Alan Simons, head brewer at Backcountry Brewery, was working at Land Title in Denver when a trip to the mountains and a bit of serendipity changed his career path.
“I was looking for similar jobs up here but wasn’t having any luck,” Simons said. “I’d come up here to visit people, and we would go out to the breweries up here. So one day, I was sitting at the bar, and they had a position open as assistant brewer/sales person. I talked to the right person at the bar, took a huge pay cut and moved up here.
“I did a little bit of home brewing, not a lot but a little bit, and decided that I wanted to do it as a living.”
Simons was born in Florida and grew up in Georgia and Alabama. His cousin first introduced him to craft beer when he was 16.
“I was like any other teenager; a lot of teenagers drink Miller Lite or whatever in high school,” he said. “My cousin introduced me to Sam Adams Boston Lager, and that was in 1996, so it wasn’t quite all over the place yet. Since I was a teenager and in college, I’ve always enjoyed craft beer.”
Once he moved to Denver, Simons started attending the Great American Beer Festival and expanding his knowledge of beer and brewing.
“Living in Denver, going to GABF, I’d gone several times since moving to Denver in 1999,” he said. “You could just walk up and buy a ticket and go, and one year, I was like, I’m going to do some research, seek out different, well-regarded beers.”
Simons started his research online.
“It kind of became something that I wanted to study,” he said. “Where flavors came from, what made some beers stronger than others — it became a scholarly thing. The more I studied it, my girlfriend said, ‘You know all this about beer, so why don’t you brew any?’ So we brewed some beer.”
At the brewery
There aren’t very many beer styles that Simons doesn’t like.
“There’s probably one or two craft beer styles that I’m not a huge fan of, but I like to drink all styles — German, hoppy, strong — I’m just a fan of it in general,” he said. “From the brewing aspect, even though I wouldn’t put the result as my favorite beer ever, light lagers are the most challenging, so when you make a really good one like our maibock, and it’s the way it’s supposed to be, those are the most rewarding.”
In addition to the maibock, Simons is also fermenting an imperial saison at Backcountry, which is set to be released in about three weeks. He has a few twists planned for this newest batch of high-octane beer.
“We take that beer when it gets to a certain point in fermentation, and we put some brettanomyces in it,” he said. “We’re doing about 50 gallons of that this year, so there should be some of that around in the future. We’ll also put some of that saison in zinfandel barrels. We’re tossing around the idea of doing a Berliner weisse. I’ve never brewed one before, so it makes me a little nervous because it’s not a normal brew process; you have to get it to sour a little bit before you actually boil it and ferment it.”