Steamboat Springs Curiosity was buzzing at Steamboat OktoberWest on Saturday as questions brewed under a banner for an unheard-of business that called Steamboat Springs home.
Locals and beer festival visitors were getting their first taste of the still-unnamed IPA and Irish red beers produced by Butcherknife Brewing Co.
“We’ve always believed Steamboat is ripe with opportunity for a hometown brewery, and things just get more and more exciting the more people learn about our plans,” said Mark Fitzgerald, a five-year Steamboat resident who started planning seriously for the brewery in 2009.
Fitzgerald, 35, said he was not a beer drinker growing up, but he fell in love with it as an adult teaching in the Czech Republic.
Currently, the brewery is still a home-based operation, but Butcherknife plans to start large-scale production possibly by mid-2012.
“The recipes are dialed in,” said Nate Johansing, who became Fitzgerald’s business partner a year ago.
Johansing, 30, is a Colorado native who grew up ski racing in Steamboat and became passionate about beer when he started learning the chemistry behind hops, a primary ingredient.
Johansing recently returned from Germany, where he spent a year studying brewing. He now can be called Master Brewer Nate Johansing.
The founders are self-financed, but Fitzgerald said they may take on investors in the future. They are looking for Butcherknife’s permanent home and want enough room to expand easily. They would take as much as 5,000 square feet of space if the price was good, Fitzgerald said. The brewery would include a tap room where people could taste the product and fill growlers.
Building a brand
When people associate brewery with Steamboat, they think of Mahogany Ridge Brewery and Grill at Fifth Street and Lincoln Avenue downtown.
The location has been home to a brewery since 1992, current owner Charlie Noble said.
He said they used to brew and distribute about 1,000 barrels each year. To put that in perspective, each of the vats located behind the Mahogany bar holds about 10 barrels.
These days, the focus at Mahogany is on supplying the restaurant, and about 450 barrels are brewed annually, Noble said.
Mahogany would maintain its niche operations with a new craft brewer in town.
“They’re looking for shelf space in Central Park Liquors,” Noble said. “I’m looking for customers coming through the door.”
Noble wished Butcherknife good luck.
“Anything that brings attention to the industry is going to be positive,” Noble said. “It keeps the romance of the brew pub.”
With 4,000 square feet dedicated to brewing, Fitzgerald said they could produce between 4,000 and 8,000 barrels of beer each year if there was enough demand.
The plan is to produce the beer and work with distributors to get into liquor stores, bars and restaurants in Northwest Colorado, and then expand throughout the state and regionally.
“We’re not looking to do a brew pub necessarily,” Fitzgerald said.
Steamboat would be a large part of the Butcherknife brand, and they plan on incorporating its rustic cowboy American spirit along with its extreme athleticism.
“We’ve got the history and the future, and we want to be able to represent both of those,” Fitzgerald said.
During Saturday’s debut at OktoberWest, Butcherknife had three kegs and was filling mugs steadily with samples to many repeat tasters.
“The response has been phenomenal,” Fitzgerald said. “We see a lot of people coming up with clear mugs, meaning we’re the first ones they’re visiting,” Fitzgerald said.
Local residents raised their mugs to the new brewers in town.
“As someone who enjoys beer, I would like to see more breweries,” said Steamboat resident Carol Lacey, holding a mug of the Irish red. “I think Steamboat could be a really good place to have that happen.”
The beer will not be for sale until they get the brewery running, but Fitzgerald said residents will get a chance to try it during several promotions and events leading up to the opening.
“It’s a market ripe with opportunity,” he said.
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com