By Jeffrey V. Smith
Almost anyone can revive a brand, but it takes a devoted, dedicated individual to bring back its “soul.” Tivoli Brewing Company’s co-owner Corey Marshall, who painstakingly brought the state’s oldest brewery and one of Denver’s most popular brews back to life in 2012, is that person.
Years of work, by him and the rest of his family, have paid off in a big way. Last year, Tivoli opened a 30-barrel brewery, 52-tap taproom and unique restaurant concept in the historic former home of the original company on the Auraria Campus in downtown Denver. Taste some of the brewery’s definitive beers at the Gilpin County Fair, Aug. 20-21, and the Central City Beer Festival, Aug. 27.
Marshall—who has lived in Gilpin County with his wife, Debbie, and children for more than 15 years—didn’t take bringing an important part of the state’s history back to life lightly. He researched everything he could about the brewery’s long history, it’s relationship to the state and its residents, the recipes and brewery marketing with his wife, who is also his business partner, and children by his side. He even tracked down the living relations of anyone having anything to do with the original brewery to gather information and personal stories.
“People thought I was nuts,” Marshall said. “I’d show up at their houses in downtown Denver saying, ‘I’m looking to bring the brewery back to life, would you like to talk about it.’ People were peeking through mail slots at me.” One lady he met, who’s father was a brewer at Tivoli, was a bit of a hermit and rarely spoke to people. She, however, was excited to find out the brewery would be reopened, and reminisced about how proud her family was that her father worked there. “It was just great to connect with people who were associated with the brewery,” he said. As a result, some of the descendants of former brewery owners have even been brought into the current business. Things have truly come full circle.
The final brewer to make beer at Tivoli before it closed in 1969, Michael Occhiato, was also invited to be a part of the new brewery. “He comes to all the events and we’ve recorded him talking about everything,” Marshall said. “He helps us with the recipes. There is a really true connection back to everything this place was, and the families who were here last. They are so happy it’s back, and they are a part of it.”
The story of Tivoli begins soon after gold was discovered in Colorado in 1858, when German settlers arrived and began brewing beer. One of the first two breweries in the state was the Rocky Mountain Brewery, established in 1859 by John Good. It eventually became the Zang’s Brewery. The other was Sigi’s Brewery. It was established in 1864 and evolved into the Tivoli. In 1900, Good acquired Sigi’s Brewery—called The Milwaukee Brewery at the time—and renamed it Tivoli. Until Prohibition, Tivoli and Zang’s were the two largest breweries west of the Mississippi. Tivoli was kept alive during prohibition by producing a cereal beer with minimal alcohol content.
When Good died in 1918, the brewery stayed in the hands of his descendants and his long time business partner. By the 1950s, the brewery became one of the largest in the country. When Loraine Good, the final Good descendant, passed away in 1965, Carl and Joseph Occhiatio purchased the Tivoli-Union Brewery from the estate. A flood and labor strike caused its demise by April 1969. Only the Yuengling brewery in Pennsylvania has been operating longer.
Kimberly Lucas, a descendent of John Good’s wife, who owned the brewery after his death, shares the Marshalls’ passion for the brewery. “We were excited. It was nice to see that they were going to carry on the traditions and original recipes,” she said. “They’ve done such an awesome job that we were proudly giving them more information. They honor the tradition and the family history. Very few people will take a brand, and actually look into the history of it and really cherish it. Usually they just take the brand, say a little blurb about it and then make everything new and different.”
The strong connection Tivoli has had with Colorado families for more than 100 years is not lost on Marshall. The fourth generation Coloradoan knows the beer well, very well. “The brewery, the brand, the building has just been part of the heart and soul of our family and myself since I was born,” he said. “My grandparents and great grandparents, who were here, were German immigrants and Tivoli was the beer that they drank. They were here when a lot of this got up and going. It’s always been part of who we were.” It was also the first beer he ever drank.
The idea to bring the brewery back to life started small. Marshall was working in in strategic planning and product development at Molson/Coors and had an office in downtown Denver overlooking the Tivoli Brewery building. “I would look at this place and day dream about my family, grandfather. One day, I was eating lunch… on some benches in front of the building and just looked up and thought ‘why doesn’t anyone bring this brand back to life.’ It just became a passion at that point. Such a passion, I decided to leave big business, and start it.”
His dream, and a lot of hard work, have resulted in being able to not only bring the brand back to the marketplace, but to bring back the brewery’s “soul” as well. ‘That’s really what we wanted. When your inside our brewery we want you to feel the soul of it, not only in the building, but in the recipes of the beer.” When the Marshall’s started brewing Tivoli Beer again in 2012, establishments in the Denver area began selling it for the first time in more than 43 years.
