Looking Back on a Decade as Cannonball Creek Celebrates 10th Anniversary
This weekend, Cannonball Creek Brewing Company celebrates its 10th anniversary with a weekend-long celebration commemorating a decade of brewing some of the state’s most highly decorated beers.
Founded by Mountain Sun Brewery alums Brian Hutchinson and Jason Stengl, Cannonball Creek burst onto the craft beer scene as the third of 38 Colorado breweries to open in 2013 with a distinct punk rock personality and beer-centric focus. Golden City Brewery had previously held the distinction of being the only craft brewery in Golden for 20 years before Cannonball found its home in on the corner of an unassuming strip mall located off Highway 93. On opening day, Stengl personally stood at the front door shaking the hand of every person who walked into his new business humbly welcoming patrons “Thank you so much for coming. Geez, thank you all so much.” When asked how they felt about the line stretching around the building, Hutchinson said that it was just “panic, like oh shit, what did we get ourselves into? I remember [the day] really well, but the second I saw the fucking line forming and then saw people hiking up the street, it was just sheer terror. How the fuck are we going to serve all of these people?”
Hutchinson said that the magnitude of the public’s response didn’t sink in until days later when gratitude was the “overwhelming emotion.” According to Stengl, January 19, 2013, still stands as one of the busiest days for the brewery, “even though [they] only had four beers on tap.” By day three, they were down to two beers and had to close for a couple of days to catch up to the demand.
Reflecting on opening day, Hutchinson mentioned how they leaned on their friendships with their former coworkers at Mountain Sun Brewery, who leaped into action helping bus tables and pour beers as people continued to pour into the new brewery. After that first day, the brewery was a two-man operation with Hutchinson brewing and Stengl running the front-of-house. It became clear very quickly that Stengl would need help, and they kept saying that they needed someone like their friend, Jonathan Lee. “Every time we brought up needing help, we kept saying that we need someone like Jonathan, and finally we were just like ‘why don’t we just ask him?’” Lee became the Cannonball Creek bar manager under the condition that Hutchinson teach him how to brew. Lee’s love of beer and expansive personality set the tone for the rest of the front-of-house staff hired as he transitioned to become a full-time brewer alongside Hutchinson.
Karl Royer, who serves as assistant to the general manager, is one of the longest-tenured front-of-house employees, and shares a huge personality on par with Lee’s. A recurring theme throughout our discussion focused on how Cannonball Creek is as much about the relationships they have built as it is about making fantastic beer. So when asked about their favorite memories of the last decade, both Hutchinson and Royer emphasized their relationships with their regulars. “I have seen people come here on first dates who are now married and have children,” Royer recalls, “I even met my girlfriend of five years here. It’s truly like a big family.” Statements about those who work and play at Cannonball Creek being family are backed up with action, especially in times of crisis. From small acts of kindness, like a free crowler when the world appears to be ending, to major efforts like starting a Go Fund Me and holding a fundraiser at the brewery where everything – not just profits or tips – was donated to help cover medical bills of a regular who no longer lives in Colorado. The Cannonball Creek family shows up for their community. Royer reflected on how, once someone is a regular, they are always a regular. “You get so sad when good regulars move away, but then maybe a year or two later they’re in town visiting and it’s like they never left,” said Royer. “We have so many good regulars – whether they’re beer industry people or just people who like our beer and like us – it’s just awesome.”
During 2020 and 2021, when breweries were forced to severely limit their operations to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Cannonball Creek was one of a limited few food & beverage industry establishments that didn’t see massive layoffs or turnover. Royer remembered how they sat down as a company to discuss how to move forward together. “We decided to be the safest we could be. We were really diligent about following every rule and the fact that we had so many regulars that supported us really kept us going, both financially and emotionally. We became a safe place for so many folks that we ended up actually hiring more people.”
Cannonball Creek has become known throughout the beer industry for brewing high-quality West Coast IPAs and traditionally-inspired Lagers, along with other styles like Belgians and the occasional Porter or Stout. This is reflected in the medals adorning their walls from GABF and World Beer Cup recognizing their dedication to well-crafted, stylistically accurate beers. Cannonball Creek is the only brewery in Colorado, and one of the only in the nation, to have won at least one medal at every Great American Beer Festival since opening. “We are constantly driven to get better,” said Hutchinson. “I love drinking other people’s beer and being inspired by it and realizing that I have a lot of work to still do. That gets me up in the morning. It’s not to be the best – it’s just to be better – and drives the whole ethos of this place: that the beer comes first.” Hutchinson says that winning medals is a byproduct of that dedication and drive to constantly improve. He is more honored by seeing brewers whose beers he admires come out to Golden to drink Cannonball’s beers.
So, what is next for Cannonball Creek? Hutchinson didn’t hesitate: “a continued focus on brewing beer we love to drink.” In a bid to make sure that beer is available to more people in the way Hutchinson and Lee intended it to taste, Cannonball Creek will start canning certain beers for sale exclusively in the taproom in the next few months. The decision to wade into canning when they already have a crowler machine was prompted by a desire to create more consistency in the packaged beer walking out the door. Hutchinson: “I just think as a beer-centric brewery, one where we focus on quality and beer itself being important, I think it’s nice to have a package that reflects that.” Royer also points out how having cans will speed up service as filling crowlers takes significantly longer than pouring pints. This delay can sometimes be compounded by people purchasing multiple crowlers at a time. However, Hutchinson emphasizes that the move to canning isn’t a bid to become the next massive regional beer brand. “We bought a small mechanical system because we’re not trying to make this a major expansion. We are currently brewing around 750 barrels a year, and our absolute max in this space is 1,000 barrels, and we want to continue to focus on brewing the best beer possible, not just as much beer as possible.”
Finally, I asked Hutchinson if he has any advice for people just starting out in the beer industry: “if you start compromising because you think that you’re supposed to do this or brew that style or chase that trend, you’re missing the point of brewing. If you do what everyone else is telling you is cool, then you are going to lose your way. It’s an opportunity to be real, to be creative, to do something amazing. And you can’t do that if you follow the crowd.”
Cannonball Creek will be celebrating its 10th anniversary on the 20th-22nd with food trucks, live music, and other activities. In keeping with the brewery’s punk rock roots, the anniversary logo is a play on the Misfits logo with a beer-ingredient skull and Misfits-style typeface. Friday the 20th Cannonball will release 150 t-shirts and Saturday the 20th the brewery will have 150 commemorative glasses (“like a Lager meets IPA glass”, but don’t call it an IPL glass) printed with the 10th-anniversary logo. The musical acts feature many members of the beer industry, with Friday’s live music being provided by Merkin and Weenus and the Rehearse Cowgirls, many of whose members work at Cannonball Creek, Electric Whiskey Experiment and the Gnarbillys – with members from Call to Arms – on Saturday, and The One and Only Jon Ham – a longtime brewery mainstay – on Sunday. Special beer releases include a west coast IPA and Pale Ale, a Festbier, a Laws Whiskey House-barrel aged Imperial Stout, and fruited versions of their flagship IPA, Mindbender, and Pale Ale, Featherweight.
More details can be found on Cannonball Creek’s Facebook page.