What’s new in brew
The craft-beer industry is growing at a ridiculous pace in Colorado. More than a dozen new breweries pop up each year around the state, with beer production barely keeping pace with the demands of thirsty customers. The three breweries in the Vail Valley are doing their part to add fuel to the flames of the craft-beer craze. From expansion to distribution to adding more creative beer choices to the local drinking scene, Bonfire Brewing, Crazy Mountain Brewing Co. and Gore Range Brewery are riding the rising tide of the sudsy stuff.Driven by demandA brewery expansion is dominating the landscape at Bonfire Brewing in Eagle. Matt Wirtz, beverage engineer, and Andy Jessen, master of minutia, are working hard to get the project up and running within the next month or so.”We’re expanding our production capacity by about 600 percent,” Jessen said. “That’s taking place at a new facility about a mile from our existing taproom, where we’ll have a bigger brewing system, a lot more fermenters and the ability to can all of our beers.”When the brewery opened in November 2010, Jessen said the Bonfire team was making about 100 gallons of beer at a time. When the new location opens for business on Nov. 17, the brewery will be cranking out as much as 1,200 gallons of beer at once.”We’ve come a lot further a lot faster than we or anyone else thought we would from starting out with just the two of us in a garage,” Jessen said.Jessen said the growth has been driven by demand. The brewery is aiming to supply all of the liquor stores and restaurants that have asked for Bonfire beer. Trying to crank out the required amount of beer on the brewery’s little seven-barrel system at the taproom was getting to be a daunting challenge, he said. Bonfire’s focus for the next six to 12 months is to fulfill demand right here in Eagle County, strengthening its bond with the community and creating local jobs and a sustainable future for the brewery, Jessen said.”We’ve hired three employees in the last three months, so since we’ve opened, we’ve created five jobs in the valley, decent-paying jobs,” Jessen said. “My guess is we’ll double that by this time next year, so another five at least, not counting sales rep-type people.”Right now, Bonfire is using a mobile canning service to fuel distribution until its new canning line is finished. Once that happens, the brewery will add Demshitz Brown Ale, Awry rye pale ale and Tent Pole Porter to its current canned-beer stable of Firestarter IPA and Brush Creek Blonde.”A year ago, we would have been happy to have been in a dozen bars, but things change quickly, so we’ll see,” Jessen said.Looking to the horizonCrazy Mountain Brewing Co. hit the ground running two years ago and hasn’t stopped to take a breath ever since. The brewery announced recently that it had expanded distribution to cover nine states in all four corners of the country, and brewer and co-owner Kevin Selvy said Crazy Mountain is on track to reach another five states in the first quarter of 2013. Distributors in Europe, Asia and South America also have approached the brewery.”We’re looking at opening a second plant in Denver to help with capacity issues,” Selvy said. “We’re also hiring five people in January, regional sales directors. We’re planning where to put which people.”The brewery’s current capacity is about 15,000 barrels, and in less than a month, that number will grow to 20,000 barrels. By the end of 2013, Selvy said the plant in Edwards would be kicking out close to 30,000 barrels of beer, the equivalent of 60,000 kegs. To hit those numbers, Crazy Mountain is adding another 5,000 square feet of production space by building an outdoor structure to support the 50- to 60-foot fermenting tanks that will be too large to house inside the plant.Crazy Mountain is planning to fire up a new bottling line by the end of the week. Selvy said the brewery will be bottling 22-ounce bombers of five of its beers, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades ESB, Hookiebobb IPA, Cara de Luna Black Ale, Old Soul Strong Belgian Ale and a seasonal, starting with the Snowcat Coffee Stout for the winter.”We’ll be doing a series of higher-end beers in 750 (milliliter) bottles,” Selvy said, adding that the brewery is also dedicating about 2,000 square feet of space to its barrel program.”Every week, we’re tapping a barrel-aged beer,” Selvy said. “We’re trying to keep as much of it in the area as possible.”Freedom in brewingIn November, Gore Range Brewery will be celebrating its one-year anniversary under new ownership. The brewery and restaurant in Edwards has been around for about 15 years, said Jeremy Pluck, Gore Range brewer, but was newly licensed for brewing last fall. Chef-owner Pascal Coudouy has given Pluck the freedom to explore new brews beyond the half-dozen selections the establishment has been known for.”Before, I was doing six beers and rarely had capacity to do anything on top of that,” Pluck said. “I could do three or four specials per year with our four fermenting tanks.”Now, Gore Range will hold onto three of its stalwarts – GRB Lager, Fly Fisher Red Ale and Powder Day Pale Ale – and rotate the other taps among new flavors. Pluck said the setup would allow him more creativity in brewing.The brewery has restructured its bar draft system, featuring all stainless steel tubing for the draft lines. The stainless tubes are wrapped around a central copper cooling line, allowing Pluck to have more control over the temperature of the beer and ensuring each draft is served with the precise character the brewer intended.”The standard (for draft lines) is nickel-plated brass,” Pluck said. “But brass can give the beer a metallic taste. The best contact for beer is stainless steel.”Pluck also has been experimenting with barrel aging some of his beers, including a Fly Fisher Red Ale that has been in the loving embrace of a Breckenridge Distillery bourbon barrel for a few weeks. Pluck is anticipating that beer will go on draft this week. He also will be barreling the brewery’s new Dark Matter Extra Stout, which came out last week, and a Scottish-style ale to be released mid-winter. Most of that beer will see the inside of a barrel, too, he said.”It’s a fun thing to do,” Pluck said of his fledgling barrel program. “It makes it more interesting for me and the customers.”
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Are we seeing more bears because there are more bears on the valley floor, or because we’re all spending more time at home? It could be a bit of both.