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A brewer adds Friction Labs chalk to Wynkoop Brewing’s Belay Hazy IPA. Photo courtesy of Friction Labs/Wynkoop Brewing Company
Beer, Eat and Drink

Why This Popular Denver Beer Is Made With Climbing Chalk

Wynkoop Brewing’s On Belay Hazy IPA gains a pillowy mouthfeel from the addition of the edible compound, which is used by rock climbers to improve grips on holds.

Wynkoop Brewing Company’s aptly named On Belay IPA combines two of the Centennial State’s biggest loves: craft beer and rock climbing. Don’t worry—you can’t actually taste any climbing chalk when you sip this hazy IPA. But you may notice a difference in how the beer feels in your mouth, as the chalk creates a pillowy texture, says Charles McManus, who helped brew the creation and works as head brewer for Wynkoop’s sister brewery, Phantom Canyon Brewing Company. “We used five ounces of chalk and, in this type of beer, it actually really helps with the mouthfeel, which is a huge part of what distinguishes a hazy IPA from other styles of IPA—you’re looking for this kinda fluffy but not heavy mouthfeel,” he says.

On Belay IPA is the third beer Wynkoop has made using Denver-based Friction Labs’ Unicorn Dust climbing chalk. The unlikely partnership began in 2017, when McManus and one of his brewery co-workers were spending a lot of their free time rock climbing (including on a makeshift—and surreptitious—climbing wall in the Wynkoop basement). The pair joked that if they ever ran out of climbing chalk at the gym, they could just use brewing chalk, a powder brewers sometimes add to water to adjust its mineral levels. McManus took the joke one step further, wondering aloud if they could use climbing chalk, instead of brewing chalk, to make beer.

One thing led to another, and McManus got connected with Friction Labs co-founders Keah Kalantari and Kevin Brown. Their pharmaceutical-grade climbing chalk, made from magnesium carbonate, is safe to consume, so McManus and the rest of Wynkoop’s brewing team began brainstorming beer styles that would benefit from a little extra minerality. “In Denver, we have very, very low minerality in our water base, which is an awesome thing for brewers because it’s like a blank slate—we can add minerals and therefore try to replicate water profiles from different regions of the world,” says McManus, 33. “When we brew a stout or some British style, we try to replicate British-type water. The more sophisticated you can treat your water, the better your beer is going to turn out.”

Keah Kalantari, co-founder of Friction Labs, and Charles McManus, head brewer of Phantom Canyon Brewing Company, creating Wynkoop’s On Belay Hazy IPA. Photo courtesy of Friction Labs/Wynkoop Brewing Company

In 2017, the Wynkoop team brewed Limey Unicorn, a British golden ale that they believe was the first-ever beer made with climbing chalk. In 2019, they decided to keep the tradition going with Friendly Friction, another British golden ale.

This year, the brewers decided to take the climbing chalk beer in another direction by creating a hazy IPA. One big reason? Wynkoop and Friction Labs wanted to raise money to help underserved children learn how to climb, and hazy IPAs are super popular. Proceeds from the On Belay IPA will go to Friction Labs’ new Diversity in Climbing program, which will help pay for climbing lessons and day passes at local gyms for children from Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver, Denver Children’s Home, and other similar organizations in the future. “We work with close to 1,000 gyms around the U.S. and we thought, ‘What if we could get underserved kids into the gym, get them a day pass and rentals, and help them be able to try out different sports?’” says Friction Labs’ Brown.

For McManus, the project is a chance to give back while combining his love of beer and climbing. “For me to be able to combine my two passions and to be able to actually influence my community for the better and help get kids climbing, that’s huge,” he says.

In addition to climbing chalk, the On Belay IPA incorporates five varieties of hops: Centennial, Mosaic, Sabro, El Dorado, and Hallertau Blanc. It’s on tap now at Wynkoop and Phantom Canyon while supplies last.

Wynkoop Brewing Company, 1634 18th St.; Phantom Canyon Brewing Company, 2 E. Pikes Peak Ave., Colorado Springs

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