brew trek

happy anniversary & strange brewing interview – part 1

A lot can happen in one year; new jobs, new family members, new friends, new opportunities. In the past year I’ve visited 19 breweries and brew pubs, three beer festivals, and three tap houses. Quite a few of those 19 breweries were visited multiple times, and some are regular haunts, but a large majority began as first time visits.

It was nearly one year ago that I began this blog; started on Microsoft Live Blog that came included with my ISP, and then transferred to WordPress when Microsoft decided they didn’t want to be in the blog business. Initially I envisioned it as a showcase for the numerous pint glasses and other ephemera that I’ve accumulated well over 25 years, while enjoying the camaraderie and experience that is the craft beer community. I slowly came to the realization that this blog is more than just a review of the beers I’ve had over the years, it’s about the journeys and adventures I’ve enjoyed while seeking out fresh beer. It is in short a Brew Trek.

My first brewery post a year ago, was about a brand new entrant into the Denver, and Colorado beer brotherhood; Strange Brewing. From that opening night I realized that they epitomized everything that is right about craft beer today; small batches of extremely well thought out beers with an experimentation that harkens to their home brewing roots, a tasting room that is a comfortable environment for craft beer geek and newbie alike, and a sense of open mindedness.

When I realized that the perfect kismet of the one year anniversary of both this blog and the brewery, combined with Craft Beer Week were occurring simultaneously, I dropped a line to Tim and John to see if I could get an interview to mark the occasion. Much to my surprise they responded almost instantaneously with a “yes” on the Sunday afternoon when I came up with the idea.

I have to express my extreme gratitude to both Tim and John for taking time out from a busy evening, on a busy week, to sit down with me and share their thoughts on the past year. Especially since the interview ran close to a half hour, while the place was filling up with patrons just as eager to congratulate them.

What follows is a minimally edited (for “ers” & “ums”) transcription of the interview held Wednesday, May 18, 2011 shortly after they had just released their 100th batch, an interesting Imperial (Double Take IPA) that tips the scales at 12% ABV. We all sipped this slightly sour, nice and hoppy, full-bodied brew as the following conversation took place.

Brew Trek
So my first question is how’s business been going?

Tim Myers
Business has been crazy. We are doing everything possible just to keep all ten taps full.

BT
Wow!

Strange Brewing - Tim Myers

all interview photos courtesy Marie Carlson

Tim
And it’s getting to the point to where we’re just about killing ourselves brewing six barrels a week on our one barrel system trying to keep up with demand. And just to add to the challenge, we recently landed a tap at Ale House at Amato’s, they’re pulling our IPA now, which is great, it’s exiting, but it’s also daunting because there’s another commitment for our beer.

BT
You guys meeting the demand?

Tim
Nope. In the last year we’ve turned down a lot of the requests for tap accounts just because we knew we couldn’t meet the demand.

BT
That’s definitely something I’m sure you guys were hoping for when you opened up last year, but sometimes the reality hits you when you least expect it.

Tim
Everybody always says “oh, that’s a nice problem to have!” and I’m like, well ya, if you want to look at it from the standpoint of knowing that the demand is there, but if we can’t meet the demand, we’re losing business. Oh man, it would be nice to be able to meet the demand that we have.

BT
That actually is one of the other questions I had… I know you guys have upgraded from the couple of times I’ve been in over the past year. What capacity did you guys start off with and what do you have now.

Tim
We are brewing on the same capacity when we started. The brewhouse hasn’t changed yet. We’ve added fermenters and conditioning tanks.

BT
Okay

Tim
We opened with the two, three barrel fermenters and four, one barrels and then we added three, three barrel Grundy tanks. So that, two of which we’re using for conditioning, and one that we’re fermenting strictly our Farmhouse (Strange’s Le Bruit du Diable Farmhouse Ale). We have a tank that is nothing but Farmhouse. And we brew into it every two weeks just to meet the Farmhouse demand. Because the Farmhouse is blowing everything else that we brew away.

BT
And is that on tap at… (Amato’s)

Tim
No, not yet. But he wanted to start with our IPA ’cause he didn’t feel like he had enough IPAs on tap. He came by, Todd Thibault (Breckenridge Brewery’s Director of Marketing) came by and tasted all the… he did a full flight and tasted all we had, and he decided on the IPAphany because he felt that it matched well with his other IPAs, it complimented them, and he felt short on his IPA selection. So hopefully down the road we’ll snag a second or third tap.

