Powder Keg: Backcountry Brewery names new head brewer, distributes in Texas
Meet the brewer
Name: JP Vander Veen
Grew up in: West Bloomfield, Michigan, and Geneva, Illinois
Years brewing: 2 ½ professionally, home brewing several years before that
In Summit County: 3 years
At Backcountry Brewery: 2 ½ years
Favorite beer brewed: Brettanomyces IPA (available this spring in Artisan Series)
Favorite non-Backcountry beer: Dutchesse De Bourgogne
In June, longtime Backcountry Brewery head brewer Alan Simons announced he was leaving to pursue the role of head brewer at Dry Dock Brewing Co. in Aurora.
Simons had spent the past seven years building the Backcountry brand, and lead brewer JP Vander Veen, who took over the title of head brewer and director of brewery operations, said he’s keen to keep alive the former brewer’s tradition of crafting beers that are true to style.
“I’m still pretty young, 30 years old, so to be head of a brewery is a pretty big step career-wise and definitely something that’s a great honor,” Vander Veen said. “To leave it in my hands means a lot to me.”
Messing with Texas
And those hands will be full. After testing the waters in different markets through limited releases and direct-mail campaigns, Backcountry owner Charlie Eazor made the decision to expand distribution to Texas, starting with the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“In Colorado, we’re another Colorado beer, fighting for shelf space with 200 other Colorado beers,” Eazor said. “In Texas, we’re a Colorado beer fighting for shelf space with the unique fact that we’re a Colorado beer.”
Backcountry will be working with Full Jacket Distribution, with placement in Whole Foods, Trader Joes and Kroger stores, as well as Spec’s Liquors, the largest liquor-store chain in Texas, and key accounts in restaurants, nightclubs and smaller liquor retailers. Full Jacket only carries one other brand of craft beer, Eazor said.
“The brewery that they carry product for now doesn’t have a Pale Ale or an Amber or a Breakfast Stout, Berliner Weisse, Imperial Saison,” he said, explaining that the Backcountry beers will fill in the gaps in the distributor’s current lineup. “They don’t go into a store saying we have two pale ales for you. If you like this, you get Backcountry.”
The first truckload of beer will head south from Frisco at the end of July, with a second promised for the end of August. The commitment will stretch the brewery to its full production capacity, meaning all 14 fermenters will be full pretty much 365 days per year, Eazor said.
With the new Texas accounts, Backcountry could potentially ship 10 times as much beer to Texas as it distributes in Colorado within the next nine months, a monumental opportunity — and challenge — that Eazor said is already impacting staff numbers and could eventually drive the need for expanded brewing operations in a second location.
“We’ve invested in this business and have been patient about choosing our path of growth, and now it’s time for us to kind of put our foot on the accelerator,” he said.
Part of that acceleration is adding a new product line. As breweries get larger, they shift to more automated systems for packaging, distribution and even brewing, Eazor said, but starting this fall, Backcountry is going to honor old-school traditions and introduce new handcrafted, hand-bottled beers in the brewery’s fledgling Artisan Series.
“It will be a series of products we do and will bottle in bombers, and we’ll do it for no more than 90 days and then we’ll quit. No style will be replicated,” he said. “They’ll all be dated, limited production, limited distribution, and it’ll all be hand bottled and hand brewed — truly a handcrafted artisan experience.”
The specialty beers will be released seasonally, starting in the fall with a Bourbon Barrel English Style Barleywine aged in Breckenridge Bourbon barrels. Vander Veen said he hopes to have that beer on shelves in September.
“The idea for the winter one right now is a Belgian quad with blackberries,” he said. “And then spring, we’re thinking of doing a 100 percent Brettanomyces fermentation, and in the summer, right now, we’re planning on doing a strong American sour with Palisade peaches.”
In general, beers in the Artisan Series will be higher alcohol styles that are adaptable to lengthy shelf lives, Eazor said.
“That seems be extremely popular,” he said. “People like to buy them, sell them, trade them, like trading baseball cards with a better reward than looking at a card. Because that seems to be an emerging trend with craft beer enthusiasts is to get different beers and hold on to them.”
The series gives Vander Veen and his team of brewers a chance to play around with wild yeast and good bacteria, as well as souring and barrel-aging techniques, to create heartier beers for the colder seasons and light, bright flavors for spring and summer.
“It’s a lot more fun,” he said. “You get to experiment; you get to do things that you’re not necessarily going to have to re-create ever again because it’s a one-time release. Each season comes new ideas and new opportunities for great flavor.”
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