Local Business: Craft Brewers
By Christina Freeman
Two craft brewery businesses open locally this summer. Both
operations were inspired by home brewing, but that's where they part company.
Storm Peak Brewery brews beer for its own brew-house customers, while Butcherknife
Brewery sells to restaurants and bars along the Western Slope.
The two will join Mahogany Ridge Brewery and Grill, for a total of three brewery operations in town. (There's also a small brewery taking shape in Hayden -- the Yampa Valley Brewing Company, which wants to open a tasting room and brewery at the historic Hayden Granary.)
Home brewing, with all its triumphs and disasters (which are often the most instructive), led two groups to think that Steamboat could use an additional brewery – or two. Wyatt Patterson, of Storm Peak and partners Nate Johansing and Mark Fitzgerald, of Butcherknife, started thinking, and then acting on the idea of bringing a new brewery to the 'Boat. Each soon became aware of the other's plans, but no worries.
"Everyone is hugely helpful to other brewers, because we all love beer," Patterson says. Fitzgerald agrees, noting that the passion for making good beers overrides any sense of competition. "The brewing community is not about competition," he explains.
Storm Peak predicts that 95 percent of its production will be consumed in the Storm Peak tasting room (1744 Lincoln Ave.), which will feature a bunch of TVs and a clear view of the brewery's inner workings. Butcherknife has a taproom for local consumption ( 2875 Elk River Road), but Fitzgerald and brewmaster Johansing, are more focused on supplying a large volume of quality craft beers to an ever-growing number of bars and restaurants.
"We're going with a 30 barrel system," says Fitzgerald, which means his company is tied with the Ska brewing company in Durango and Kannah Creek in Grand Junction, as the largest capacity operations on the Western Slope. Storm Peak is launching with a seven-barrel system.
"We're launching with four basic beers," says Patterson -- black and gold ales, a Belgium ale and an IPA. They'll also experiment with different styles – they’re already playing with a tangerine-infused beer.
Fitzgerald says Butcherknife will start with a simple blond ale, with no flaws. "It can be surprisingly difficult to produce a beer with no flaws," he says. For the launch, Fitzgerald said Butcherknife will produce a British mild beer, an IPA and a Belgian ale that Butcherknife basically invented off the cuff – dark and sweet with notes of roasted grain. "We were incredibly lucky we came up with something this good, as an experiment," Fitzgerald says.
Both Patterson and Fitzgerald said quality control -- producing batches that are exactly alike, beginning to end, is critical. Fitzgerald says craft brewers used to have an “us vs. them” attitude about big brewers, but no more. "Bud can dump more beer in a day than most of us produce in a year. They do an outstanding job with quality control and consistency," he says.
"For us, opening a business in Steamboat has been a wonderful experience," says Patterson. "It's such a close community that we're really able to communicate directly with our customers and get in front of as many people as possible. Word travels fast in the town as well, which really helps us to save on marketing expense and put that money back into the beer and the tap room atmosphere."
Fitzgerald says challenges have been relatively minor. " Most of the difficulties we did have relate to opening a business the likes of which Steamboat has really never seen. The most difficult challenge we have faced is that our construction has never been a secret -- because of that, since we broke ground in December 2012, we've been fielding questions about when we will open. We hope the people of Steamboat think the wait has been worthwhile. We love this city and its people and want them to be proud of their new brewery."