Limey Unicorn, a Beer Brewed with Rock Climbing Chalk

Limey Unicorn, a Beer Brewed with Rock Climbing Chalk

There’s a certain chalky, mineral quality that hangs on the last sips of Wynkoop Brewing‘s new British Golden Ale, but I never would have guessed that it was actually brewed with chalk. Or that so many beers, in essence, are too.

Limey Unicorn, a new beer from Denver’s original brewpub was made in collaboration with FrictionLabs and White Labs, and it was indeed brewed with rock climbing chalk.

“It all started with a joke between myself and Wynkoop brewer Jason Lima that we could use the chalk we use at the brewery to climb with if we ever ran out of normal climbing chalk,” says Wynkoop brewer Charles McManus, who keeps in shape for his brewing job with rock climbing. His team recently took first place in the Colorado Brewers Climbing League.

climbing chalk beer
Brewers pour Unicorn Chalk in the beer on brew day. (Photo: Dustin Hall/The Brewtography Project)

“Brewing chalk is Calcium carbonate, and we use it and a variety of other salts and minerals to adjust the water chemistry for different styles of beer.”

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This joke became a reality through his brewing and climbing networks, which tend to be tightly interwoven. He told his friend, avid climber, and White Labs representative JoAnne Carrilli-Stevenson about the idea. She told Kevin Brown, founder of the FrictionLabs climbing chalk company. Soon enough McManus was writing a recipe for an English-style ale brewed with FictionLabs Unicorn Dust and British Ale yeast donated by White Labs. They named it Limey Unicorn — “limey” is slang for British person, and unicorn as a nod to the chalk’s name.

Wynkoop cuts its teeth producing English-style beers and has a long history of cask offerings, so it was only natural that this chalk beer fall into that stylistic category.

“We use chalk specifically on a lot of our British ales because these styles hail from regions with a naturally higher amount of Calcium and carbonate,” McManus explains.

“The FrictionLabs chalk is not only food grade but pharmaceutical grade as well, which makes it a superior product” McManus says. “It’s not Calcium carbonate but instead Magnesium carbonate, which is another mineral we use, so we decided to go for it. As with most of our brewing salts, we added it to the kettle at the beginning of the boil.”

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On brew day, the FrictionLabs crew joined Wynkoop’s brewing team for the process — and a mash rest climbing session.  “During the hour rest we took the whole team down into our basement and had a climbing session on the natural features found on the 200-year-old stone walls,” says McManus of Wynkoop’s historic building. “It was super rad and couldn’t have been more appropriate.”

Limey Unicon is brightly hued and smells earthy like fresh rain. It’s medium-bodied with pillowy mouthfeel. “The chalk lends a distinctly crisp finish to the beer,” says McManus.

The chalk might also be a conversation-starter about a critical but often forgotten component to brewing beer: water chemistry.

“The chalk in the finish of Limey Unicorn is characteristic of the water profile of the mineral-rich region where we drew inspiration for it, and our brewery. We think that this beer will bring attention to water chemistry — and the fact that it can make or break the overall effect of a delicious brew.”

Limey Unicorn will tap at Wynkoop Brewing in February and will be served in March at Collaboration Fest in Denver.