+ Behind the Beer
Remembering Gordon Knight
February 7, 2019
It was 1993 in Boulder, Colorado. Whitney Houston was at the top of the charts, women were newly allowed to wear pants on the Senate Floor, there were heated debates over advertising in space; and the craft beer industry was on the edge of a revolution. Dale Katechis, new to the area, was biking from his day gig at Madden Mountaineering to Old Chicago where he worked the closing shift, when he smelled something enticing – beer being brewed. Dale, a home-brewer, followed his nose to a storage facility where a man named Gordon Knight was brewing. Dale popped his head in and introduced himself as a home-brewer. He was greeted kindly by Gordon and a friendship was born.
Dale quickly learned that his new friend was not only a brewer, but a pioneer who boldly ventured into brewing big, hoppy, malty beer – a style that defied convention at the time. “Rewind to 1992 or 1993 and that was not a thing,” said Dale. Fruited beers and mild ales were the fashion, and Gordon’s stylistic risks resonated with Dale, who was working on a similar project – a hoppy, malty beer that he referred to jokingly as Dale’s Pale Ale.
Gordon’s skillfully brewed, boundary-pushing beers earned him a rare distinction – he won gold at GABF for a beer at each of the breweries he owned. In an entrepreneurial whirlwind, Gordon started High Country Brewing in Boulder in 1993. A year later High Country moved to Estes Park and become a brewpub called Estes Park Brewery. Gordon left Estes Park in 1995 to start Twisted Pine Brewing in Boulder, which he sold to friend Bob Baile in 1996, merging it with Bob’s Peak to Peak Brewing.
“Gordon is quite the legend in the brewing business here in the Colorado area,” said Bob in a 2011 “Pioneers of Craft Beer” interview by CraftBeerApp. “He started a variety, namely four breweries, and all of these breweries went on to become quite legendary and award-winning.”
In June 1997, Gordon moved to Nederland and opened Wolf Tongue Brewery with a 5-barrel system formerly used by New Belgium Brewing. Dale would later buy that system to start Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons. Some of the original equipment can still be found at Oskar Blues’ Longmont facility. “It’s got a lot of history and good memories and vibes,” said Dale.
Wolf Tongue won gold in GABF’s Brown Porter category for Coffee Porter in 1998, Twisted Pine’s Twisted Amber took gold in the American Amber category in 1996 and Renegade Red IPA by High Country grabbed gold in 1993.
Gordon brewed damn good beer. Personally, he was a man of few words, but impactful ones. He was known as an intense guy. He had earned a Purple Heart as an Army helicopter pilot in Vietnam, where his job was drawing enemy fire. He continued to fly helicopters both as a hobby and to fight fires. In 2002, Gordon died in a helicopter crash while battling the Big Elk Fire in Lyons, Colorado.
Gordon Knight’s legacy lives on in the craft beer world. He was a man who disrupted the industry and paved the way for future brewers to innovate freely. “He was the first person that inspired me, unknowingly, that you can actually do this and make a living doing it,” said Dale. “Bells started going off. He was one of those guys that inspired me like, ‘hey I’m doing it, you can do it.’”
Oskar Blues brewed a tribute beer, fittingly a big, red, sticky double IPA called “Gordon.” After a cease and desist by Gordon Biersch, a figurative middle finger from Dale and an epic name-change party with helicopter rides and tributes to Gordon by those who knew him best, the beer was re-dubbed G’Knight. “We picked the style that he was known for and we brewed a big red beer that, I think, he’d be proud of,” said Dale, motioning to his pint of G’Knight Imperial Red IPA.
At Oskar Blues, we toast craft beer pioneers like Gordon Knight each time we hoist a can of G’Knight Imperial Red. To quote the original Gordon can, “If you knew the man behind this liquid tribute, this beer needs no explanation. If you didn’t, we’re sorry.”