There’s one thing we can say about the brew brains at Odell Brewing Co.: We’ve never met a beer they’ve made that we didn’t like. Odell, situated in the beer mecca of Fort Collins, opened up in 1989 as only the second microbrewery in Colorado and met with immediate success. This week, the brewery is expanding its reach to Texas, the 11th state in its repertoire and the first new market for Odell in two years.
Brent Cordle, pilot-line brewer and barrel jockey at Odell, said part of what’s great about working at the brewery is the care that’s taken with expansion projects.
“I love the way the Odells themselves grow the company in a really smart way,” he said of the owners. “Nobody in any department is too overwhelmed; we’re not making too much beer with not enough fermenters or infrastructure. Other breweries overgrow. With how craft beer has grown so fast and become a more popular product, I feel that the Odells really keep it under control and do it the smart way and make sure that quality is the No. 1 product we’re putting out to the customer.”
Cordle will have been with the company for 13 years in May and described Odell as a family-oriented atmosphere, where each new hire is evaluated not only for his or her skills, but also for how that person would fit in with the rest of the crew. He started his career doing a bit of everything, from deliveries and sales to bottling, kegging and line cleaning, before talking to the director of production about getting into the cellar.
“I worked my way up from there,” he said. “I started brewing on our main system in 2005, then took over barrel aging and piloting in 2009-2010. I’m just rolling with the waves and surfing it out. It’s a great company to work for, and I’ve had a blast learning everything here.”
Coming up with ideas for new brews at Odell is a collaborative effort, Cordle said.
“We get a lot of ideas from all of the employees, which is another cool thing about working here,” he said. “All of he employees can do a small-batch pilot brew. If it’s something too crazy, we’ll tell them to brew it on a homebrew system first. But it’s usually something we can do on the pilot system. There’s never a shortage of ideas for new beers.”
Cordle said a new beer could originate in a meeting room or from an employee’s turn on the pilot line, and then it’s sent through the product development team.
“When we develop new recipes on a larger scale, there’s about nine of us that we get together with the owners and we all talk about where the market’s going, what kind of beers we want to start brewing, new styles we’re thinking about, and then when we get those ideas on the table, I’ll take those to the pilot brew house, do really small batches of them and see how they go over in the tasting room,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to get feedback form local customers and take it from there. If it’s a hit, we’ll see how we can do it on a larger scale.”
Odell has brewed everything from a hop-forward coffee pale ale for the Coloradoan’s anniversary last year to new experimentations with Berliner weisse beers on the pilot system, Cordle said. The brewery is looking forward to putting out Loose Leaf American Session Ale in six-packs in coming months, as well as its seasonal release of St. Lupulin Extra Pale Ale.
“There’s always things changing, always things on the horizon,” Cordle said.
Take it for a spin
Learning the backstory is all well and good, but the main event at Odell is obviously its beer. Here are a few of our favorites, from old standbys to new experiments.
• 90 Shilling Ale
ABV: 5.3 percent
90 Shilling Ale is a great year-round beer.
It’s nothing particularly fancy or crazily experimental, although it is the company’s flagship beer, launching at Odell’s opening party back in 1989.
“It’s never going to let you down,” Cordle said. “It’s a good introductory craft beer. Some people love 90 Shilling, and that’s all they ever buy. There’s so many other options, it’s easy to forget about 90, but it’s one of those beers that when you go back to it after having a few other styles, you’re like, wow, that’s still really good.”
Description of 90 Shilling is a little tricky, with its malty taste, amber profile and Scottish roots.
“It doesn’t have a style, which is the tricky thing,” Cordle said. “We don’t know what to enter it in (for festivals). It’s a cross between a Scottish ale, amber ale, American amber — it’s one of a kind.”
The name comes from back in the old days, when Scotland taxed its beers. The highest quality beers received a 90 shilling tax. Cordle feels it merits the title.
“I really do respect 90 Shilling. I love that beer, and it’s probably one of the reasons I stated working here. It’s always been around; the recipe’s been the same since the beginning of its brewing history and it’s consistent every time you make it and every time you taste it. It’s what we shoot for here, consistency, and it holds that name true, a classy Odell beer.”
• Lugene Chocolate Milk Stout
ABV: 8.5 percent
The Lugene chocolate milk stout is seasonal, available during the winter months, which are perfect for cuddling up close to the deeper, darker beers. This is definitely a dessert beer, filling and full of chocolate flavor. Each batch of Lugene is brewed with 250 pounds of a mixture of milk and dark chocolate, poured directly into the kettle with the wort. Milk sugars are also mixed in, making it a milk stout, which means it’s creamy as well as chocolaty.
“We just talked about doing a different style,” said Cordle, of the origination of the brew. “We had a bourbon-barrel stout a few years ago, decided to discontinue that for a while. We really loved the chocolate character that bourbon-barrel stout had. (People had chocolate stouts and milk stouts.) No one had a chocolate milk stout, so we decided to put them together.”
The stout was named in honor of a local farmer who has been feeding the brewery’s spent malt to his cows for years. His beat-up blue pickup truck is a common sight for many.
• Wolf Picker Experimental Pale Ale
ABV: 5.5 percent
Wolf Picker was introduced this year with the spring Montage 12-pack. This American pale ale is named for an old-school hop harvester called a wolf picker, which hints at this brew’s small-farm roots.
“We’re lucky enough to have some really good connections with hop growers in the Pacific Northwest,” Cordle said. “They’re developing new hops for the craft brewers, the whole craft industry. They get excited about it and it gets us excited about it.”
Cordle said that with the five-barrel pilot system at Odell, the brewery could take a really small amount of hops and see what comes of them when they’re brewed.
“The hops can smell one way in your hand and come out completely different in a beer,” he said. “After we’d worked with them for a while, we asked if we could do something with those experimental hops, those new varieties, and take them into a beer on a larger scale and blow it up a little bit, I guess.”
Wolf Picker is a rich golden color, light in body, with a bright, crisp hop character and a dry finish. The smooth bite from the experimental hops was a great pairing with spicy chili, and the low alcohol content means you can put a few back without worry.
• Tree Shaker Imperial Peach IPA
ABV: 9.7 percent
The latest release in the Odell Cellar Series is the Tree Shaker. This big, peachy beer was first released last year to rave reviews. The brew is bottle conditioned, meaning it develops carbonation after it’s packaged.
“The idea got thrown out there in early 2012,” Cordle said. “We talked about doing something like that. We’d done a peach beer before on the five-barrel, and we thought about a kind of peach IPA.”
Hops can have a peach characteristic, so the brewery went with it. The beer also has a local connection with Colorado-grown Palisade peaches. Cordle said the team started with a test batch and loved it, though the beer is a huge mess to make with 3,000 pounds of pureed peaches.
“It’s got a peachy nose, not a sweet peach nose but a little bit of that peach skin, like when you put a peach up to your nose in a grocery store,” he said. “The Chinook hops, Cascades — some of those fruitier types of hops — pair really well with that peach in there. It’s got a full body, creamy, effervescent, and the peach is definitely there in the flavor, too, but I love the nose of it.”