November 3, 2012
There are certain features of Colorado beer festivals that will always be obvious — beer snobs, local brew enthusiasts, and the aroma of hops.
But what beer drinkers at Saturday’s All Colorado Beer Festival might not have seen was Mark Wiebe, the man behind the tap stands, who brought them their beer perfectly carbonated.
“None of this works without Mark!” exclaimed Drew Martorella, one of the Colorado Springs festival’s organizers. “He makes the beer flow.”
The 57-year-old Wiebe, an import from the Denver-based Great American Beer Festival, is the “beer plumber” who engineered the system that pushed beer into taps for more than 35 Colorado breweries at Saturday’s festival. While thousands sampled the festival’s brews, Wiebe patrolled behind the partitions at the Freedom Financial Services Expo Center, checking on the three large canisters of nitrogen and carbon dioxide that fed various groups of kegs all around the center.
On Saturday, Wiebe ducked behind the curtain that separated his favorite beerstand, the Apis IV, from a gas canister hooked up to a black PVC pipeline.
“This whole island is run off this gas bottle,” he said, placing his hand on the chest-high canister, donated by Airgas, a local sponsor of the event.
Wiebe, who also sets up thousands of gas lines for the Denver beer festival, uses the combination of nitrogen and carbon dioxide to push beer and preserve the beverage’s carbonation, he said. To pull off the six-year-old All Colorado Beer Festival, which offers beers brewed and sold in Colorado, it took Wiebe one afternoon of set up, a half-mile of PVC pipe and a quarter-mile of beer pipes. The set-up for the Denver festival usually takes three days, an army of workers, and countless feet of piping, Wiebe said.
Wiebe moved to Colorado Springs a year ago, by way of Los Alamos, N.M., where he recently helped oversee the demolition of an hydrogen bomb facility.
As a 26-year veteran of the Great American Beer Festival, Wiebe got his start as a regular patron and beer aficionado. Years ago, he was working the midnight shift as an environmental compliance specialist at Denver’s Rocky Flats Plant, a former atomic bomb facility, when he was able to line up for the festival hours before it opened.
While in line, he was offered a chance to get free beer if he helped out, and so the journey began. Wiebe worked his way through the system from pulling taps, to building wooden tap stands, to finally engineering the gas system that has sustained the Denver beer festival for 16 years.
The Denver festival pays him for his services, but for the past six years Wiebe has volunteered to make the beer flow in Colorado Springs, too.
“He keeps the lines flowing. He knows how to put all the equipment together,” Martorella said. “I don’t know how he does it. It’s all in his head.”
Contact Ryan Maye Handy: 636-0261