BT
So is it just Amato’s? ‘Cause I’d heard a rumor that you guys were being carried at Hops and Pie also.

Tim
We, starting in January, we brewed three different recipes, IPA recipes, until we hit on one that Drew liked in his pizza dough. And starting in February, he put Hops and Pie PA on tap. Its exclusive to Drew, its his beer alone that we brew for him, no… we don’t even tap it here. So it’s only available at Hops and Pie. And that was nice, ’cause that was a small account that we could you know keg a week. We figure, you know we can squeeze three barrels of an extra IPA in every you know… once a month, or so. It was tight, having to cram it in, you know stuff got bumped, but so far we haven’t run out of too many beers trying to keep Hops and Pie on tap.

BT
Yet. Until they get popular.

Tim
Ya. It was… He figured a keg a week, and it was going two kegs a week the first month. So we were a little nervous, (laughs all around) ’cause there was no way we could make… there’s no way we could cover two taps, two kegs a week.

BT
Well, actually something you guys probably don’t want to think about right now… any plans in the future to can or bottle?

Tim
Waaay down the road. I always tell people when they ask, that I quit bottling as a homebrewer in 2001 ’cause I hated washing bottles and sanitizing bottles. We might do some one-offs, some specialty hand bottles ala the original La Folie when they used to hand bottle them, hand label them, hand cork ’em.

Strange Brewing - John Fletcher

John Fletcher
Champagne or bottles…

Tim
Ya, I worry though on the consistency. I was just talking to a customer out there that was asking the same question. Part of what I hate about bottling as a homebrewer is you get one bottle that is flat and the next bottle you open it evacuates all over the ceiling and half the bottle’s gone. You know like “what the hell is that?” (laughing)

BT
Oh I agree. I’ve been in the same position where even the same batch, bottle to bottle, you can have different… totally different flavors and mouths.

Tim
Ya. So we’ll do some experimentation with that, you know probably bomber size, limited release, but not real high priority. We’d do that just for the fun of it more than as a, you know, business exercise to open a new revenue stream.

BT
And what do you guys think of the “canned beer revolution,” as they’re calling it?

Tim
I’ve been drinking Oskar Blues since they opened. So I don’t… to me I don’t really see it as a revolution, more than an evolution. Every reason that they quote for why you want to drink beer out of cans is true. Bottles let in light which skunks beer. You know for us, we don’t pasteurize, we don’t filter, so our beers’ shelf life would be weeks in bottles, but it would be months in cans. But, John and I always joke, here’s Wynkoop with their two head filler and two employees full time doing Railyard, two cans fill, hand it over, the next guy caps it. Two cans fill, hand it over, the next guy caps it. That would almost be like, you know, that would be the punishment job. (laughing all around) If you emptied a tank by accident, all over the floor, “Alright, you’re on canning for the next month!” (more laughing all around)

BT
Well they could do it like Stranahans does where…

John
Volunteers?

BT
Ya, you volunteer and you get to take home a bottle.

Tim
Ya.

BT
Instead you get to take home a six pack.

Tim
I see a lot of shorts coming through on that. (still more laughing all around)

John
They’re around to help us fill, and they get to keep the shorts. And they’re all shorts. (laughing)

Tim
“I don’t know what happened, but that entire batch was short!” (all laughing)

John Fletcher of Strange Brewing & Will from Brew Trek BT
(catching breath) Let’s see… The last time I was in I noticed you guys had a reward card. How’d that come about? How’s that working? Is it giving you more business?

Tim
It started out as a thank you to the regulars, you know get your tenth pint free, get your tenth growler free. And it’s gotten to the point where people get so upset “Oh, I forgot my growler card!” So we’ll start them a new growler card, it’s not like they have to have their “growler of the month membership ID” to get their free growler. For us, we’re pretty flexible on it, it gets people coming back again and again.

BT
I’m right there with you, I left my card on the bar before I left the last time.
(all around laughing)

Tim
Oh nooo. Somebody got  a bonus.

BT
Ya, he’s probably really happy now. Sooo, any new mainstays to your line-up that you’re planning, or are you going to keep your base beers and just do seasonals, or…?

Tim
We brewed a hundred and ten barrels last year. We brewed nineteen different recipes. So this year we’ve kind of pared that down. We have ten taps that we’re struggling to keep full with ten regular beers; so the ten that are on the board have pretty much morphed into our regular list. But of course this week we got 14 on tap… 15 ’cause we’re pulling one of the barley wines off to make room for the 151 tomorrow.

