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Fool's Gold and other Colorado pleasures

Tommyknockers brewpub recalls mining spirit

Like many nursery rhymes, "Mother Goose" has a sinister sub-text. In its case, the shadowy side concerns some threatening creatures called the Tommyknockers. What has this to do with beer? The link is the mine-worker, always good for a pint.

It turns out that Tommy may have been a Cornish tin-miner who died in an accident underground. Subsequently, when miners heard threatening noises, suggesting a cave-in, they said it was Tommy, or some such spirit, knocking. If a miner believed in such manifestations, the Tommyknockers would do nothing worse than blow out his lamp, and might even lead him to the mother lode. As for miners who did not believe...

Modern novelist Stephen King, who called a horror story "The Tommyknockers," probably first heard of these spirits from Cornish immigrant gold-miners in Colorado. Today, the state's gold country has become a tourist region, for its industrial archaeology as well as its Rocky Mountain skiing, biking and scenery. There, in the confusingly-named town of Idaho Springs, I recently visited a brewpub called Tommyknocker.

About 25 miles west of Denver, this canyon town of 2,500 people defines itself as "three blocks wide and three miles long". An 1898 dry-goods store, later a restaurant, was four years ago fitted with a brewhouse adjoining its pool tables.


He describes at as "Golden's Second largest brewery" (the biggest in town being Coors, which makes 15-20 million barrels a year; there is none larger anywhere in the world).


Tommyknocker's founders are Tim Lenahan, formerly of the Breckenridge brewery, and Charlie Sturdavant. The latter also operates a tiny commercial brewery at his home in nearby Golden. He describes at as "Golden's Second largest brewery" (the biggest in town being Coors, which makes 15-20 million barrels a year; there is none larger anywhere in the world).

Tommyknocker's beers, include a crisp Kšlsch called Fool's Gold; a lemony-tasting wheat ale, Jack Whacker; the malty , Oktoberfest-like, Red Eye Lager, a toffeeish Maple Nut Brown; the pithily hoppy Pick Axe Pale Ale; the eight-percent Butthead Bock, as warming and flavoursome as raspberries in brandy; and the smoky Black Powder Stout.

I greatly enjoyed lunch there: meat loaf in a glaze of first runnings from Red Eye, spiced with honey, onions and garlic. It sustained me until I got back to Denver for a pint at the city's newish speciality beer bar, on Blake Street between 19th and 20th. Its name? Falling Rock...

Continued from last month, The Beer Hunter concludes his travels in South Carolina:

When the snows of winter drive New Yorkers and other northeasterners to head south, how far need they go to find a more clement climate? As the "snowbirds" hit warmer weather, the resorts in the south are keen to grab their trade. A typical example is Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

I was already in South Carolina, and heading from the centre of the state to the coast. No amount of natural beauty can hide the economic poverty in some parts of South Carolina. The yellow jasmine, live oaks and loblolly pines faded into swamp country, and I passed a tumbledown store bearing the hand-painted legend: "Beer, bread, milk. We accept food stamps."

As the proximity of hard cash became more evident, natural beauty gave way to a forest of illuminated signs: "Christian Bookstore," "The Wedding Chapel by the Sea," "Vote for Speedy Laverne," "Derrières - Gentlemen's Club," "Crab Restaurant," "Aquarium - Feed the Alligators!"


The area's conjunction of religion and human waste is neatly encapsulated by the use of former church doors (from Scotland, as it happens) on the lavatories at this brewpub.


"The Casual Dining restaurant that brews good times" turned out to be The Wild Boar (4706, Highway 17 S, North Myrtle Beach). The name derives from the featured food, pork from "the largest hog farm in the Carolinas." The area's conjunction of religion and human waste is neatly encapsulated by the use of former church doors (from Scotland, as it happens) on the lavatories at this brewpub.

The "evils" of drink and sex come together in the use of pillars from a four-poster bed to support the back-bar.The beers, originally designed by British brewer Steve Cheesewright, include a lightly dry Pilsner; a crisp, pleasant, Pale Ale; an appetising Alt; a grainy Scottish Ale; and a smooth, smoky, Stout.

In a tourist mall at Myrtle Beach (1321 Celebrity Circus), The Liberty Steak House and Brewery, I was surprised to find a Mild, tawny-brown, smooth and nutty - a very good example of Britain's most endangered style. Among this brewery's other beers, I also enjoyed a bittersweet IPA, featuring the newish British hop First Gold.

Down the coast in the state's best-known city, historic Charleston, I visited the pioneering Palmetto Brewery. Elsewhere in America, people sometimes wonder why the rubric on car licence-plates in South Carolina appears to celebrate the Palmetto Bug, a sort of giant cockroach. When I blurted out the question, I was quietly told that the state actually names itself after the variety of low-leaf palm on which the bug thrives.

There was a Palmetto brewery in Charleston from 1882 until the end of the 1890s. Another brewery operated in the city until 1916, after which there was nothing until 1993, when Louis Bruce and Ed Falkenstein established the present Palmetto. Their first beer was available the following year.

Louis, who has a degree in biology, previously worked for a wine importer, and Ed is a chemical engineer. Both enjoy wind-surfing, and first met at the sport's favourite American location: Hood River, Oregon. There, they grew to love the beers of the Full Sail micro-brewery, and decided to do something similar in their home state.


Palmetto is in a former mail-order warehouse, at the north edge of the Old Town, near the landmark Cooper River Bridge.


Palmetto is in a former mail-order warehouse, at the north edge of the Old Town, near the landmark Cooper River Bridge. From the tank, I tasted an unfinished Pale Ale, very aromatic and flowery, crisp and faintly medicinal in its hop character. By the bottle, I sampled a nutty, fruity, Amber and a chocolatey, silky Porter.

In the Old Town itself, among the red-brick Georgian buildings, the balconies and porches, the churches on every corner of the narrow streets, the bed-and-breakfast hotels and tourist restaurants, I visited an 1882 rum warehouse that has been converted into a bustling, multi-floor brewpub: The Southend Brewery and Smokehouse (161 East Bay St). I tasted ten or a dozen beers, made from 21 specifications of malt and 16 varieties of hop.

Among them were a very crisp Bavarian Pilsner, with a lingering dryness; the fruity, hoppy Bombay Pale Ale; the malty Scarlet Ale; the mild, brown, Chocolate Ale; the complex Friar Tuck Oatmeal Stout; and a coffeeish Schwarzbier neatly called Uncle Dunkel.

After Charleston, I headed west, the magnolias and azaleas gradually yielding to cotton, and the mansion homes and racehorse stables in the town of Aiken. This is on the South Carolina side of the Savannah river, across from Augusta, Georgia. The Aiken Brewing Company and Grill combines the disparate roles of sports bar and "fine dining" restaurant. It is in an 1890s mercantile building (140 Laurens St), the interior stripped down to the original oak and pine.

The beers I sampled included a lemony honey wheat called Standard Bred; the smooth, well-balanced; Thoroughbred Red; and the toasty Steeplechase Stout, with a nice touch of oatmeal. My favourite, though, was a Grand Cru called Hopeland Gardens, creamy and flowery, with a touch of honey.


Published Online: AUG 22, 1999
Published in Print: DEC 1, 1998
In: What's Brewing

Brewery Review

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