Beer Break

Beer Break Vol. 2, No. 41
He let his beers do the talking

Aug. 1, 2002

The best brewers in America are more accomplished than they are famous. Gordon Knight was one of those.


Knight, 52, died on Tuesday after his helicopter crashed while he was fighting a fire near Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. He was trying to drop water on hot spots in a 4,400-acre blaze. Knight, flying a 32-year-old French helicopter, radioed in about 6:30 p.m. and calmly reported, "I'm going down," a Forest Service spokeswoman, Ellen Hodges, said.

Unless you drank beer along Colorado's Front Range in the 1990s you probably never tasted one of Knight's beers. If you did, then you likely remember them well.

Knight won Great American Beer Festival gold medals at three breweries: High Country Brewery in 1993, Twisted Pine Brewing Co. in 1996 and Wolf Tongue Brewery in 1998. Each of the champion beers was very different than the others, but they shared one thing in common -- all were made on the same 5-hecoliter (about 4 1/2 barrels) system that followed Knight from brewery to brewery. He first acquired it used from Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan, who used it themselves to found New Belgium Brewing Co. in Fort Collins.

Knight bought the system in 1993 to start High Country in Boulder, Colo. In 1994, High Country moved to Estes Park and became a brewpub called Estes Park Brewery, when Knight went into business with a local restaurateur. When Estes Park expanded, the brewhouse was sold to Peak to Peak Brewing.

Knight left Estes Park in 1995 to start Twisted Pine, back in Boulder. "Estes Park got too big; he didn't want that," said Jim Parker, who was Knight's partner at Wolf Tongue (since closed). "Gordon likes to make beer; the rest of the stuff he doesn't really care about. The startup is what really turns him on."

In 1997, Twisted Pine merged with Peak to Peak, reuniting Knight with his first brewhouse. He left Twisted Pine to move up Boulder Canyon to Nederland and open Wolf Tongue in June 1997. Wolf Tongue captured gold in the GABF's Brown Porter category for Coffee Porter in 1998, Twisted Pine first in American Amber for Twisted Amber in 1996, and High Country grabbed gold for Renegade Red, an India pale ale, in 1993.

Knight was a Nebraska native who earned a Purple Heart as an Army helicopter pilot in Vietnam. He moved to Boulder in 1988, and soon turned from homebrewing to professional brewing. He also worked as a professional helicopter pilot, most often in fire fighting.

Just a few days before his Wolf Tongue beer won the gold medal in 1998 a visitor to the brewery asked him if he'd be at GABF that weekend. "I don't think so -- I'll be flying," he said. His voice was matter-of-fact, but that was the norm. "I've got someplace else to be." "I fly helicopters into fires." "I brew beer." Gordon Knight had plenty to brag about, but bragging wasn't in him.

In informing other brewers about Knight's death, Brian Lutz - who himself left his brewing job and couldn't stay away -- of the Redfish brewpub in Boulder, wrote:

"Gordon didn't have jobs, Gordon had passions. Gordon's job was his passion and visa versa. That's a good way to live and I thank him for challenging me to do the same. If you knew Gordon Knight, please take a moment to reflect on his life and his family. I will miss him."

From the mailbag

Recently, I tried North Coast Brewing's Russian Imperial Stout -- it was an emotional experience. So much so that I was moved to write the verse, below. Tom Allen of North Coast suggested you folks might also enjoy this. Best Wishes,
Joseph R. Tanenbaum

To a Good Stout
Splattered in dark, wet, soil,
Smattered with the choking dust of newly stone ground grain,
Bones and sinew hardened, weary,
Sparse light pushing through
Broken barnwood slats
Casting fractured shadows upon
Strong agrarian backs, shoulders, arms
Carefully laying harvest layer upon harvest layer
Upon old stone,
Whence familiar, dreadnought stone wheel,
Smooth from slow coercive revolution,
Persistent circumnavigation edged
Against implacable stone horizon
E're like the weight of time on human endeavor,
Brings the crushing,
And release,
And fulfillment of purpose
From this tread's produce,
From this teeming, fecund soil. With
The blessing of a beneficent season,
The learned will brew
Foamentation of earth's accretion,
Which we, on any evening,
Splendid or common
Shall revive and offer to God's glory
As it passes patient lips.

Tasting notes

Brewed by Rogue Ales in Oregon
Roger Protz writes:
Amber colored with a dense collar of foam. Great wafts of spicy hops-good old Kent Goldings!-and nutty crystal malt on the aroma. Raisin fruit in the mouth is balanced by peppery hops. Big, complex aftertaste with sweet malt, sherry-like fruit and bitter hops, all funneling together into a gentle, dry, rolling finish.

Brewed by LaConner Brewing in Washington
Richard Stueven (gak) writes:
Amber-brown, moderate carbonation and head. Herbal hop aroma with lots of caramel malt. Medium body, big toasty biscuity malt flavor. Some diacetyl. Moderate hop flavor and bitterness.