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Colorado's brewing scene a mosaic of second careers

7:04 AM, Feb 6, 2012   |    comments
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Many Coloradans are familiar with Governor John Hickenlooper's personal story: geologist turned brewer turned politician. Fewer know that in Colorado's burgeoning craft beer industry (130 breweries and counting) there a barrel of similar stories of people who have turned their passion into their profession.

The rocket scientist now brews and pours at Denver Beer Company, a LoHi brewery that has pumped out an impressive 60 different brews in its first six months in business.

"We didn't just jump into this," said co-owner Patrick Crawford, who once worked on classified satellite programs for Lockheed Martin. He teamed with an old college friend named Charlie Berger after they renewed their friendship over beers several years ago.

"We took a class from the Chamber of Commerce and worked really hard at putting together a great business plan before we got any money, before we swung a hammer, before we did anything, we knew what we were going to do for the next five years," Crawford said.

Brian Dunn of Great Divide Brewing Company in Denver's LoDo neighborhood is an elder statesman of sorts, having made the leap into craft beer in 1994. He'd travelled the world after graduating from Colorado State University with a degree in soil science.

"I was in about 35 or 40 countries and I really became a student of beer in all those countries," said Dunn.

After developing farms in North Africa, he returned to Colorado for graduate school, but soon found himself turning his homebrewing hobby into a business.

"We ran out of money very quickly, probably within a year of opening," said Dunn. "I was not going to let this thing fail."

"If you really care enough about something and you have that passion and that drive you'll make it work," said Dunn.

Eighteen years later, Great Divide has 39 employees and plans to produce 26,000 barrels of beer in 2012 to quench a growing national reputation in craft beer circles.

His advice to people pining to start a business?

"If you have a passion for it, go for it," said Dunn. "When there are roadblocks and obstacles, you can find a way around them typically."

The closure of the Rocky Mountain News forced Tim Myers' hand. With the death of the paper, his IT job ended along with that of coworker and fellow homebrewer, John Fletcher. They partnered to open Strange Brewing Company at West 13th Avenue and Zuni St in Denver.

"Before we even lost our jobs we were looking at, is this feasible, is this possible," Myers said. "Don't wait. Figure out what you like to do, what makes you happy, because then it's not work. Then it's joy. It's life."

Strange Brewing will turn two years old in May. They've poured their profits into new, larger brewing equipment as the demand for their beers has outpaced capacity.

"This business is a child of the great recession," said Myers. "When we started, there was no credit to be had."

They essentially banked on themselves rather than financial institutions. Myers still hasn't taken a paycheck.

"When the money's coming this way," said Myers, pointing to his chest. "Instead of going that way, yeah, that's going to feel good."

Regrets?

Myers pauses and sips a pint of his own creation.

"None," he said.

 

(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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