In the fall of 1993, two Air Force Academy graduates set their sights on destroying boring and bland beer. That’s when Eric Wallace and Dick Doore launched Left Hand Brewing Co. in Longmont, Colo., and brewed their first beer, an amber ale, in January 1994.
The brewery’s early recipes were designed by Doore, who had been experimenting with a homebrew kit. In the years that followed, Left Hand gained a reputation as a consistent source of high-quality brews, even becoming one of the top 50 craft brewing companies in the United States.
Left Hand is also a pioneer in crafting and packaging nitro beers, including its long-running Sawtooth Amber Ale and Left Hand Milk Stout, both of which are available in both regular and nitro versions. Left Hand isn’t resting on laurels as it continues to stand out in craft beer’s past and present landscape. Here are 11 more reasons to appreciate Left Hand Brewing.
Left Hand’s flagship beer is a local landmark.
When Wallace and Doore launched Left Hand’s first beer in 1994, the amber ale’s earthy and crisp flavor profile earned it a landmark name: Sawtooth, the name of a hiking trail in the Front Range mountains that run through the southern Rockies. Sawtooth Amber Ale went on to become a flagship brand, and continues to be a year-round favorite among fans. It even saw a revival with a nitro version in 2019.
Later, two more beers earned geographically inspired names: Twin Sisters, a double IPA, was named after a trail in the Rocky Mountains; and St. Vrain, a Belgian-style tripel, earned its name after the river that flows through the same mountains. Both beers have since fallen out of the brewery’s regular lineup — although St. Vrain may be making a comeback in cans soon.
Left Hand went nitro without a widget.
Early experiments with serving Left Hand Milk Stout on nitro at the brewery taproom proved that patrons wanted more, as they found nitrogen lends a creamy character to any beer. “The feedback was always tremendous,” says Jason Ingram, Left Hand’s national sales director. Since Guinness was a bit cagey about how it managed to bottle its own nitro stout, Left Hand became determined to figure out a way.
Left Hand found the solution: inject nitrogen into the bottles for a combination of roughly 70 percent nitrogen to 30 percent carbon dioxide, and rely on physics. It took lots of research, development, and reverse engineering, according to brewing operations director Jeff Joplin, but the brewery introduced its take on nitrogenated bottled beer with Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival.
Left Hand’s name is more complicated than it sounds.
Just like the Longmont brewery, a number of locations around Colorado bear the name “Left Hand.” The namesake is one specific legendary left-hander who came to a tragic end. Chief Niwot (Niwot means “left hand” in Arapaho) spent winters in the Boulder Valley with his tribe and witnessed the arrival of gold prospectors during a gold rush in 1858. By 1864, even while Niwot attempted to maintain peace, tensions between Native Americans in the area and frontiersman came to a head and the chief was killed as a result of an attack by the Third Colorado Cavalry.
To carry on the memory of the original Colorado residents, Left Hand based its first logo on incredibly intricate Native American patterns based on those used by the tribes that once called the area home. In 1995, when the brewery first bottled beer, designers attempted to shrink that logo down onto bottle caps but just couldn’t make it work. Instead, the team developed the simple left-handed print now synonymous with the brand.
Left Hand’s logo didn’t change for 25 years.
The left-hand logo remained unchanged on those bottle caps, on the labels, and all over the brewery until 2020 when the brand underwent a slight refresh. The updated logo put more emphasis on the name of the brewery around the red-hued hand by enlarging the text and shrinking the hand down just a bit. And label designs were reconfigured to appear more streamlined as well.
The goal of the refresh was to create a more modern aesthetic for the packaging as a whole. But it also accentuates the names of the beers to really stand out on a shelf. It all came with a brand new tagline: “From Our Hand to Yours,” a nod to the brewery’s “hands-on approach” to crafting beer.
Left Hand turned a trademark failure into an annual celebration.
“Nitro” became so ingrained in Left Hand’s product line and company culture that the brewery attempted to trademark the term in 2011, and continued fighting for a few years. The move was met with contention from several competing breweries, namely Guinness. Left Hand quietly ended its efforts to trademark the term in 2014.
However, that same year, Left Hand launched a festival in celebration of the elemental gas: Nitro Fest. At that first event, 21 breweries brought nitrogenated offerings to Longmont and poured them while aerialists and fire-eaters performed around them on the brewery property.
While the 2020 fest had to be canceled, Left Hand already has plans in the works for the 2021 Nitro Fest.
Stout this good needs its own glass.
Given Left Hand’s longtime experience crafting award-winning stouts, it makes sense that Spiegelau sought out the brand to help develop a glass specifically made for the beer style. In 2014, Left Hand, along with Rogue Ales & Spirits, teamed up to design the best glass for a stout. The Spiegelau Stout Glass features a shape meant to enhance stouts’ roasty, chocolaty, and coffee aromas. Etching at the base of the glass encourages carbonated bubbles to rise for the perfect creamy head.
Left Hand employees work for themselves.
In a continued effort to buck the mainstream and change the world, Wallace announced in the summer of 2015 that Left Hand had become a majority employee-owned company, in partnership with more than 100 employees at the time. An effort meant to instill pride in Left Hand’s team members, the move allows those who work at the brewery to earn an allocation of the company’s profits each year.
You can thank Left Hand for the ‘hard pour.’
With no widget to speak of, Left Hand set about teaching beer drinkers about the “hard pour,” a technique of pouring beer from a bottle fully perpendicular over a glass to “activate” the nitrogen. It was a success, and soon the team was bottling more of its brews with nitro.
The brewery abides.
After years of resisting the can, Left Hand opted to incorporate canning into its packaged offerings in 2016. In late 2019, a nitro mixed 8-pack of Left Hand Nitro beers appeared on shelves at retailers around the country. The new packaging gave the brewery the ability to use widgets. (Take that, Guinness Draught!)
Left Hand continues to innovate in the nitro space, introducing new nitro-first recipes like the “Dude-approved” White Russian Nitro, a white coffee nitro stout; and Wheels Gose ‘Round, a mild sour ale with lemon and raspberry.
Take a left turn at the seltzer craze.
Instead of boozing up a can of seltzer, Left Hand decided to take a different approach in 2019: CBD Seltzer. The line of seltzers combines 20 milligrams of hemp-derived CBD from Colorado-based WAAYB Organics with sparkling water. They’re organic, free of artificial ingredients, and calorie-free.
The move allows Left Hand to take on the hard seltzers flooding the market over the last few years, including big names like White Claw, without following the same formula as everyone else. There remains some gray area as to how legal CBD beverages are — in fact, it’s technically illegal to ship them out of state — but that law hasn’t really been enforced. Three flavors of the seltzer, classic, lemon lime, and blood orange, were released in August of 2019 both in stores and online.
Left Hand fights racism with a beer in hand.
From the time Left Hand first opened, Wallace and Doore believed in building their community and giving back where they could. After the George Floyd protests began in late May of 2020, it only made sense for the brewery to contribute to the cause. More than just a black square on its Instagram, the team came together to take action. Joining Weathered Souls Brewing Co. to raise money for anti-racism organizations, Left Hand’s brewers collaborated on their version of Black Is Beautiful, a dunkel-style beer. The brewery pledged to donate the profits to Black Lives Matter 5280, the Denver area chapter of the national organization.
The Left Hand team didn’t stop there. Through June 2020, 50 percent of purchases of Raspberry Milk Stout sold at the brewery’s tasting room went to Center for Black Equity, a group aimed at lifting up the Black LGBTQ+ community.