When Jimmy Walker moved to Breckenridge 17 years ago, his first job was at a ski shop in town, a pretty average start for the man who's now the potentate of pilsners, porters and pale ales at the local Breckenridge Brewery.
Eventually, Walker got work at the brewery, doing all kinds of jobs from bussing tables to bartending, until the head brewer moved on. The assistant brewer was promoted, and the part-time assistant job opened up.
"After working here, I started caring about what we were doing, mostly from bartending and serving the beer all the time," Walker said.
He had been home brewing since college and had put in a good chunk of time at the brewery, so he applied to be the assistant brewer. After only two years, the head brewer again moved on, and Walker's apprenticeship as assistant propelled him into the lead brewing role at the Breckenridge brewpub.
"After working here so long, they figured I could handle it," Walker said. "I got assistance as I needed it. I'm a pretty lucky guy."
Walker has been running the show in Breck for a little more than a year now. He said that having the support of the larger brewery in Denver allows him freedom to try new things at the brewpub, rather than simply being a production line for Avalanche and Agave Wheat.
"At this location, we can do more experimental stuff, more first-time beers," he said.
Walker's got a couple of small-batch pilot brews he's working on at the moment. He's putting together a Belgian series, brewing Breck favorites with Belgian yeast strains and higher grain profiles. He's also serving a beer brewed with a fruit called Buddha's hand, which gives it a citrus flavor, and experimenting with an imperial chocolate stout.
And Breckenridge Brewery has started doing some barrel aging of its beers, both the classics and new concoctions. Walker added Belgian yeast to the brewery's flagship Oatmeal Stout, with two times the amount of oatmeal generally used for that beer. The result was a full, bitter brew that was a perfect candidate for some time in a barrel.
"We're calling it 23 in honor of our 23rd anniversary," he said. "Oatmeal Stout was one of the first beers we ever brewed, so this is a twist on that beer."
Walker said brewing can be perceived as a difficult industry to crack, but all it takes is some persistence and a willingness to start at the bottom of the ladder.
"It's such a competitive field," Walker said. "Do what it takes to get your foot in the door, and then the sky might be the limit. You just start on the bottom line, which might be at a brewpub waiting tables."