Behind a long, thick beard and shades dark enough for a blind man lurks the mind of a brewer.
Justin Tilotta believes the art of brewing requires patience.
“There are a lot of errors to be made when brewing beer,” he said. “If you get in a hurry and don’t give it the proper time to ferment you’re going to have problems. You have to be willing to learn from mistakes and start over. And always take your time.
“There is so much to learn from the brewing process.”
He pulls slowly on a pinewood handle, a golden copper stream of Agave IPA flows from the tap into a small glass. It’s a perfect Saturday for craft beer. At the 18th annual Keystone Bluegrass and Beer Festival, competing microbrewers flood the area around Tilotta. They’re vying for the ultimate prize of brewing the best beer of the bunch, but he views them all as colleagues, not competitors.
Microbrewing in Colorado appears to be at an all-time high, and Tilotta welcomes all comers. He believes the attitude of people in Colorado make all of the breweries possible. Last year 53 new craft beer companies started in the Centennial State. That’s slightly more than one per week.
“People in Colorado are very into small, local businesses,” he said. “These small brewers are part of a local scene, and they try to use local products. A lot of Coloradans appreciate that.”
RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME
Tilotta moved from Houston, Texas, at the urging of some close friends, to find a job in the Colorado brewing business.
“I just really, really wanted to brew,” Tilotta said. “I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
Shortly after moving to Colorado about five years ago he landed a part-time job with Twisted Pine Brewing Co. in Boulder. In weeks he went from scrubbing floors to trying to master the art of the brew.
“It started out just a couple days a week,” he said. “But I soon worked my way to a full-time position and was able to start brewing.”
He’s seen the business go through trends. Right now beers flavored with a hint of chili pepper are the hot choice in the industry.
But he recalls the most award-winning brew ever made at Twisted Pine. It was a coffee stout enhanced with the help of a blind man.
“We buy the beans from a local coffee shop run by an old blind man,” he said. “He roasts the beans to perfection using just his sense of smell and feeling when it hits the right temperature.”
You can learn a lot about your product by using different senses to test it. Tilotta said they frequently hold blindfolded beer tastings at the Boulder location. And when people use just their senses of smell and taste they end up learning more about themselves and their palate.
“People who swear they don’t like dark beer find out that their favorite is a stout, or someone who doesn’t think they like a lot of hops ends up liking an IPA the best,” he said. “It’s interesting how perceptions change when people are blindfolded.”
If your brew can pass the blindfold test, where people aren’t attached to a label or appearance, then you know you’ve crafted a quality product, and that’s what the art of craft brewing comes down to.
And every year Tilotta has been in the business, he’s made the trip to the Keystone Bluegrass and Beer Festival. Interestingly, the festival is celebrating its 18th anniversary — born in the same year Twisted Pine started brewing.
“It’s a cool scene,” he said. “Keystone is just the right size for an event like this.”
The festival continues today, Sunday, Aug. 3, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tilotta will be there with a beer in hand.
“I just really, really wanted to brew,” Tilotta says. “I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”