Crystal Springs and the Music Teacher Turned Brewer

Crystal Springs Brewing Company is a veteran newcomer on Colorado’s Front Range brewing scene. Veteran because Tom Horst and family have been brewing popular beers out of their garage for the past four years in Sunshine Canyon, a scenic drive into the mountains west of Boulder. Newcomer because the Horst family moved their operation into a new and larger-capacity facility on the other side of Boulder in the autumn of 2013.

Though both the garage brewery and the Louisville taproom are of recent vintage, the name of the brewery harks back to local nineteenth-century brewing lore.

Image Source: Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO

Image Source: Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO

In 1875, two German brothers-in-law, Frank Weisenhorn and Charles Voegtle, purchased a site overlooking Boulder Creek near where the Boulder Public Library stands today. With fresh mountain spring water flowing past in abundance, the Boulder City Brewery (precursor to the historical Crystal Springs Brewing and Ice Company) began servicing the drinking needs of local residents. Reports from the time confirm that their lagers and bocks commanded respect. Upon sampling beer from the kegs the in-laws brought on promotional tours to the town newspapers, writers there averred that they could “speak from actual knowledge when we assert that it is the best ever presented to this market.”

When Samuel Pell bought the brewery around 1900, he changed the name to Crystal Springs Brewing and Ice Company. In case you’re wondering about the reference to ice, Weisenhorn and Voegtle were, of course, brewing in the days before the advent of electrical refrigeration. Crystal Springs - Bottle (historical)Massive blocks of ice were needed to keep the beer cold during fermentation and lagering in the concrete cellars built into their new brewery. By the time Pell purchased the brewery, the pair had constructed an onsite ice pond and ice house.

Alas, Crystal Springs Brewing and Ice Company did not survive Prohibition, but Tom Horst is bent on assuring that the legacy lives on in his reiteration of Crystal Springs, even if he doesn’t brew lagers and bocks or cut blocks of ice from a pond. In what was a nano brewery before the term took hold, Horst began brewing up beers in his “two-thirds-barrel brewery,” many of which live on as staples at the new brewery and taproom in Louisville, CO. The smaller scale suited him well initially, for it meant that he didn’t have to quit his day job as band director and music teacher at Boulder High School. But demand for his Doc’s Porter, Summertime Ale, Tic Wit, and Black Saddle Imperial Stout convinced Horst that it was time to share his brewing music with a larger audience.

When I arrived for my visit on an early October morning with the autumn foliage of the Front Range in full splendour against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountain foothills, Horst was getting accustomed to the larger brewing system and putting the finishing touches on the tasting room. I sat down for a few samples after touring the newly-operational facilities and noticed the logo gracing the mats under the sampling glasses: a flying eagle grasping a numbered cask. The eagle is a direct historical reference to the former incarnation of Crystal Springs, but what of the ostensibly unlucky numeral emblazoned on the barrelhead of that cask clasped firmly in the eagle’s talons, I wondered? Crystal Springs - Logo (large)As it turns out, the number thirteen is a number that recurs with such reassuring regularity in the lives of the Horst family as to suggest its auspiciousness. Horst was born on the thirteenth, and so too was his son, granddaughter, and even a niece who shares his birthday. And there are subsequent details surrounding the number thirteen sure to inhabit the realm of apocrypha when next century’s craft beer enthusiasts and historians speak of Crystal Springs. During the design and layout stage of the taproom, Horst and company found that exactly thirteen of their chosen bar stools would fit around the bar. Even before that, Horst’s wife, Kristy, was curious about the commute between their Sunshine Canyon home and the new brewery and taproom in Louisville. Exactly thirteen miles.

