My recent visit to Asher Brewing Company happened to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the brewery's first batch of beer. It was a "calibration batch" that was supposed to be Green Bullet, an organic IPA, but the heat was a little too high on the brew kettle and the ingredient ratio not quite dialed in and the resulting brew ended up stronger and hoppier than intended. But it was good. Owners Chris Asher and Steve Turner eventually released the results as Greenade, a delightfully hopped, slightly fruity double IPA that today is among the company's best-selling beers.
I raise a glass of Greenade with Asher and Turner in their newly expanded taproom which, despite being hidden away in a nondescript warehouse complex in Gunbarrel, is quickly filling up this Wednesday afternoon with an after-work crowd enjoying pints and a steady stream of customers coming in to fill growlers. A pizza delivery guy makes the first of what will likely be several deliveries to the brewery that day ("His car could probably drive here on its own," said bartender Alyson Duffey), and by all accounts Boulder's newest brewery--and the only all-organic brewery in Colorado--is enjoying the fruits of a successful first year.
But while today a top concern is buying more kegs so that the company can keep up with growing demand, a year ago Asher and Turner questioned whether they could stay in business at all.
"The timing wasn't right, we didn't have enough money, but we did it anyway," Turner said of starting a brewery in a down economy. "But craft beer was the only market segment we could find that was thriving. Everything else was in the tank."
Asher's long-term goal was to start a brewery, and he was determined to find a way to make it work. He learned to homebrew in the basement of his fraternity house at Connecticut's Wesleyan University and started a home-brewing class at the university. He moved to Colorado after graduation in 1996 and worked as a brewer at the Golden City brewery in Golden. He left to pursue a MBA at Leeds College of Business at CU Boulder, and ran brewing operations at RedFish in downtown Boulder until the restaurant closed in early 2009, an event that prompted Asher to put his plan into action.
"Sometimes the best decisions are the ones you don't actually make yourself," he said. But the timing was terrible. "It was a good time to buy equipment, but I couldn't get a loan anywhere."
A mutual friend introduced him to Turner, an award-winning master brewer who had been the brewmaster at CB & Potts in Westminster. Turner read through Asher's business plan and decided to buy into the new venture as a partner. With an accumulated 20 years of brewing know-how between them (and with help from a few zero-interest offer credit cards), Asher and Turner set up shop at the Gunbarrel location and started brewing.
Being a small and nimble operation paid dividends early. The pair tweaked their business plan on the fly to focus on supplying local restaurants and bars with their beers and put plans for a consumer canning operation on hold. Their account list grew month after month, the taproom started seeing more business, and they've since expanded from offering two beers -- the flagship Green Bullet Organic IPA and Tree Hugger Organic Amber -- to six. They also found that more people are likely to order a beer out that they can't readily get at home, and interest in organic beer has been high.
Although it costs more to make and they can't always get the ingredients they want when they want them, organic beer is "better for consumers because they're not ingesting pesticides, and it's better for the environment because of sustainable farming practices," Asher said. "I've also read a few studies that found organic is better for the shelf life of beer, too, because naturally occurring antioxidants get bound up by pesticides and aren't able to fully do their job to eat up the oxygen, which spoils beer." He also said organic ingredients and a stringent brewing process results in a "cleaner" tasting beer.
You can try for yourself in the taproom and at many area restaurants and bars (a full list is at asherbrewing.com). Asher is also throwing a Green Monstah Mash Halloween party from 3 to 10 p.m. on Oct. 30 with food available from the StrEatChefs truck, live music, prizes for best costume, and an indoor cornhole court.
Contact Tom Wilmes at firstname.lastname@example.org.