“They who drink beer will think beer.”
It’s doubtful that the famed American author was paying a compliment to impassioned beer connoisseurs when he made that statement.
But as it turns out, Irving made a spot-on observation about America’s craft beer revolution.
Americans in general, and Coloradoans in particular, love their beer. But we are loving the big manufacturers such as Budweiser, Coors and Miller a little less and specialty craft and micro brews a lot more. According to some reports, thousands of craft breweries debuted across the nation last year and of that number, as many as 200 can be found in Colorado. One of the latest to join the mix is 7 Hermits Brewing Company at Eagle Ranch.
“Who wouldn’t want to brew beer for a living,” noted co-owner Matt Mueller with a big grin.
Mueller and another Matt — Matt Marple — form the nucleus of the new operation. The third owner is Tyler Aldrich, who handles the food side of the new brew pub.
The trio did not set out to become part of the country’s beer movement. In fact they barely knew each other a couple of years ago. But an actual golden moment mashed them together and resulted in the creation of 7 Hermits.
Marple was the brewmeister who unwittingly launched 7 Hermits. He was working construction and brewing in his garage when he stopped by Eagle Ranch Wine and Spirts, where Mueller worked. Marple dropped off a bottle of his home brew for another employee and Mueller was impressed by that taste when he was offered a sip.
“Then one day, he asked what I was brewing in my garage and asked if he could come over. He never stopped coming over,” said Marple.
The Matts were enjoying their home brew hobby, sharing their beer with friends, when one of their fans suggested they compete in a brewing contest sponsored by Mountain Beverage. “We weren’t even interested in that contest at all,” said Marple. But then that same fan offered to purchase the ingredients if they would cook up some entries. The Matts figured they didn’t have anything to lose and at the end of the day, they would have a lot of great beer to drink.
The Paul Imperial IPA — what will likely become a 7 Hermits signature — was born for that competition and from the first moment they tapped it, the Matts knew they had a winner.
“We didn’t even drink it. We just sat there with our noses in the cups and grins on our faces,” said Marple.
The Paul Imperial took first place in the contest and two of their other brews landed in the top five. It was an auspicious first competition.
“At that point we realized we did have a knack for brewing and we wanted to make beer in big batches, partly because we wanted to drink it,” said Marple. They started running numbers. It took about three weeks to decide to open a brew pub. That’s when the work began.
Brewing up a business
Early on during their considerations, the Matts received some professional advice to do a brew pub/restaurant. “People are more likely to stay at a pub longer if they can eat as well as drink,” said Marple. “But neither one of us knows anything about food.”
That’s when third partner Aldrich joined up. While he was working as a structural engineer at the time, Aldrich had deep restaurant roots. His father was a restaurant manager and his mom was a baker back in his Smuggler’s Notch, Vt. home town.
“I was always in restaurants, coming in early to do the baking with my mom or staying late nights with my dad, sleeping under the tables,” Aldrich said.
When he got together with the Matts, Aldrich pitched a food idea they weren’t expecting — a menu anchored by flatbread.
“What most people think of as flatbread is really a pizza. But that’s not what I was thinking,” he said.
Of the four flatbread options on the 7 Hermits menu, there’s only one that even features cheese. “The flavors are all across the board,” said Aldrich. “It’s is more about textures, big flavors, regional ingredients and taste.”
The flatbread options are complimented by salads and snacks. And, of course, the food reflects beer. “As much as possible, I am trying to pair food with our brews,” Aldrich said.
Recipe for opening
With the food side of the business addressed, the Matts set out to find a location. They settled on an empty storefront located along Sylvan Lake Road next to the Eagle Ranch Fitness Center. The space had a lofted ceiling high enough to house the brewing equipment, a highly visible front space and the option for some outdoor dining.
“We have literally hand-built this place,” said Marple. Everything from the zinc patina front counter to the custom lighting fixtures are examples of their handiwork. But, of course, the Matts biggest personal statement is found on tap, in the three fermentors and in the cooking kettle located at 7 Hermits.
According to http://www.alabev.com the short version of how to create beer reads:
“All beer is brewed from malted barley, hops, yeast and water, although other ingredients such as fruit, wheat and spices are sometimes used. The yeast turns sugar in the malt into alcohol and the hops provide the bitter flavor in beer and the flowery aroma. The flavor of the beer depends on many things, including the types of malt and hops used, other ingredients and the yeast variety. Getting the yeast right is essential as each variety has its own distinctive effect on the beer.”
Beer drinks young. It is usually aged anywhere from 17 to 30 days.
“My favorite part of the process is the boil. I like the smell of the beer when it is cooking,” said Marple.
“I like drinking it at the end,” said Mueller.
Noting that he has a methodical personality, even as a home brewer Marple kept detailed notes about his various brewing experiments. “I know people who wing it every single time and then they get really super angry every time when they make something really good,” he said.
Even with his home brewing chops, Marple was nervous about his first brewery batch.
“I had never commercial brewed anything and I was just sure we would ruin a bunch of batches,” he said. “I was expecting to do a lot of apologizing when we first opened.”
That hasn’t happened. To date, the beer has all brewed nicely. Currently there are four 7 Hermits offerings on tap:
Paul Imperial IPA
Gold Dust Blonde
Hop Rocker IPA
The brew pub has a number of large screen television sets stationed around the dining room, but it isn’t fashioning itself as a sports bar. Marple noted that when a big game is on, customers will be able to watch at 7 Hermits, but on an every day basis the screens are just as likely to feature music performances. He would eventually like to offer live performances as well.
“Back in the early ‘90s, we used to have a pretty good local music scene around here. We would like to help bring that back,” said Marple.
As for the operation’s name, Mueller was its brainchild with “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as inspiration.
“I thought ‘seven hermits brewing’ and I couldn’t get it out of my head,” said Mueller.
Luckily the 7 Hermits are a local landmark, subtly reflected in the business’s logo.
Toast of the town
Customers who are making their first trip to 7 Hermits are sometimes jolted when they take a look at the brands on tap. The initial four 7 Hermits offerings are there, but so are beers from Eagle’s other pub, Bonfire Brewing, as well as Vail’s Crazy Mountain.
“People who come in don’t expect that. People expect a whole competition thing,” said Mueller.
“Actually it is more beneficial for us all to get along,” said Marple.
The 7 Hermits guys said the Bonfire crew has been a great help in launching their business. They were thrilled when, on their second night of operation, the Bonfire crew showed up to sample their brews and food.
“I think we had one of everything on the menu,’ said Matthew Wirtz, one of Bonfire’s owners.
Wirtz noted the friendly relations between Eagle’s breweries is not unusual. “We behave differently in the craft beer world,” he said. “If Eagle becomes a beer destination, people with stop at our place and at their place. The more people who come to Eagle to try beer, the better for everyone.”
Wirtz promised more collaboration between Eagle’s brewers in the future.
The 7 Hermits crew also offered high praise for the operators of Gypsum’s Wine or WortHome Brew Supply.
“A few years ago, I wanted to buy a brewing kit … so I was one of their best customers,” said Marple.
In addition to equipment, Marple said that Wine or Wort owners Beth Reed and Bit Hood dispensed sound advice. “They saw this (7 Hermits) coming. They kept asking us when we were going to open our brewery,” said Marple. “Now, we are sitting in it.”
7 Hermits Brewing Company is open from 4 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to close on Friday and noon to close on Saturday and Sunday. The standard pint price is $4 but some speciality beers may be priced higher. To learn more about the business, visit their Facebook page or 7hermits.com. The business phone number is 970-328-6220.