As craft brewers have come of age, little did the world know that their full flavored craft beers would generate such passion and excitement. Today is a great time to be a beer lover, and as a nation, we now have more beer styles and beer brands to choose from than any other market in the world. This was not always the case if you look at the History of Beer in the US prior to 1980. Remember, when you support your local brewery, you are supporting the community and culture of craft brewing wherever you are.
What is most exciting is that today’s craft brewers are often viewed as local personalities who practice their art with authentic intentions, and their beers are the expression of their individual passion and drive to make the best beer in the world. The best brewers in America are more accomplished than they are famous. Gordon Knight was one of those.
Knight, 52, died on July 30th, 2002 after his helicopter crashed while he was fighting the Big Elk Meadows forest fire just outside of Oskar Blues Brewery’s hometown of Lyons, Colorado. Knight, flying a 32-year-old French helicopter, was dropping water on hot spots in the 4,400-acre blaze for the Boulder Country fire department.
Unless you drank beer along Colorado’s Front Range in the 1990s you probably never tasted one of Knight’s beers. If you did, then you likely remember them well. Knight won Great American Beer Festival gold medals at three breweries: High Country Brewery in 1993, Twisted Pine Brewing Co. in 1996 and Wolf Tongue Brewery in 1998.
Each of the champion beers was very different than the others, but they shared one thing in common — all were made on the same 5-hecoliter (about 4 1/2 barrels) system that followed Knight from brewery to brewery. He first acquired it used from Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan, who used it themselves to found New Belgium Brewing Co. in Fort Collins.
Knight bought the system in 1993 to start High Country in Boulder, Colo. In 1994, High Country moved to Estes Park and became a brewpub called Estes Park Brewery, when Knight went into business with a local restaurateur. When Estes Park expanded, the brew house was sold to Peak to Peak Brewing.
Oskar Blues founder Dale Katechis met Gordon Knight for the first time riding his bike down the alley outside of High Country brewery from his day job at Madden Bike Panniers before heading to work at the Old Chicago. Dale remembers his thoughts of an “interesting & modest human”. It was an introduction and inspiration that would later create a tribute beer to Gordon in the dry-hopped G’Knight Imperial Red.
Knight left Estes Park in 1995 to start Twisted Pine, back in Boulder. “Estes Park got too big; he didn’t want that,” said Jim Parker, who was Knight’s partner at Wolf Tongue (since closed). “Gordon likes to make beer; the rest of the stuff he doesn’t really care about. The startup is what really turns him on.”
In 1997, Twisted Pine merged with Peak to Peak, reuniting Knight with his first brew house. He left Twisted Pine to move up Boulder Canyon to Nederland and open Wolf Tongue in June 1997. Wolf Tongue captured gold in the GABF’s Brown Porter category for Coffee Porter in 1998, Twisted Pine first in American Amber for Twisted Amber in 1996, and High Country grabbed gold for Renegade Red, India pale ale, in 1993.
Knight was a Nebraska native who earned a Purple Heart as an Army helicopter pilot in Vietnam. He moved to Boulder in 1988, and soon turned from home brewing to professional brewing. He also worked as a professional helicopter pilot, most often in firefighting. He was a hands on individual, a modest perfectionist.
Just a few days before his Wolf Tongue beer won the gold medal in 1998 a visitor to the brewery asked him if he’d be at GABF that weekend. “I don’t think so — I’ll be flying,” he said. His voice was matter-of-fact, but that was the norm.
We’re toasting craft beer pioneers like Gordon Knight each & every day as we hoist a can of G’Knight Imperial Red. “Gordon Knight inspired all of us with the passion he brought to life, G’Knight is a fitting tribute to that spirit.” Says Oskar Blues founder Dale Katechis. As the can says: “If you knew the man behind this liquid tribute, this beer needs no explanation. If you didn’t we’re sorry.”
A toast to www.realbeer.com