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Left Hand Brewery Tour

When two college buddies, Eric Wallace and Dick Doore, founded the fledgling Left Hand Brewing Company in 1993 in Longmont, Colo., they were living in the nearby town of Niwot.
Left Hand Brewing Company Logo

The tiny community is named for Chief Niwot, the peaceful leader of the Southern Arapahoe tribe that inhabited the area when prospectors arrived in the mid-1800’s in search of gold. In the Southern Arapahoe dialect, Niwot means “left hand.”

The treasure hunters continued west into the nearby mountains seeking the mother lode, but Left Hand Brewing has struck gold (and silver and bronze) numerous times in its 17-year history. In 2009, Left Hand’s Smokejumper Smoked Imperial Porter won the gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival. The previous year, the brewery’s silky-smooth Milk Stout was awarded gold at the prestigious World Beer Cup competition.

“Our purpose is to brew beer that we’re interested in drinking and, hopefully, that other people are interested in drinking, too,” explained Wallace, who now holds the title of president. (Doore, the other co-founder, is no longer active in the business.) There’s little question that the brewery’s eclectic collection of ales, lagers and wheat beers have captured the interest of craft beer enthusiasts both locally and in more distant locales. Left Hand beers can be found in 27 states and a handful of European countries.

The brewery and tasting room reside in a mostly industrial section of Longmont a dozen miles northeast of Boulder and about 40 miles from downtown Denver. From the parking lot, a large grain silo is visible towering over the facility. On its side is painted the brewery’s distinctive logo – a red hand with fingers spread over a white circular background.

The Left Hand brewery is a popular stop for visitors on explorations of the area’s many brewpubs and microbreweries. Tours originate in the tasting room, where participants can select a beer from the pub’s 20 taps to bring along on the 30-minute excursion. Since tours are offered on weekends, when activity in the brewery is minimal, the experience is relaxed and unhurried, if a bit eerily quiet.

The first stop is the brewhouse, where the various functions of the 60-barrel JVNW brewing system are explained. Next door is the cellar containing rows of imposing stainless steel tanks. Within their double-jacketed walls, batches as large as 5,600 gallons are transformed from sweet wort into Sawtooth Ale, Polestar Pilsner and the numerous other beers that make up Left Hand’s extensive portfolio. An occasional burp from a blow-off hose hints of the magic of fermentation taking place within the stoic vessels. Tours conclude in the packaging area, home to the bottling line and keg filler. While the production areas are a study in engineering efficiency, discovering the soul of Left Hand requires a session in the tasting room. Modest in size and simple in décor, the tasting room is a local’s hangout in the best sense of the term.


A tour group at Left Hand pausing for a toast, with Josh Goldberg, the head bartender, at right (photo by Dan Rabin).


 

From a seat at the stone bar, it quickly becomes apparent that the majority of customers are regular patrons. Josh Goldberg, Left Hand’s gregarious head bartender, stays in constant motion shaking hands with new arrivals and greeting people by their first names as he fills glasses and growlers with the brewery’s nine regular beers and revolving selection of seasonals.

“We try to know everyone that comes in,” said Goldberg on a recent visit. “We’re a mature, welcoming environment where people can come, drink a beer, talk about beer if they want, or chat with a friend if they want. If you don’t bring a friend with you, the bartender will probably become your friend.”

When the tasting room reaches capacity – a common occurrence – the crowd spills into the adjacent “Malt Room,” which is also the scene of impromptu acoustic jam sessions and weekend performances featuring local musicians. During mild, sunny weather, which extends throughout much of the year on the Colorado Front Range, the tables and benches on two outdoor patios become the gathering spots of choice for sharing friendly conversation over pints of fresh Left Hand beer. To both locals and visitors, that’s a fine prospect.