John
We’ll just put it where the Tainted (Tainted Black Pale, a DIPA) was.

Tim
Ya, ya, we got to get another keg of Tainted going before George gets in. One of our regulars, if we don’t have Tainted on, we hear about it. Of course you could name a regular for every beer that we make that will give us grief if it’s not on.

John
Oh ya.

BT
Ya for me it would be the IPAphany, so…

Tim
Ya we can’t be out of the IPAphany, that’s our number two seller. Well I shouldn’t say can’t, I should say shouldn’t be, ’cause we have run out of that one as well.

BT
Well it is a good full mouth, not double IPA, but pretty close to a double IPA. And that kind of leads into my next question, which is some of the new trends that coming along like the dark IPAs, the cask conditions, the high ABVs, and then also using nitro on beers other than porters and stouts. Do you have plans for any of those?

Tim
Well we have the Tainted, which is a black IPA. We’ve had that almost from the beginning. For the cask conditions, I’ve actually been helping another brewer get his place open. He’s originally from England, thinks all us Americans are insane with the way we drink our beers. He’s going to be 100% cask conditioned, once he finally gets open. So we’re trading some knowledge and some experience and what we’ve through so far, for some training down the road on traditional English cask conditioned. So we’ll play around with that a little bit. We’ve had people ask, you know “why aren’t you doing firkins?” Well we’re already brewing… every batch we brew is firkin size, so… (laughing all around). We haven’t played around with firkins yet because, again, when we do some of these one-offs, and answering the last part of your question, we’re limited to about ten seventy-ish on starting gravity, original gravity, because of the limitations on our equipment. So when we made the barley wines, when we made the Double Take, we had to do double mashes. We did an entire mash in the boil kettle, then we did another mash in the boil kettle, so we do twice the work for one barrel of beer.

John
Going back to the firkin, we’re going to do a firkin for Hops and Pie.

Tim
That’s right. We’re going to do a Cherry Bomb Stout aged on cocoa nibs. So we’ll have a chocolate-covered Cherry Bomb Stout. That will be our first firkin, we’ll see how that turns out. We’re not guaranteeing anything, that’s what firkins are for, you just tap it and pray (laughing).

BT
Well this Imperial IPA is pretty high ABV too. I mean it’s…

Tim
Ya it came in like 12 and a half. It wouldn’t finish.

BT
Is that the highest ABV you’ve…

Tim
Yes. That was an American barley wine gone amok. (John laughing)

Strange Brewing - Tim & John

BT
Did you have any goals this year you didn’t meet, or perhaps you maybe exceeded it?

John
I think we’ve exceeded our goal for the first year.

BT
As far as just getting the name out, getting ahead on the business?

John
I think everything.

BT
Ya.

John
The production, getting people in here, people liking the beer.

Tim
When we first opened there was no way we could make six barrels a week.

John
Ya.

Tim
It took a lot of time tweaking, figuring out how, where we could cut corners. When we started it took us like 14 hours to brew two barrels. And now we’re down to 11 hours to brew three barrels. Unless Murphy’s in the house, like Tuesday. Tuesday that stout just wouldn’t finish. Ya, we have days like that still.

John
Ya, we pretty often get the next batch going, the water heated, ready just in time for the next batch…

Tim
Anything we could do to cut corners.

John
…so we’re ready for the next batch.

BT
So it’s bang-bang…

John
Ya, ya.

Tim
Monday and Tuesday…

John
…better pumps…

Tim
But we never expected to be shopping for equipment in January. We started shopping for new equipment in January.

BT
Wow.

John
We thought we might start right about now. Not…

Tim
It’s been a pleasant surprise, been a crazy ride. Hopefully this next year the interest will continue, we can get some larger equipment, and stop killing ourselves doing a barrel at a time. And all the brewers that were laughing at us, I’m fine with them being vindicated, (John laughing) when they were giving us crap “why are you going a barrel at a time?” That’s fine.

BT
I think you’re vindicated just by the quality of your beer.

Tim
Well no, they will feel vindicated when we put a seven barrel in. But, you know we brewed on the equipment we had. Instead of going out and spending a 100 thousand on seven or ten, or you know some person said “oh, go 15”

John
Ya, 15, he wanted us to start at 15.

