Exclusive Interview | Looking Ahead to 2017 with WeldWerks Brewing
Back in January we chatted for a bit with Neil Fisher and Colin Jones of WeldWerks Brewing Company at the Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines festival in Breckenridge, Colorado. The guys were nice enough to step away from their crowded booth and give us a thorough walkthrough of their upcoming 2017 plans, dropping so much exciting news and knowledge on us that we decided to pluck this interview out and do a feature.
PD: What went into the decision to bring so many versions of Achromatic [to the Big Beers Fest] today?
Neil: Now that we’re doing crowlers it was actually easier to bring those rather than kegs. We’ve been doing a lot of Achromatic beers, so we held some back from previous releases that aren’t available any more, especially the crowd pleasers, and saved them for the event. I think this fest is probably our favorite because it’s the precipice for where we started [the idea for WeldWerks Brewing], so we always bring a lot of fun beers.
What most people don’t realize is that Big Beers is kind of where this all started for WeldWerks; tell us about that story.
Neil: Yeah, I think this is what really prompted both of us to start WeldWerks, success at the home brew competition here. It was like 2011 I think? The guys who were brewing in our garage, there were like 10-12 of us and we’d all brew together, hang out together and go to festivals together. That group is where Colin and I met, and Big Beers was where we got to hang out and understand each other’s appreciation for craft beer. Then what started WeldWerks was in 2014 we won medals in the home brew competition and that was what made us think “maybe we could do this, maybe we could start a commercial brewery.”
Colin: Neil made a bet that if he medalled he’d start a brewery, so we just kind of held his feet to the fire.
Neil: Yeah it was cool because that month, January of 2014 was when we started really talking about it and then in March afterwards we started writing a business plan
So you guys had limited industry experience prior to opening? On top of that you entered the scene with a bang, gaining immediate attention, and then had a MONSTER 2016; did you ever expect such a meteoric rise?
Colin: To me, it’s not surprising. I’m very old, though I might not look like it [smiling]. I’ve been in business a very long time. I knew with Neil how special it was and as long as we executed it correctly and kept execution as our main focus in all the aspects of what we do – business, brewing or anything else. I knew we had the talent and the business mindset, so I wasn’t scared whatsoever, I knew we could do it if we just focused on the execution.
Neil: And I think honestly the lack of industry experience has given us a bit more creative freedom. We haven’t constrained ourselves. Especially with a New England-style IPA, that’s still a style that’s challenging for even classic brewers, we’ve heard a lot of stories this weekend from guys that are saying when they drink an IPA, it should be clear, it shouldn’t look like “Juicy Bits” looks… we know their experience comes from years of classic brewing. Coming from a home brew background and brewing what we liked, [Colin and I] carried that through to WeldWerks. We brought 8 stouts today, all with adjuncts, nothing classic, and I think it’s because we came without the preconceived notion about what a brewery has to be. Obviously there are other styles we want to do classically. But I think that’s a really cool thing about the industry now, there are some industry vets that are leading the way and then some new guys who have never opened a brewery before bringing in some new creativity.
It’s special that you were able to have that execution at such an early point. You gotta have creativity, but you’ve gotta be able to back it up, or the creativity falls through.
Colin: You should’ve seen his home brew system! [laughs, gestures to Neil]
Neil: Yeah, it’s like Colin said, you’ve gotta have the execution plan down. That means dumping beer when it doesn’t meet our standards. Even the big guys, Avery and whatnot, still today will dump a lot of beer when it doesn’t turn out right!
Colin: We’re like, “thank god we’re not the only ones!”
Neil: We’ve just worked so hard over the past 2 years to build our reputation in Colorado, so to have people waiting in line to drink our beers at Big Beers, we’re not going to compromise that by putting out a beer that doesn’t meet our standards. So one [of the challenges of opening with success] I think is the actual beers themselves, but two, making the decision as a small brewery to dump product when the capitol is often so low… everyone says “oh, it must be so expensive to dump batches of beer” and yes, but it’s more expensive not to.
Especially when you guys are so far away [in Greeley, CO] – there’s a lot on the line if someone drives in just to taste your beer and you don’t make that great first impression.
