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A Tribute to David Hummer

Boulder Beer Company lost a piece of its history in December with the passing of brewery co-founder David Graybill Hummer.  David passed away on December 17th at Boulder Community Health after a brief illness.  He was born on November 4th, 1934, the eldest of four, to Lillian Graybill and John Hummer.  David received his B.S. and Master’s from Carnegie Tech before moving on to the University College, England and receiving his PhD in Astrophysics in 1961.  In that year he met his wife Janet Wood and a year later their son Julius was born.

Returning to the States in 1965, David became a fellow of JILA, the Joint Institute of Laboratory Astrophysics, located on the CU campus.  Around that time he began the construction of their house in Pine Brook Hills where Janet and Julius still live today.

In 1979, David Hummer and CU astrophysics colleague Randolph “Stick” Ware founded Colorado’s First Craft Brewery, Boulder Beer Company, a move David later described as “the most irresponsible thing I ever did.”  At that time there were only 42 breweries in operation nationwide, making Boulder Beer the 43rd.  With over 4000 breweries currently operating nationally and new ones opening daily, David and Stick’s vision truly made them pioneers in what’s now a flourishing craft beer scene in Colorado and the entire United States.

A memorial service and celebration of David’s life will be held at The Pub at Boulder Beer Company, 2880 Wilderness Place in Boulder, from 2-5pm on Wednesday, January 6, 2016.

We also asked Stick for some background on David from the early days of Boulder Beer and he asked us to share this…thanks, Stick.

David Hummer, an ardent homebrewer, financed his brewing passion via an astrophysics day job. During his tenure in the late 1970’s as Chairman of an astrophysics research institute at the University of Colorado that produced three Nobel Prize winners, he pioneered a home brewing mash technique that provoked growing home and craft brewing interest.

At that time Blue Ribbon malted barley, a canned syrupy extract, was a standard for homebrew recipes. Use of this inflexible ingredient -- analogous to the inflexibility of a one-note piano -- limited the rich palette of flavors expressed in today’s craft beers.

In his home kitchen, David crushed malted barley with a rolling pin, leaving the barley husks intact. His British-born wife Janet, a talented seamstress-artist, sewed a bridal-veil fabric into a shape that fit neatly into a 5 gallon Thermos cooler. They filled the cooler-bridal veil with 170 F water and stirred while adding crushed malted barley, resulting in a 150 F mash slurry.

After an hour, enzymes in the malted barley converted most of the barley starch into a spectrum of mash temperature dependent complex sugars, and they drew liquid wort from a spigot on the bottom of the cooler. At first the liquid was cloudy and full of particulates, but recycling it through the cooler and bridal veil settled the barley husks, forming a natural filter that clarified the wort.

Appealing new taste dimensions were noted in homebrew passed around at an institute social gathering by brewing partner, Stick Ware, after applying David’s mashing method. A few days later, over brown bag lunch at the institute, a number of requests emerged for another taste of this new brew. This provoked Stick’s off-hand comment “we ought to start a brewery” and Boulder Beer was conceived -- now the oldest surviving American microbrewery.