Tour de brew: Gordon Biersch Brewery

Knocking back California German in Colorado

Susan France

There’s a little bit of globetrotting going on every time you knock back a beer from the Gordon Biersch Brewery. Started in Palo Alto, California, in 1987 by brewer Dan Gordon and restaurateur Dean Biersch, Gordon Biersch was a neighborhood restaurant that offered customers local beer while they enjoyed their meal. Restaurant breweries are ubiquitous now, but in 1987 it was a much sparser scene.

And it was Dan Gordon — the first American in over 40 years to graduate from the prestigious brewing program at the Technical University of Munich in Weihenstephan, Germany — who helped Gordon Biersch stand out from the crowd throughout the years. Thanks to Gordon, Gordon Biersch’s beers follow the guidelines of the German Purity Law, the Reinheitsgebot, which dictates that all beer should be brewed only with water, hops, barley and yeast. For serious beer drinkers, particularly those who value the purity of platonic expression over invention, the Reinheitsgebot is king and it didn’t take long for Gordon Biersch to flourish, eventually expanding to over 30 locations in 18 states.

Like a lot of Californians, Gordon Biersch made its way to the Centennial State in 2000, bringing a healthy selection of German-inspired brews for Coloradans to quaff while taking a break from perusing the endless consumables of the Flatirons Mall.

Since Gordon Biersch is a large-scale brewery, most of their beers can be found at your local liquor mart, which is how I first discovered them. Drunk out of the bottle, these beers are fine but lack distinction. Hence my surprise to discover what a difference a visit to the source can be. No six-pack can compete with beer poured straight from the taps at a brewery, and drinking Gordon Biersch’s offerings on their large patio proved to be a fresher, fuller and livelier experience.

Their Golden Export (5 percent alcohol by volume) sports refreshing Bavarian hops while their Czech Pilsner (5.5 percent) exhibits the definite flavor of the Saaz hop. Try them side by side and you’ll notice the difference between Golden Export’s tangerine and citrus flavors versus the herbal spice found in the pilsner.

For easy drinking, Gordon Biersch’s Hefeweizen (5.5 percent) is full, fruity and thirst-quenching with banana and clove as the dominant flavors. For those seeking a little more bitterness, Maibock (7 percent) features just enough to keep your hand going back for the glass. There’s even the pleasant surprise of black pepper hiding between the hops.

If that’s not enough, you can round out your session with Gordon Biersch’s Schwarzbier, aged in Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels (7 percent). Bourbon barrel-aged beer may be a tad heavy for a hot summer day, but with this much oak on the nose and vanilla in the mouth, exceptions can be made.

When it comes to alcohol percentages, the Maibock and Schwarzbier were the two outliers. The rest of Gordon Biersch’s brews hit the 5 to 5.5 percent mark, making them ideal for food pairings and being able to stand up after you’ve had a few. This is good, because Gordon Biersch isn’t exactly stumbling distance from anywhere.

Gordon Biersch Brewery, 1 West Flatiron Crossing Drive, Suite 428, Broomfield, 720-887-2991,