Colin: And there are a lot of people who still don’t know where WeldWerks is. First impressions are everything, we don’t ever want to make a bad impression. We’re trying to showcase who we really are at events like these, we only brought 8 or so crowlers of each, so not a lot, but it’s a chance for us to show the breadth of what we’re really able to do. We’re not doing anything weird like “at 4 o’clock we’re releasing this, come try it then”, nah, just come up and get it, come check us out and chat, we don’t like to put on airs or be too fancy. We don’t like to focus on the monetary aspect of what goes into the beers, let’s have fun with the beers and worry about the dollar amount everywhere else.
Neil: Our double dry-hopped Juicy Bits and our Extra Juicy Bits, the two IPAs we brought, are not feasible beers to produce and send out to accounts, I mean, they’re super expensive. Double dry-hopped Juicy Bits has over 6 pounds of hops per barrel, Extra Juicy Bits is like 7.5 lbs, so it’s an obscene amount of hops to go into a beer. But it wasn’t just for show, every time you add hops it adds another level of flavor. So approach is let’s make the beer good first and then we can figure out “can we sell it?”… maybe not. Are we going to make a profit off every single beer we produce? Maybe not! But we make what we like.
Colin: I heard the craziest question in a seminar earlier where someone asked “what percentage of this kind of beer should I be brewing in my brewery?” I was like “just brew what you want, baby!” This is not formulaic.
You all underwent an aggressive expansion as a result of your big year, tell us about that expansion and what can people expect from WeldWerks in the coming year?
Colin: Full speed ahead!
Neil: Yeah, we’re really excited about our barrel program, we’ve really been focusing on that. Medianoche (barrel-aged Imperial Stout), and Barrel-Aged Mexican Achromatic have had a really good response from people, and we’re really proud of what’s coming out of our barrel program after 1 year. This year we’re focusing on more of those, and also our barrel-aged sour program. We started our sour program almost at the same time we filled barrels of Medianoche, but we just didn’t have enough of a base to blend with yet, and that’s my favorite part of sour brewing is the blending. It’s like “I want to make this flavor profile, and I need these components to make it” we just didn’t have those components yet. So our first release we just bottled this week before we came up, and we were hoping we’d have it for the fest but it just wasn’t ready yet. It’s our Peach Climacteric, and it’s a blend of everything from 4-month to 17-month barrel-aged beer, a mix of saisons, pale sours, some lacto, some pedio, a lot of brett, just really a whole gamut of flavors. Then we used about 4 pounds per gallon of Palisade peaches. So about 1500 pounds total
Colin: That’ll be released in our taproom mid-February
Neil: Yeah, so that’ll be our first official release in our sour program. Beyond that, we’re really excited for the Alpha Bits series, the Fruity Bits series, and that’s where we’re going to have some fun. You know, I love Juicy Bits, but it’s pretty much set in stone, we can’t do a whole lot to change it, it’s obviously found its following and people want it where it’s at. With Alpha Bits we can start experimenting with some new hop profiles. We’re really excited for our Alpha Bits 3 that’s about to come out, it’s a pale ale, so it’s a little bit less malt-focused a little more hop-forward. #4, which we’ve already started, will be an IPL, basically an IPL version of Juicy Bits, we kept everything the same and just changed the yeast and then lagered it. We’re having fun with this one, just trying to see how far this New England-style category can go. And then Fruity Bits is the same thing, except with fruit, we’re pushing what kinds of fruits we can showcase. And then we’re going to keep working on our classic styles too, our Hefeweizen and our Vienna lager are doing great and we’re probably going to try some throwback styles aren’t maybe as sexy, but we would like to do a Pilsner, which we haven’t done yet, so we’ll really do a mix of everything!
Colin: Lots of investment in barrels, we’re pretty good on tank space so far, and the nice thing about our location is we have a lot of room to grow. We don’t need to do that just yet, but we’ve made a lot of investment in tank space this particular year, more investment in hops, and we’re rounding out our retail distribution, trying to push our product out across the front range. Just getting the beer to the people as best as we can while maintaining quality and consistency in the process!