In the heartland of homebrewing

Boulder craft breweries foster beer-geek culture

The brewing process at Oskar Blues
Photo courtesy of Oskar Blues

For Boulder craft brewers, business is booming. But it’s not just beer drinkers to whom local brewers attribute much of their success; it’s also Boulder’s deep-rooted homebrewing community.

For the majority of local craft brewers it seems that reaching out to the homebrewing community isn’t necessarily about saying “thank you.” It’s about cultivating a special relationship that’s been around Boulder for a long time: the relationship between homebrewers and commercial craft brewers.

In that collaborative spirit, Twisted Pine is making use of its new expansion to host its new Brew-U course Jan. 26. According to the Twisted Pine website, the three-hour course will target “the budding homebrewer and those desiring to learn about the brewing process.”

Bob Baile, owner of Twisted Pine, has “wanted to cultivate this beer-geek culture that’s all around Boulder, and the Brew-U course is just the first part of it,” says Justin Tilotta, Twisted Pine logistics manager.

The Brew-U course sold out within two weeks of being announced, and although the class was open to anyone wanting to learn more about brewing craft beer, Tilotta expects the majority of the pupils to be homebrewers.

After all, many Boulder breweries were founded by passionate homebrewers. So local breweries tend to encourage and assist amateur beermakers.

“Well, if you look around Boulder, most of the craft brewers here were homebrewers first,” says Tilotta.

In fact, we’ve got the “guru of homebrewing right here in Boulder,” he adds.

Tilotta was talking about Charlie Papazian, who, along with Charlie Matzen, formed the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) in 1978. Founded in Boulder, the AHA was the first national homebrew organization in the United States.

According to Tilotta, the homebrewing community makes Boulder a “stomping ground for breweries.” Baile, Twisted Pine’s owner, started in the business by homebrewing in his garage.

Upslope, Avery and Oskar Blues also began with homebrewers, and the tradition lives on with some of the area’s newest craft breweries. Bootstrap Brewing in Niwot was founded last year by husband and wife homebrewers Steve and Leslie Kaczeus, and Boulder’s new Wild Woods Brewery was started by homebrewers Jake and Erin Evans.

“Yeah, the craft brewers around here are extremely supportive of homebrewers. I know for a fact that Left Hand is, because that’s how they started out,” says Don Blake, homebrewer and founder of Longmont homebrew club Indian Peaks Alers.

Blake became familiar with Left Hand around 1996, when a Left Hand rep brought the baby brewery’s beers to the Residence Inn in Boulder. Blake had just moved to the area and happened to be staying at the hotel.

By then, Blake had been homebrewing himself for about three years.

“We got to talking, and I invited him back to my room,” says Blake, “where I had about two or three cases of my homebrew from Chicago, and I think we ended up going through almost all of it that night.”

Soon enough Blake was making regular trips to Left Hand and got to know owners Dick Doore and Eric Wallace.

“I’ve always just been a big supporter of what they do, and now, you know, I consider Dick, Eric and the brewers to be good friends,” said Blake.

Blake said that he and the Left Hand owners tried to get a club for homebrewers started in the late ’90s, but “it kind of fell by the wayside.”

Shortly thereafter, Cinzia Wallace, Eric Wallace’s wife, convinced Blake to teach homebrewing classes at Left Hand.

“I capped the classes at eight people because I wanted everybody to get their hands on things. So, over the course of five weeks, we would brew two to five batches of beer, and at the end, everybody could take home a couple of sixpacks,” says Blake. “It was a cool idea, and it worked out pretty well.”

Eventually Blake was torn between doing more classes and “just getting everybody together on a more regular, kind of permanent basis.” He finally landed on forming the Indian Peaks Alers club, which would be a little less formal.

The Alers still meet once a month, usually in the Left Hand Tasting Room. While it’s a social group, the Alers host educational activities like brew demos and style seminars.

The social aspect of the Alers group has attracted other breweries. Twisted Pine, for example, often hosts meetings for Hop Barley and the Alers, a Boulder homebrew club. Plus, Avery has its own Homebrew & Bottle Collector Support Group, and Oskar Blues has jumped on board with its Can Can Girls Beer Club.

These groups are “a way of giving back locally, you know, and getting local people involved in the whole craft beer movement,” says Brittany Dern, Oskar Blues’ online community manager.

Drawing the line between “giving back locally” and “giving it all away,” however, seems a little tricky for Boulder brewers.

Avery has no qualms about posting recipes of 12 of its most popular beers online. In fact, there is an entire recipe page on the Avery website.

“You know, yeah, you might think why should I, as a business, teach people to make something that I’m trying to sell,” says Blake. “But the more interested you get people, the more interested and excited they are about promoting you as a commercial brewer. So it fosters a really good sense of community.”

“If you asked Bob for the recipe of Hoppy Boy, he would give it to you under the condition that you bring him a couple bottles of what your homebrew of Hoppy Boy was whenever you’re done. He’ll even give you yeast or let you borrow hops,” says Tilotta of Twisted Pine.

“You know, it’s kind of like what goes around, always comes back.”