Gather ‘Round: Bonfire Brewing celebrates 10 years of sharing beer with the Vail Valley
Bonfire Brewing is looking back with nostalgia and humor this week on 10 years of beer.
The Eagle-based brewery has a whole week of specials, throwback releases, live music and exclusive merchandise planned from Sunday, Nov. 8, to Saturday, Nov. 14, to celebrate its 10th anniversary. Looking back, Bonfire’s owners and founders Andy and Amanda Jessen are proud of everything they’ve achieved since Bonfire was just a grassroots, garage operation.
“Hustle plus community equals 10 years of Bonfire,” Amanda said.
The married couple began dating in 2008. In 2009, when Amanda was relocating from Denver to live with Andy in the valley, they and their third roommate, Bonfire’s co-founder Matt Wirtz, brainstormed ways to make a little extra cash so they wouldn’t have to find a fourth roommate. The idea hit them: beer.
Though Wirtz has since left the business to live in Slovakia with his wife, he had been gifted a home brew kit for his birthday, and by the time Amanda entered the household, he had developed a good hobby from it. By early 2010, the trio had secured the building, which is still Bonfire’s taproom today, and opened it a week after the couple got engaged. Andy used his legal background to file Articles of Organization for the LLC, and the three started balancing time between their full-time jobs with the brewery.
“I would bartend at night, just for tips, and that’s why we didn’t open till 5:30 when we first started,” Andy said.
Their first year in business, Bonfire’s founders “totally bootstrapped everything,” as Amanda put it. Her dad helped build parts of the patio, friends and customers volunteered time and equipment to help outfit the brewery to their liking.
“If you asked us those days in that first year if we even thought we’d be doing this in 10 years, I think we would not have,” Amanda said.
But the business’ goal was always the same, and that shows in the tagline it’s had since day one: Gather ‘Round.
“That’s become the tenet of our whole existence,” Amanda said. “That is the biggest piece that’s just grown and grown is our commitment to being involved, and not only in our community but in all of the things that we care about: our lifestyle and in our place that we live.”
In the early days, Bonfire was also one of the first businesses that helped create what is now Broadway in Eagle. The town is largely populated by families, but that was even more so the case at that time, and there wasn’t much around besides Brush Creek Saloon and the Dusty Boot, now the Boneyard.
“We had this dream that downtown Eagle could be a vibrant, bustling place,” Amanda said. “It’s become a hub for bringing people together and that’s been really, really rewarding to see.”
And as far as bringing people together, Andy and Amanda know of at least four couples that met at Bonfire. But the biggest and most obvious example of bringing people together is Bonfire Block Party.
At Bonfire’s first Block Party in 2013, Andy filed a permit to close down that block of 2nd Street, where the expanded patio is now. The permit was immediately approved, and local band Hardscrabble played (Hardscrabble will be playing at Bonfire on Saturday, Nov. 14, from 6 to 9 p.m. to celebrate the 10th anniversary).
Each year, the festival kept growing and eventually grew into a regional attraction that cast a spotlight specifically on Eagle.
“The evolution of that really was kind of coinciding with the evolution of our business as a whole,” Amanda said.
“We focus so much on the experience. Do you ever have to wait in line for a bathroom, do you ever have to wait in line for food? Do we have the kind of beer that you want? We keep trying to make it the best experience possible because of that,” Andy said.
Though this year’s Bonfire Block Party was canceled due to the coronavirus, Bonfire hopes to return with a Block Party in 2021.
Bonfire considers it a duty to provide meaningful experiences to customers, and it hopes to provide the same for its employees. Amanda referred to her coworkers as “extended family,” and wants each employee to feel supported and valued for not only their work, but for their personal and professional development as well. Many of Bonfire’s former employees have gone on to leadership positions at other breweries across the country.
Bigger than its own beer, Bonfire has integrated itself, as Andy put it, “into the fabric of the community.” Now, he sits on the Eagle Town Council, which is working to build the river park, continue building Broadway’s character and more.
“It’s helping our community thrive and be as successful as possible. I wouldn’t be as successful at it without Bonfire,” Andy said.
And one of the brightest spots for the business has been staying true to the things it cares about: good beer and the Vail Valley lifestyle.
“I mean, it sounds obvious now, but it’s not when you’re starting out. You start out and you try to please everyone you know. But it turns out that if you just make what you care about and what you love and enjoy drinking, that’s what sells the best because you’re behind it and you’re passionate about it,” Andy said.
For more information about Bonfire Brewing, visit bonfirebrewing.com.
- Sunday, Nov. 8 – Limited Edition Anniversary Glass release, Anniversary Chalkboard Reveal
- Monday, Nov. 9 – Throwback beer release #1
- Tuesday, Nov. 10 – Throwback beer release #2, Guess Your Flight Night — Guess your flight and it’s free
- Wednesday, Nov. 11 – Specialty Slush release #1
- Thursday, Nov. 12 – Throwback beer release #3, Brew Tours at Bonfire production facility, live music from Lance Boyle and the Red Bottom Boys 6-9 p.m
- Friday, Nov. 13 – Specialty Slush release #2, Throwback beer release #4, live music from The Evolution 6-9 p.m
- Saturday, Nov. 14 – Annual Mug Club Auction, live music from Hardscrabble from 6-9 p.m., 10th Anniversary Bottle Release and Quad Brown release on draft with collectors’ glass, prize drawing for a YETI 45L Hard Cooler filled with Bonfire goodies