Breck Brewery celebrates 15 years
BRECKENRIDGE – Scotty Burns climbed up onto a catwalk to the three giant copper tuns behind the bar at the Breckenridge Brewery. There, he poured grain into the mash tun, waited an hour before transferring the mixture into a kettle and boiling that for two hours.As his morning goes on, Burns will add hops, collect the mixture into a fermenter, put it through a heat exchanger and add yeast before letting it sit for seven days.In the end, he’ll have 1,200 gallons of Avalanche, Trademark Pale Ale, Breck Light or Imperial Ale.It’s a far cry from the days when brewery founder Richard Squire was making homebrew in the basement of a home in Blue River.The brewery is celebrating its 15th anniversary this month, an occasion that stirs up memories in the mind of general manager Chmurny Cain.Squire and a group of investors thought it might be lucrative to take their homebrew recipes and see what they could do on a mass scale, Cain said.
They couldn’t have timed it better.”They hit it at the right time,” she said. “The microbrewery industry was very young, it was a very ‘in’ thing. Back then, the risks weren’t as great, real estate wasn’t as high, competition was not there – Breckenridge was still very much of a boom town for the tourism industry. It just took off.”The Breckenridge facility alone – the company also has a bottling and distribution plant, bar and catering company in Denver, and an interest in the Ale House in Grand Junction – grossed $3 million last year. Last year’s output was 2,400 kegs of beer.The brewery started with its Avalanche beer, India Pale Ale, an oatmeal stout, Imperial Ale, a bock and Mountain Wheat, and has since merely replaced the Mountain Wheat with Breck Light.And as it has since the beginning, the brewers create seasonal beers, experimenting with tastes to develop new offerings.As the popularity of the brews grew, so did the needs to expand the brewery. The company added the decks on the front, the pool room on the north end and eventually broke down and installed a walk-in freezer downstairs.
“We’ve grown as far as we can without having town freak out,” Cain said. “We’ve built to the easements in every direction. The only place we can go is up.”They’ve gone up in every other way, too.In 1990, the brewery could seat about 120 people; that’s now at 220. It had 30 employees then; today, it’s more than 60. The beer is distributed to all of Colorado’s neighboring states and on the East Coast. The brewers have brought home five medals from the Great American Beer Festival. The menu featured 15 items compared to the six-page booklet it is today.”Food has become a big focal point now,” she said. “But it’s still nothing fancy. If I were to put shrimp and pork on the menu, people would say, ‘I really want the shepherd’s pie.’ ‘I want a burger.'”They’ll still keep experimenting. In recent years, the brewers have toned down the darker, heavier beers and made the lighter beers people demand. They plan to reintroduce their 22-ounce “bombers.”
Cain said it’s hard to say exactly what it is customers love about the place.”It’s the local following,” she said. “We have customers who consider this place home. They’re in there every other day. When tourists come in, they feel the warmth. They don’t know why they like it but they’ve got to be there. And obviously, it’s the beer. Avalanche is a name. When people come to Breckenridge, they say, ‘Oh, I’ve had this beer. I’ve got to see where it’s made.'”Some things don’t change, including some of the employees – head servers Michelle Miller and Jeff Andrews and bartenders Billy Nixon, Kent Schuhart and Dave Gelarr – who have been there since opening day.Every year, they get busier and busier, Cain said.”A lot of brewpubs now, all the equipment is behind glass; it’s very sterile,” she said. “Here, we still have brewers climbing over bartenders doing a double brew on a Saturday in March. It’s insane.”Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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