Before he ran for president, John Hickenlooper co-founded Titletown Brewing in Green Bay
March 6, 2019
Green Bay - Press Gazette
GREEN BAY - You can thank John Hickenlooper for the time Titletown Brewing's John Gustavson walked Dousman Street in nothing but a barrel.
Hickenlooper, founder of Denver's Wynkoop Brewing Co. and now a Democratic Party candidate for president, bet Gustavson and Brent Weycker that the Denver Broncos would beat the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII.
The Packers lost, so Titletown became "Runneruptown Brewing" for a week in 1998, and a nearly naked Gustavson donned the barrel for his walk downtown. The fledgling brewery's staff grilled up buffalo steaks and drank Wynkoop Brewing in front of Lambeau Field.
Lucky for Weycker and Gustavson, Hickenlooper's other bet, that Green Bay was ready for a craft brewery, continues to pay dividends. The Coloradoan, who founded Wynkoop in 1988, worked on plans for Titletown with Gustavson and Weycker for two years before it opened on Dec. 3, 1996.
In the April 16, 1995, Green Bay Press-Gazette, Hickenlooper noted that he set aside his love of the Broncos to partner with the brewery, saying the team was "a passion I will put aside in deference to the Green Bay Packers for the duration of this project."
"I would give John Hickenlooper a lot of the credit for giving us legitimacy so we weren’t just two guys who wanted to start a brewery in Green Bay. He had the biggest brewpub in the nation at the time," Weycker said. "He was an early adopter of bringing craft beer back. He got us off on the right foot. I think we're one of his success stories."
Hickenlooper declared his candidacy for president on Monday. He previously served two terms as mayor of Denver and two terms as governor of Colorado, stepping down earlier this year. He was not immediately available to talk about his time with the brewery.
But before his entry into politics, Hickenlooper was an early advocate of craft beer. His Wynkoop Brewing Co. quickly became the country's largest brewpub in the early 1990s, and Hickenlooper was not content to keep the idea to himself.
In 1994, Weycker attended a craft brewing conference in Portland to learn the business as he Gustavson honed their idea to open a brewpub in Green Bay. A few other attendees told him he should meet this guy from Colorado, Hickenlooper, who was looking to partner with other operations.
Gustavson later visited Hickenlooper in Denver during a layover and slept on his couch. He encouraged Hickenlooper to visit Green Bay and things got serious from there as the vague idea for a brewpub quickly took shape.
"He is really a big part of our success, of making us a brewpub that’s been around as long as we have. He was just a great guy and great resource. He gave us the operational expertise," Weycker said. "John brought an attitude of being hospitable toward everyone to Titletown."
Weycker described Hickenlooper as "a genuine person, just a good guy" who was as happy to sleep on Weycker's futon as he was to pitch Titletown's plan to rehab the Chicago & Northwestern Railway depot to city leaders in 1994 and 1995.
It was not an easy sell.
It's hard to imagine Titletown Brewing being anywhere else now, but Weycker said competing developers had other ideas for the train station. City leaders questioned whether a brewery was the best idea for the Broadway district at a time when it was still known for seedy bars and adult book stores.
In a Sept. 7, 1994, letter to Weycker, Hickenlooper called Weycker's enthusiasm for craft beer "infectious" and said Wynkoop was happy to partner with Titletown, noting both businesses had the potential to energize their respective downtowns and preserve history.
"I am very impressed with everything I saw in Green Bay this summer, from the train station to the early signs of downtown rejuvenation," Hickenlooper wrote."As I've no doubt mentioned too many times, Wynkoop is dedicated not only to saving old buildings, but to saving downtowns as well."
Much like Wynkoop made an early bet on a decrepit part of Denver, Hickenlooper encouraged Weycker and Gustavson to preserve Green Bay's history and revive the old train station. Weycker said Hickenlooper convinced then-Mayor Samuel Halloin to support the redevelopment.
"Halloin said to John, 'You are a strange, funny guy, but I really like you,'" Weycker recalled. "I like to think that John Hickenlooper has put a little stamp on Green Bay and was part of the redevelopment of Green Bay and the west side."
Now, Titletown has expanded beyond the depot and into a former Larsen Canning Co. building to the west of the depot. It operates three tap rooms and its beer is available across the state.
And Weycker has paid the help forward, too, encouraging the growth of the region's craft beer industry since the '90s and supporting employees who struck out to start their own breweries.
And yes, John, Weycker still has the futon if Hickenlooper needs a place to crash and a cold beer while on the campaign trail.
"He’s a great person and I’m very proud of him and I think he’d be a great president," Weycker said.