Crystal Springs’ beers have names as colourful as the brewery’s ancient and recent history. Stage House 1899, a beer brewed exclusively for Boulder’s Kitchen Restaurant, pays tribute to the history of the building – an erstwhile tavern – in which the restaurant is housed. Marilyn is named after Horst’s mother. marilyn lablelRelates Horst: “It’s a golden strong, and so is she. The caricature of a girl in a bathing suit on the label is taken from a picture taken of her in 1942 when she was eighteen years old.” Solano is a beer reminiscent of summer. A solana is a terrace or garden oriented to take advantage of the sun, and the name evokes both the original brewery in Sunshine Canyon and the locally-sourced chilies from Weber, CO, that radiate heat in the beer. (Horst admits that the transliteration crept in at the time of their TTB label application. So now Solano it is.) Uncle Fat recalls Horst’s grandma’s portly brothers, at whose knees Horst had his first samples of homemade beer and dandelion wine. And Horst’s flagship, Doc’s Porter? The high school music teacher happens to hold a Ph.D. in Musical Arts from the University of Iowa, and his students have been calling him Doc for over thirty years.

Horst is also a self-styled maestro of beer and food pairings. As he puts it, Crystal Springs’ Kölsch-style Summertime Ale “gets along well with so many types of foods,” including mild cheeses, lasagna, light fish dishes, salads with citrus-based dressings, and sausages straight from the grill. Horst is also a fan of chocolate and beer pairings, and suggests trying the Southridge Amber with chocolate or as a counterpoint to salted caramel. Crystal Springs’ Black Saddle Imperial Stout also complements a panoply of rich chocolate desserts, but you could easily turn it into an adult float by adding ice cream. Speaking of icy after-dinner treats, Horst counsels whipping up a batch of Doc’s Porter Ice Cream. You can find the recipe here, along with other beer and food pairings.

The taproom at Crystal Springs has been open since mid-October 2013, and has been attracting craft beer drinkers with a creative mix of weekly sports screenings (this is Broncos territory, after all) and events that reflect Horst’s background in pedagogy. Crystal Springs periodically offers discounts to Horst’s former students, and Faculty Friday has drawn an ever-larger number of area teachers and University of Colorado faculty. If you’re a teacher or university faculty member travelling through the Rockies or in the area for a conference, be sure to stop by. Located at 675 S. Taylor Ave, Unit E, Louisville CO, 80027, the taproom serves up beers between Tuesday and Saturday, 4pm-9pm (closing at 8pm on Saturdays). Happy Hour happens from 4pm-6pm, Tuesday through Friday. AHA (American Homebrewers’ Association) members receive a ten-percent discount at all times, and educators with valid IDs receive Happy Hour prices all night on Faculty Fridays.

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Tasting Notes:

SR3Horst and company were in the midst of transitioning their production from the garage brewery to the new facility on the day of my visit, so I wasn’t able to try their full range of beers. Here’s a quick sampling of some the beers I did taste.

  • South Ridge Amber is one of Crystal Springs’ flagships and is available regionally in cans. Solidly in the American brewing tradition, this refreshing amber derives its fullness from crystal and Munich malts, and features a liberal sprinkling of Chinook, Cascade, Centennial, Amarillo, and Zythos hops.
  • The Summertime Ale started life as a seasonal offering, but quickly became popular enough to merit year-round production. It has all the delicate fruitiness of a German-style Kölsch, with pear and citrus notes combining with a peppery spiciness reminiscent of Cabernet Franc.
  • Using Doc’s Porter as its base, the aromatic Rum Barrel-Aged Porter (limited edition seasonal) is one to drink on the warm side of cellar temperature. The profile is bold: roasted malt, espresso, and earthy dark chocolate balanced by a touch of acidity and infused with warming rum.

Attributions:

Creative History: A Guide for Researching Local History is more localized than the name of the website would indicate, focusing primarily on Boulder and its environs. As part of their “Closer Look” spotlight on local industries such as mining, railroads, agriculture, and flour milling, the site features an article on brewing that informed much of my section on the history of Crystal Springs.

Historical Crystal Springs Image Information: The Illustration drawn by Joseph Sturtevant dates from around 1905, and shows the approximate layout of the brewery and ice house. Source: Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection, 207-1-25

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