Although it’s impossible to duplicate the recipes of the breweries classic beer, since none were documented, Marshall relied heavily on Occhiato for help with the ingredients and brewing processes used. “It will never be exactly the same thing,” he said. “Our processes are so much more advanced today then they were then and the ingredients are live organisms that evolve, so they will never be the same. We’ve identified the closest things we can to it.” Currently, a yeast Marshall tracked back to Good’s home in Germany is being used in the brews.
To recreate some of the historic brews, Marshall had to become a bit of a detective. He knows the malt used and how it was fermented, but turned to critiques in old newspapers, advertising descriptions and brewery designs identifying equipment, to “triangulate” the recipes and make them as close to the original as possible. “If we took Sigi’s Buck Beer, put it next to our Tivoli Sigi’s Wild Horse Buck Beer and took some people back then who drank that beer, I bet they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference,” he said.
The dedication to bringing back the original brews has actually led Marshall to the lab. Using a bottle of the original Tivoli Beer, they are in the process of isolating the yeast and the yeast DNA. “We’re going to recreate the original yeast that they were using. It will be exact,” Marshall said.
To top it all off, Tivoli just started making bottles in the original stein-shape used by the brewery. Usually, it’s expensive to make a proprietary bottle shape, but luck was on the Marshall’s side when they explored the idea. Looking at the brewery’s historic bottles, they discovered the company that made them was still in business. Not only did they still had the mold from 1933, they had been trying to figure out how to bring it back to the market. Tivoli now has a patent on the specially-shaped bottle and are buying them for the same price as ordinary ones.
Tivoli Brewing is doing more than making great, historic beers, they are also helping ensure the future of the industry. Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Hospitality, Tourism and Events program is using the brewery and business to help train students in beverage-management. “They had a great school over here for wine, spirits and food, but not beer,” Marshall said. “They just got to thinking, ‘why are we here in the middle of the Napa Valley of beers, and we don’t have any education on beer.’ They actually approached us to see if we could work together, and that’s what we did. We were involved heavily in the whole design of the program.” Students now work and learn right in the brewery and taphouse to gain some of the best hands-on experience in the industry.
Opened last August, the brewery and taphouse are located in the historic building that originally housed the brewery. The 30-barrell brewhouse, featuring eight vertical 75-barrel fermentation tanks and nine 75-barrel lagering tanks, is in the brewery’s original boiler room. The original Tivoli brew kettles, which have been on display inside the building for years, remain as part of the décor.
The taphouse features 52 taps pouring beer from the Tivoli Brewery—including its Helles, Bohemia Girl Pilsner, Sigi’s Wild Horse Buck Beer, Zang’s Free Coinage and more—as well as brewers distributed through the Marshall’s Tivoli Distribution Company including Grimm Brothers, Gravity Brewing, Odyssey Brewing, High Hops and Aspen Brewing. A new beer garden, with amazing views of downtown Denver, also recently opened.
The Marshall’s love for the history of their brewery, is matched by their interest in the history of Gilpin. “I think the relationship of Gilpin County to the brewery is fantastic. It’s one of the things we actually look to connect,” Marshall said. “If you think about the start of Gilpin County, and the start of the cities there, they began the same time as this brewery. Anything having to do with the 1850s and 1860s time frame, I’m infatuated with,” he said. “I have no idea why.”
Serving their beer at the fair is exciting for the Marshalls. “We are thrilled to be a part of it this year. We hope in years to come to incorporate our history with Gilpin’s history and really boost that up. For me, the history of Colorado is a brand in itself, but it’s only authentic if you were part of that history. There are very few things that are around that are part of that circle or brand. I see this being a huge part of that, same with Central City, Black Hawk and all of Gilpin County.
The Marshall’s first moved to Gilpin County about 1998 and a few years later purchased the historic Rudolph Ranch, one of the oldest working ranches in the state, in mid-Gilpin County. Their children, now 24 and 26 and working at the brewery, went to school in Gilpin where Corey coached baseball, boy scouts and cub scouts.
The annual county fair has also been a large part of the Marshall’s Gilpin County experience. “We love the fair,” Debbie said. Our kids have always done the mutton bustin’ and we used to do 4-H.”
The history of Tivoli Brewing, including this most recent chapter, runs parallel to the history of Colorado and Denver. There is, obviously, much more to the story. Next time you’re looking for something to do in Denver or are attending a game or concert at the nearby Pepsi Center, take the time to visit the brewery, enjoy a little liquid history and learn more about their extensive story. It’s all quite fascinating, and the beers taste great, too.
“All of our staff, just like our sales reps, are so committed and so passionate about everything we’re doing,” Debbie said. “They can tell you all the stories, explain all the beers. They are good people.”
The Tivoli Brewing and Taphouse is located in the Tivoli Student Union at 900 Auraria Parkway in Denver. To learn more visit tivolibrewingco.com or call 720-458-5885.
Originally published in the August 2016 issue of the MMAC Monthly