Grossen Bart’s Taylor Wise and Walter Bourque on beer and beards

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Taylor Wise
Susan France

It takes effort to grow a grossen bart. That’s German for big beard. It takes commitment. Humility. It’ll itch, and look terrible for a while. You’ll have to be OK with spurning potential employers and lovers. People will say, “Growing a beard, huh?” and it’ll sound like “You should stop growing that beard. It looks bad. You look bad.”

But if you can see the forest for the trees — the rogue wisps and bare splotches for what will one day become a well-integrated, full, incredible grossen bart — you can cast aside all naysayers and grow a chin forest that rivals the likes of Whitman, Darwin and Rasputin.

Taylor Wise has made such a journey. His grossen bart is comprised of carefully tended-to straw hairs, matted, stretched and groomed like colonial thread into a plump hammock of dark hair. As it turns out, the qualities it took to grow that big beard are the same it took to grow Grossen Bart, his aptly named Longmont brewery.

Wise spent years finding odd jobs to make ends meet — from aviation repair to painting houses to insurance sales — “found out, it’s not the greatest thing on the planet,” he says. But now he’s found his footing (and his calling) running a brewery. It’s the culmination of years of trying to work for himself, whether he realized it along the way or not.

“Actually, that’s a good way to put it,” Wise says when I offer that theory to him. “My grandfather had a furniture business. My dad grew up around it. I’d do some work there, but I guess it never stood out until later the freedom that they had. It doesn’t mean they were never there; until he was dead [my grandfather] worked there every day.”

But from a young age, working alongside his father and grandfather, Wise saw the benefits of being a free agent in the world — doing what you love, making your own hours, going on vacations, etc., etc. Now, in his own brewery, he’s beginning to realize all those benefits first-hand.

“I don’t think of it as I wake up, ‘Fuck, I gotta go to work.’ I don’t ever think of that. You find that thing you love to do and it’s not really work anymore,” Wise says.

Grossen Bart has always been a labor of love. Wise moved to Colorado from Arizona in 2011, and hooked up with a homebrewer in Frederick, where they got a license to brew out of a residential garage and sell about a barrel a week into two or three nearby restaurants. Partners came and went, but the drive to brew beer stayed with Wise, and a few years later, he found a spot way off Main Street in Longmont, tucked behind a grocery store to make his own.

Taylor Wise Susan France

When it came time to hire a head brewer, he couldn’t have found a better person than Walter Bourque, who had weed-whacked his own way through a career. A microbiology major, Bourque saw the writing on the wall in the research field when his father got laid off after 15 years as a researcher.

“It kind of hit me there was no job security so I wanted to find a field that did have that, and that was alcohol,” Bourque says. “When times are good, people are drinking. When times are bad, people are drinking more.”

Bourque got his start brewing professionally — he had been homebrewing for a while — for a small brewery in the high desert of Eastern Oregon before moving to Colorado to work for Fort Collins Brewery. He went to Europe to work for a brewery chain there before coming back to Colorado and meeting Wise. What appealed to him about the opportunity at what would become Grossen Bart was the freedom to create — to have misses and splotches and wispy offshoots in the overall process of brewing great, unique beer.

“I got to do whatever I wanted,” Bourque says. “There was no excuse not to make good beer. Ingredients, cost, whatever; whatever you do, make sure it doesn’t suck.”

Susan France

That freedom has allowed Wise and Bourque to develop exciting beer creations. They have a selection of aged barleywines that currently goes back four years. They have an oat wine — brewed like barleywine, but with oat — aged in barrels for four years that tastes like a luscious raisin reduction. There’s an oatmeal stout made with toasted oats, which give it a baked cookie essence. They put sweet aji Amarillo chilies on a brown ale. And, Bourque says, they’re getting ready to brew a “baseball beer,” a lager made with malted sunflower seeds aged over unfinished Louisville Slugger maplewood baseball bats.

It all aligns with Groseen Bart’s unique approach to brewing — to make beer that feels familiar but tastes different from everything else.

“I’m not one to throw the left side of the spice cabinet in a beer,” Bourque says.

“You’re just taking a hike, you’re not doing a 14er here,” Wise adds.

All this creation can be sampled inside Grossen Bart’s cozy taproom, which Wise designed, painted and renovated by hand. The idea was to create an environment that didn’t feel sterile; one that allowed people to let their hair, or beard, down and relax.

“I didn’t want that whole nice, shiny, over-the-top, ‘maybe I shouldn’t touch this’ feel,” Wise says. “I want people to come in here and feel like they’re in their backyard, dude den, man cave, whatever you call it… she shed. I want people to come and hang out as long as they want.”

So far, Bourque’s creations and Wise’s hospitality have worked. Wise says if you taste a Grossen Bart beer anywhere (from a can or a tap), it’s likely no older than a month old. In only a few years, they’ve brewed about 80 different beers, with plenty more on the horizon — Bourke says the brewery’s first Baltic Porter is up next, and he’s constantly experimenting with new ingredients, collaborations, methods and innovations, like adding lager yeast to ales, and vice versa.

Still, Wise is proud that the flagship beers (something he says is going out of style) that Grossen Bart brewed when it first launched taste the same today as they did back then. Consistency, like a high-quality grossen bart, never goes out of style, and that, more than the unique creations Bourque and Wise develop, is what’s driving Grossen Bart to succeed.