful place to pick up old brewery swag and promotional products, as their antique shops are filed with treasures from Coors. We bought an antique stand-up bottle capper for $30! If you don’t care about history or junk stores, there are a plethora of bars and restaurants to visit in downtown Golden. Yes, it’s a cool little town and we could have easily spent the day exploring, but we came for another purpose. It was time to visit the Golden beer powerhouse, Coors.
Technically now known as MillerCoors, the Coors brewery in Golden is the world’s largest single-site brewery and has been pumping out Colorado’s most well-known beer since 1873. I know in the craft beer crowd it may make us unpopular, but we actually like Coors. Say what you will, but when you want an easy-drinking session beer sometimes a Coors or Coors Light just hits the spot. (Does that mean we have to give up our beer geek card?) Plus for the more sophisticated (pinky-up) drinker, Coors offers a few craft-beer-wannabes that are downright okay, such as Blue Moon, Colorado Native and Batch 19. To be clear, we typically pass these beers up at the liquor store, opting for the microbrew and craft beer cooler. However if we’re playing kickball or stocking up for a party, it’s Coors Light all the way. We make no excuses or apologies, so if you don’t like it, BYOB.
Jeff and I had both been on the Coors tour previously, many years earlier, and had fond memories of our experiences. Unfortunately with growth came some changes to the tour that we don’t really embrace. First of all, this is a very popular tourist destination, which means lines and waiting. I think I’ve made in clear in previous posts that I am far too impatient for long lines, so a 30 minute wait in the parking lot for a bus to come take us to the brewery was a bit of a buzz kill. The upside is that when we did get picked up, the bus driver took us through a bit of the downtown district, giving us a mini-tour of Golden on the way to the brewer, making it worth the inconvenience.
The second thing we didn’t like about the tour is that it’s no longer guided by a Coors employees, like it had been in our previous visits. Now they hand you a recorded audio guide when you arrive, and the tour is self-guided. You follow the marked path, and listen at designated spots to a highly produced tour recording that feels about as personal as an infomercial. Now I totally understand why they have to do it this way (see above, tourist destination, large crowds), but to explain why I really hated this, let me just get on my soapbox for a minute…
Back in the good old days you took the Coors tour as part of a group, led by a tour guide who was also a Coors employee. There was human interaction, both with your tour guide and with the other individuals taking the journey with you. Questions could be asked and were answered. You could even decide to tune them out and escape into your own little world, tuning back in when things got interesting to you. In comparison, the recordings were impersonal and isolating. Since the recording can’t answer questions they seem to speak to the lowest common denominator and over simplify everything, making for some long, boring, one-way conversations. Worst of all you listed alone. Sure there were others around you, but there was no connection to them. Everyone listened at their own pace, so there was no witty banter or friendly conversation between tour participants. There were Coors employees placed in spots along the tour route you could talk to if you wanted, but nobody did. (Well, except for the fella pouring samples of fresh Coors beers at the halfway point, that is. He was very popular!) Overall, it felt very lonely and isolated going through the tour with my ear to the speaker, so after about 5 minutes I opted out of listening to the recording. Jeff listened and filled me in with highlights, becoming my own personal tour guide. It was nice, but it wasn’t the same. So there’s my 2-cents. I’m stepping off the soapbox now and getting back to the tour…
The Coors brewery in Golden is massive, impressive, even beautiful at times. However, I don’t want to give a total run-down (plus as I just said I didn’t listen to the tour, so I really can’t.) Instead I’ll just sum it up by saying it was fun to wander aimlessly and (somewhat) unsupervised through this monster of a brewery. You could peer into the brewhouse, which they say is the largest in the world, and look at the canning and bottling lines that produce an insane quantity of beer every week. On the Sunday when we visited it was pretty quiet, but you can imagine this packaging facility really cranks out some beer when it’s in action. The highlight of the tour was the last stop, the Coors Lounge tasting room, where we were able to enjoy 3 glasses of beer from a variety of Coors brands and do a little shopping at the Coors & Company gift shop. If you really want more details on the tour itself, download the Coors Brewery Tour App from the Apple store. I kid you not — you can listen to the whole audio tour and watch videos from the comfort of your own home. You gotta love technology.
Overall, the tour was a good time and totally worth a visit for anyone who is interested in big-brewing or the history of Coors. Sure, it’s a bit less personal and unique as the tours you’d get from a local microbrewery — but doesn’t that really sum up the difference between the big-box brewers and true craft brewers? The larger you get, the less personal you can be with your customers and the more generic your product. It’s the price of success, and it’s why although there is a place in our beer fridge for Coors, we reserve most of the space for the unique brews made by the little guys.
Coors was the biggest, but not the only brewery we visited in Golden. In our next post we’ll tell you about two other great Golden breweries. They may not be as big, but as we’ve learned, bigger isn’t always better.