And the Colorado gold rush
By Maggie Magoffin
With Central City’s Annual Beer Fest fast approaching, I thought it might be interesting to research when the sweet golden brew first quenched the thirst of Coloradoans, particularly those in Gilpin County. I didn’t have to look much farther than my bookshelf to find Dave Thomas’s book Of Mines and Beer, which has a wealth of information about Colorado mining history and beer brewing in Colorado.
Although Native people throughout the Rocky Mountain region enjoyed indigenous fermented beverages resembling beer long before Euro-American settlers appeared, beer as we know it today arrived in the Rocky Mountains with the earliest Argonauts of the Colorado Gold Rush.
Between 1859 and 1898, thirteen different breweries made beer for thousands of thirsty miners in the “Pointylands,” named for its 7,000 to 13,000 feet elevation.
Several Gilpin County breweries pre-date the much larger and more well-known Adolph Coors Brewery downstream in Golden by more than ten years. Brewing began in Central City and Black Hawk in 1862, their heyday being between 1865 and 1875 when six or seven breweries operated simultaneously in the two mining towns.
Earlier yet than the breweries in Gilpin County was the Rocky Mountain Brewery in Denver, established in 1859 by Frederick Salomon and Charles Tascher.
As the story goes, Frederick Salomon was operating a mercantile store with his brother in Las Vegas, Mexico. Early in 1859 Salomon was in St. Louis purchasing stock for his trading post when he heard news of the gold strike along the South Platte River in Colorado.
The 29-year-old Polish immigrant quickly decided his future was with the hopeful miners flocking to the Rocky Mountains, and he teamed up with Joseph Doyle, a trader who had been operating along the Arkansas River Valley. In the summer of 1859, Salomon headed West with a large wagon train of supplies and set up shop in the town of Auraria under the name of J.B. Doyle & Co.
Meanwhile, from the other side of Cherry Creek, from his own mercantile in Denver City, John Good watched Salomon set up his business. Riding an ox cart loaded with supplies to sell to miners on their way to the gold diggings, the 24-year-old immigrant from Alsace-Lorraine arrived one month before Salomon.
In 1859, Denver and Auraria were developing into the main supply depot for the mining camps scattered throughout the mountains to the West. A growing community of businessmen and women offered food, preserves, equipment, clothing, lodging, entertainment and Taos lightning whiskey. It was nearly everything a person could hope to find hundreds of miles from the nearest major city.
Due to the bulky and heavy transport, with lower profit margins than more concentrated spirits, and being likely to spoil in transport, beer was best produced locally. Salomon and Good saw the market for the golden brew, and by the end of 1859, Salomon partnered with Charles Tascher and opened the Rocky Mountain Brewery.
By late November, the editor of the Rocky Mountain News thanked the brewers in print for the gift of a huge bottle of the first ever of the Germanic beverage to be brewed in the Territory of Jefferson, which would soon be available to the public.
Two weeks later, the brewers delivered a keg to the newspaper office, and the editor pronounced it “the best we ever tasted.” A week after that, a notice ran that beer would be for sale that weekend. Orders could be place at J.B. Doyle & Co. One month after opening, plans were announced to build a beer cellar across the South Platte in Highland.
Beer requires barley, hops, yeast, and water; ingredients not readily available in a raw boomtown in the middle of nowhere. But, according to one historian, Good brought the first hops to Denver in his ox cart and sold them to Salomon. Where Salomon and Tascher found a large quantity of yeast is unrecorded. However, barley was easily available and the South Platte provided the water.
In the spring of 1860, Tascher left the partnership and John Good and Charles Endlich joined Salomon as proprietors. One year later, Salomon left the business and the following year Good and Endlich opened satellite breweries in several mining camps south of Denver. Endlich died in 1864. Good continued to run the brewery until 1871, when he sold it to his brewmaster, Philip Zang, the first professional brewmaster involved with the Rocky Mountain Brewery.
Good later got back into the beer business when, as a banker and real estate investor, he foreclosed on a brewery and rechristened it the Tivoli. One of the few breweries in Colorado to survive prohibition.
Next time you partake of one of Colorado’s famous beers, look deeply into that brew and you may catch of glimpse of the Centennial State’s golden past.
From Maggie: Hopefully, you will partake at the Annual Central City Beer Fest on Saturday, August 22nd, and take a few minutes to stop by to visit with me under the canopy at the corner of Main and Gregory Street. I will be signing copies of books 1 and 2 of my Misadventures of the Cholua Brothers series, Dead Man Walking and Pistols and Petticoats. As a special treat, Don Vaughn will have on display Peter McFarland’s 1906 Elmore, the first automobile to arrive in Central City. This will be the first time in over thirty years McFarland’s car has been presented for public view. Don has spent over ten years fully restoring the automobile, and you won’t want to miss this rare opportunity to view the vehicle.
I’m still looking for stories for my column and I’d love to hear yours. You may contact me at 303-881-3321 or email me at Maggie@maggiempublications.com.