Tim
Our model was different, because we’re not. you know, we didn’t have the urge to package right from the beginning. Well I didn’t expect the tasting room to be as major a part on the business. I thought we were going to be going after keg accounts three or four months in, and there was no way. There was no way.

BT
Well every time I’ve been in, even in the middle of the week, it’s been at least half full in the tasting room.

Tim
Ya. Thank God for volunteers, that’s all I can say.

BT
I know you guys won some awards at the Colorado State Fair, have you won anything else?

Tim: Not yet. We came out of the gate with two medals and we’re waiting for the next one. Not a high priority. Everybody asked us if we were disappointed at GABF, cause we didn’t win any medals, and I was like you know our traffic before GABF was pretty much the same month to month since we opened, after GABF, our traffic doubled.

BT
Wow.

Tim
So for us, the main focus of Great American Beer Festival was getting the beer in front of people. Letting the beer sell itself. If we won a bronze for one of our beers, that would of been, you know, icing on the cake. For us it was the fact that after GABF we’ve really been killing ourselves trying to keep the beers on tap; because of the regular traffic that it brought in, and the number of craft beer drinkers that found us at that festival.

John
And then after that the Winter Brewfest

Tim
Yes!

John
…increased our traffic again.

Tim
Yup.

BT
Over here at Mile High Station?

John & Tim
Ya.

Tim
People always ask “where are you guys?”, and the standard response is “well if you found this, you can find us, ’cause we’re a block away” (laughing)

BT
Well I know, we stopped in before the Summer Brewfest last year.

Tim
Umhmm.

BT
Well I’ve heard rumors about the beer garden out back. Any progress on that, or do you know when it’s going to be?

Tim
We’re slowly making progress. RTD‘s turned it into a mud bowl right now with light rail construction.

BT
The expansion to the West?

Tim
Yes. And we didn’t expect them to be driving construction vehicles through the truck yard in back.

John
Crane trucks…

Tim
Ya, so we were ready to spend the money to fix it up, put some tables out there, and it just would’ve been trashed. So we’re waiting on them to hurry up and finish this phase of their construction, then hopefully we can confirm with them that we can have the yard and get it fixed up. But, again, until we get the seven barrel system complete, if we add 20 tables, 10 tables out back, even if we had five tables out back, we’re going to start running out of beer. So, you know, it’s going to be another way for us to generate interest and get more traffic at the tasting room. But we can’t do it until the system’s in, the system’s up and running, we’ve made a few batches, we know the recipes, how they’re reacting on the new equipment, ’cause there are going to be some differences, and are they acceptable? Do we make changes to accommodate that? I’m a pain in the ass, I drive John nuts. (John laughing) If the beer isn’t 100% right, I won’t serve it. And he looks at me like I’m insane.

BT
Have guys had to do a lot of experimentation as far as scaling?

Tim
We did a lot of that before we opened. I mean we’re brewing on our homebrew setup that we’ve had since 2005. So, we took all of our five and ten gallon, and even our three…

John
Ya.

Tim
Our three gallon stout recipe, that’s a huge seller, and scaled them up to 20 gallons, which is what the system is designed for. And then after we knew that scalability worked, we made the small tweaks to get the consistency. Then we had to figure out how to get a barrel out of a 20 gallon system. Then we had to brew all of the recipes again. So we had a lot of homebrew from 2005 to 2009 that we had to drink. It was rough. It was rough. I had a keg cooler that held ten, five gallon Cornies. My neighbor had a key to the garage so he could go get  a beer whenever he needed it. ‘Cause I’d take home two kegs, “I’m going to take home two kegs.”

BT
You’re basically trying to get rid of it just so you can…

Tim
So we brew more. Can’t brew another experimental to test our progress until we drink the last batch.

BT
Last… Actually second to last question. Where would you like to be nine years from now on your tenth anniversary?

Tim
Tenth? Here’s how I see our tenth anniversary. We’ll be the old farts still at the original location, you know brewing on the small batch system in the original tasting room. We’ll have some Belgian brewmaster over at the 20,000 square feet production facility, he’ll be killing himself on the canning line, and trying to can some new recipe that I came up with; trying to figure out how to scale it up to 200 barrels from seven. (laughing all around) That’s how I see it. We’ll be the test facility. We’ll be the pilot brewery for the production facility.

BT
You’ll be the Bell Labs of beer.

