CU alumni play a large role in Boulder's microbrewing mecca.
After Steve Kaczeus (MechEngr ’82) took a buyout from a corporate engineering job, he and his wife Leslie faced a fork in the road.
“We had decided either to start a brewery or move to the Caribbean,” says Kaczeus, who had been an enthusiastic homebrewer since 1993.
After he completed a seven-month online course through the American Brewers Guild and an internship at Hoppy Brewing in Sacramento, Calif., the allure of kicking back on a sugar-white beach lost out to the draw of making great beer.
“Leslie came out to California, looked at me and said, ‘Oh my goodness, we’re starting a brewery, aren’t we?’ ” he says.
The couple bought used brewing equipment from Eddyline Brewing in Buena Vista, Colo., located a space just across the street from their home in Niwot and launched Bootstrap Brewing in June 2012. A year and a half later, business is booming with Bootstrap “bombers” — 22-ounce bottles — sold in local liquor stores, kegs rolling out the door on a consistent basis and steady crowds at the taproom.
“Canning is the next step,” Kaczeus says. “But right now, we are loving how the local community supports us.”
In a state that boasts some 160 microbreweries, from historic Boulder Beer to newcomer Gravity Brewing, alums play key roles in many. Perhaps that’s no surprise, with Boulder recognized as a genuine microbrewing mecca.
“Just being in Boulder, where even 10 and 20 years ago there was a craft-beer market, is awesome,” says John Frazee (CivEngr’01).
In September 2012 Frazee opened the Gravity taproom in Louisville, Colo., with co-owners Ryan Bowers (MechEngr’00) and pioneering American brewmaster Julius Hummer, whose father co-founded Boulder Beer in 1979. For now Gravity is focused on the day-to-day perfectionism required — constant cleaning, perfectly calibrated ingredients, carefully monitored temperatures — to make consistently excellent beer.
“Going to engineering school gives you the almost obsessive attention-to-detail mindset you need,” Frazee says.
But some brewing Buffs found their way into the business by happenstance.
Jeff Mendel (Econ’83), part owner and board member at Longmont’s legendary Left Hand Brewing Co., arrived at CU-Boulder with no idea of what he wanted to study. After earning an MBA at the University of Arkansas, he returned to Boulder. In 1987 he answered an ad in the Daily Camera for a job responding to letters and questions about microbrewing for the American Homebrewers Association. The job paid $5 an hour.
“They put me on a two-line rotary phone and said, ‘Go to work.’ I answered the phone and called breweries to see what they were doing,” he says.
He went on to found the association’s microbrewing institute and produce an annual conference and trade show for craft brewers.
“We struggled to get 300 or 400 people,” Mendel recalls. “This year in Washington, D.C., we had 6,000 people and almost 600 exhibitors.”
In 1993 he co-founded Denver’s Tabernash Brewing, which later merged with Longmont-based Left Hand. Left Hand sold nearly 50,000 barrels of beer in 2012 — Black Jack Porter and Sawtooth are among its favorites — with gross revenues up by more than 40 percent, making it the fourth largest microbrewer in Colorado and among the 50 largest in the country.
Mendel is retired from day-to-day operations at Left Hand but retains part ownership and serves on the board. He considers himself “a preacher of the craft beer gospel,” teaching beer appreciation classes and co-hosting beer-and-chocolate events with Boulder business Piece, Love and Chocolate on Pearl Street.
“Half my life has been spent in the industry, but I’m not a brewer,” he says, laughing. “I’m just a schmoozer and a boozer.”
But the hopped-up Boulder craft-brewing market that emerged in 1979 isn’t the only reason CU grads found their way into the business. Some like Alyssa Lundgren (Bus’08), brand strategy manager and part owner of Fate Brewing Co., say Boulder’s entrepreneurial and collaborative environment is perfect for a business like microbrewing.
“There are a lot of really smart people in this town who are highly accepting of new and different ideas,” she says.
Lundgren learned the ropes of beer as a manager at Boulder’s West End Tavern, working for Mike Lewinsky. Years later, he tracked her down while she was working at a marketing firm and asked her to become a partner in Fate. In February Fate opened a brewpub and restaurant with 15 house beers on tap, complete with both 10-barrel and three-barrel brewing systems.
Plunging into the brewpub business — Fate also is a restaurant — requires a willingness to work long hours and do absolutely anything that needs to be done, from cleaning tanks to managing a staff of 80 people.
But plenty of people are jumping in. The craft-brewing industry grew 15 percent by volume and 17 percent in revenue from 2011 to 2012, with a national retail value of $10.2 billion, up from $8.7 billion in 2011, according to the Boulder-based Brewers Association.
Some CU graduates say that microbrewing’s inherent identity with smaller, local businesses seems to fit with a growing zeitgeist.
“People want to know who’s brewing their beer, what his or her personality is, who works there, where they get their ingredients,” Kaczeus says. “It’s the opposite of corporate. You can walk in here and meet Leslie or me.”
“There is a growing distrust of industrial producers of food and drink,” he says. “And a growing ethic of supporting businesses closer to home, a smaller carbon footprint and keeping money in the local economy to create employment opportunities for your neighbors.”
Style India Pale Ale
Style Kölsch Style Ale
Style Belgian Style Pale Ale
Style Foreign Extra Stout
Insane Rush IPA
Style India Pale Ale
Backfire Chili Beer
Style Golden Ale
Style Sweet Stout
Style American Style ESB
400 Pound Monkey
Style English Style India Pale Ale
Style Belgian Blonde
Style Belgian Ale
Wet Hopped Regular IPA
Style India Pale Ale
Photography ©iStock.com/kedsanee (top)/courtesy Bootstrap Brewing, Gravity Brewing, Left Hand Brewing and Fate Brewing Co. (right)/ Photos by Patrick Campbell (bottom)