Aspen’s brew crew
Soon there will be a place in Aspen where beer will be sold on Sundays. A trio of recent college grads and one master brewer appears to be the right recipe to create Aspen’s own local beer ” homemade brew that will flow directly out of the Aspen Brewery, located at 557 North Mill Street in Aspen.
Six to eight different original brews will be coming to a pint glass near you sometime in December, said Duncan Clauss, co-owner of the Aspen Brewery.
Clauss, 22, and his business partners, Rory Douthit, 22 and Brad Veltman, 23, recently signed a three-year lease in a 2,000-square-foot space owned by local attorneys Ron Garfield and Andy Hecht.
The young entrepreneurs believe they’ve found a niche market in Aspen because it doesn’t have its own brewery or its own local brew. They also believe their secret to success will be found in Jason Courtney, a 38-year-old master brewer who has been recognized as one of the best micro-brew makers in the country.
They all recently moved to Aspen to turn their beer dream into a reality.
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“Making great beer is our first goal,” Douthit said. “Being a local brewery is the top priority.”
Aspen Brewery will operate with a manufacturing/wholesale license, meaning it doesn’t follow state or city liquor laws, which forbids liquor sales at retail outlets on Sundays. The difference is that Aspen Brewery is manufacturing a product and selling it wholesale.
The license applies across the board, so whether a thirsty customer wants to sample beer at the brewery’s tasting room or take some home in a growler (a beer-to-go glass bottle), they can do it seven days a week.
“Colorado is a great state to do this in,” Douthit said.
The manufacturing license also made the Aspen Brewery an eligible tenant in what’s known as the Service Commercial Industrial (SCI) zone, which was created decades ago by the city government as a way to keep locally-serving businesses alive in a resort town.
But that doesn’t mean rent prices are protected since landlords can charge whatever the market can bear. The business partners declined to say how much they are paying in rent but did say it’s a significant cost to the operation.
“Let’s just say we are paying a premium to be an Aspen brewery,” Douthit said.
Operating a brewery comes with substantial overhead, including the fixed costs of rent, buying equipment and as Clauss said, paying themselves salaries that will allow them to live in Aspen.
And because of high demand and a poor European crop, the price of hops has tripled ” a pound used to run between $5 and $7. Now, it’s between $10 to $20 a pound.
“The international hop shortage is definitely impacting us,” Courtney said, adding brewers typically have to buy hops on contract, like buying futures. The Aspen Brewery has purchased nearly 1,000 pounds of hops, spending somewhere in the neighborhood of $20,000. They’ll be stored frozen and should last a year, Courtney said.
The partners’ business plan calls for the brewery to break even in three years. But without knowing how the market is going to respond, it’s difficult to gauge how much or how quickly the revenue will come in.
“We are conservative in our sales projections so we won’t be screwed when we come up short,” Clauss said.
That’s likely to sit well with the brewery’s investors who will act as a board of directors. But the day-to-day business decisions will be left up to Clauss, Douthit and Veltman.
Clauss has looked for advice from other brewers in Boulder and Southern California. He also talked to a micro brewer in Nantucket to better understand how to weather off seasons.
But for the local insight, the brewers have tapped longtime businessman and Flying Dog Beer founder George Stranahan for advice.
“He gave us a thumbs up,” Veltman said. “He said Aspen is ready for a brewery and him giving us approval is huge.”
Their business plan calls for the majority of sales to come from distributing their brews in local restaurants, bars and liquor stores throughout the valley.
“We’ve talked to the liquor stores and we’ve gotten a really good reception,” Veltman said. “There’s no local beer here and we’re pretty optimistic about it.”
Even though the brewery won’t be open for business until sometime in December, the brewers plan to make several batches for pre-sales.
“It’s tough to sell a beer that no one has tasted,” Veltman said.
They also hope to capture the tourism market by making their brewery a place where local residents go.
“Ideally, it will be a locals’ hangout and people flock to where the locals are,” Clauss said.
The business owners held a contest last month for locals to design a label for the Aspen Brewery. Local designer Jeremy Elder has been chosen for his design but the logo is not quite ready, Clauss said.
Clauss also added that he and his partners will run the business as environmentally friendly as they can afford to ” they’re buying wind power from Holy Cross and using bio-diesel trucks for delivery. They’ve also talked to local farmers about giving them their used grain for cattle and pigs, as well as for compost.
Different beers will be offered during the seasons but six to eight varieties will be available year-round. The price point for a beer will average about $4 a pint, but some will be more expensive based on the quality of the brew.
“I’m trying to tell these guys to sell their beers at a premium price,” Courtney said, adding he was surprised that there was no local brew in Aspen but that void will soon be filled. “People are thirsty.”