Tim
Ya. Well you know that’s how Oskar Blues did it. They had their little brewpub, and when they could do it no more in the brewpub, they built that monster facility in Longmont. Even when they first opened that facility, it wasn’t even half full. And now a couple years later it’s packed solid. I don’t even know, did they have to take out the batting cages and the basketball court yet? (all round laughing) Just to make room for tanks?

BT
I know they had to take out a wall to get one of the tanks in.

(Editors note: I’m not sure if I was remembering this fact correctly, it may well have been another brewery I was thinking of. In short, I could very well be wrong on this. If you know for certain, please post in the comments)

Tim
Wow. This facility will… well I can’t say never, don’t ever say never, the plan is not to move out of this facility.

BT
You guys want to be in this location.

Strange Brewing - TimTim
Umhmmm. We spent three months looking for a space that we could hang onto long term. We’ve got room for eight tanks, we’ve got room for up to a ten barrel system without upgrading the utilities. So seven barrels will fit great. Our biggest expansion will be adding 15 barrel fermenters so that we can double batch Farmhouse and IPA, when we start distributing those or something. We’ll double batch our distribution beers and single batch all the others. We’ll have our ten beers on tap, we’ll have experimentals every month or so. This won’t be the huge money maker anymore, the big production facility, when the investors take over. We’ll just be the old farts, that they just, you know, they let ’em be (John laughing), they sit there at the original facility. They’re kind of quiet, they don’t spend a lot, they don’t make a lot of noise.

BT
Is there anything else you guys want to add that I didn’t ask about?

Tim
Not that I can think. You covered it pretty good.

John
Great.

BT
Finally I just want to say that I saw the Craft Beer Week video and that you (Tim) were great in it.

Tim
Ya, that was just totally on a lark. Julia Hertz asked me if I was willing to help her out; that was in Chicago at the Craft Brewers Conference, last year. They were just walking people upstairs to one of the rooms that the BA had rented for the week. And parked it there for five to ten minutes, I think they had 30 to 40 brewers go through. So wow I made the cut! (Tim and John laughing)

BT
Ya you did. You’re the first one, you’re the whole “setup.”

Tim
So ya, that was fun. I should, I gotta link that again. I meant to do that today, and then paid bills instead.

John
And get ready for the “one year.”

BT
I especially liked how you were comparing brewing with artistry…

Tim
It is.

BT
…and hand crafted. For me that’s the whole thing that got me into it. It’s hand crafted, and they think about it, and it’s for their own pleasure, rather than what the public’s going to think.

Tim
Well, some of our coworkers at our last job, who are still slaving away, ask us how many hours we’re working, and I tell them “ya, I’m still working 60 to 70,” but it’s not really work.

BT
No.

Tim
And then my plumber, who is also a rancher and picks up our grain, Murphy was in the house one day, and I was cussing up a storm, everything that could go wrong was, we’re still on batch one, it was seven hours later, and he hears me bitching, he’s like “what’s wrong?” And I started whining to him, and he said “dude, even the worst day brewing is still better that the best day plumbing.” (laughing) So I don’t bitch as much as I used to. ‘Cause if I start whining, I remember his words of wisdom.

John
Could be worse.

Tim
It could be a lot worse. (laughing all around) We could be doing a two a.m. network… (referring to their previous jobs as IT professionals at the old Rocky Mountain News)

John
Exactly.

Tim
That goes wrong at five a.m.

BT
You could be working for somebody else.

John
Five different VPs yelling at us.

Tim
We could be trying to find where all the president’s email went.

John
Ya. (laughing)

BT
Well thank you very much guys.

Tim
Cheers. Thanks for including us, we appreciate it. We’re always glad to talk to you.

– –

Up next: the celebration, Tim’s dad, great fellow patrons, and the incredible volunteers.

This entry was published on May 21, 2011 at 11:06 am. It’s filed under Brewery and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

6 thoughts on “happy anniversary & strange brewing interview – part 1

  1. Pingback: happy beerversary & strange brewing interview part 2 « brew trek

  2. Thanks for posting this, Will! Great insight into what it’s like to start a brewery. I need to get over there sometime soon. Their Hops and PiePA is awesome.

    • The wife and I were impressed by the pizza from Hops & Pie that night, and we have it on the list as yet another place to try soon. We did get over to Amato’s a few weeks back and I had Strange’s IPAphany (as well as quite a few others) there. Amato’s also has some great food. I definitely need to grab the camera to get some shots and do a post on it.

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