Breck Brewery’s Brewmaster Talks Expansion, Big Bottles and Leftover Salmon

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In 25 years, a lot has changed in the craft brew game. When Breckenridge Brewery opened a small brewpub in the mountain town of the same name, there were only two other microbreweries operating in the state. Now, let’s keep it simple as say Colorado has a lot more.

As the scene has grown, so has Breckenridge Brewery. In addition to the original brewpub, they’ve been in downtown Denver until this past month, when they opened a new 12-acre, 85,000 square foot campus in Littleton. Nestled off the South Platte River, they’ve built a 300 seat restaurant and taproom, dubbed “The Farm House,” to offer a unique experience for visitors, pairing those small brewpub roots with a more expansive ranch-themed facility just a few miles from the city.

As Breckenridge prepares for their 25th anniversary celebration this weekend, Hootenanny, they’ve brewed a one-off IPL for Colorado jam band Leftover Salmon, who are also 25. The beer debuts at The Farm House and will see bottle distribution (complete with a downloadable live record from Leftover Salmon) later this year.

And check out the gallery of Breck’s new Farm House

Paste caught up with Brewmaster and Director of Brewing Operations Todd Usry to talk about what happens now that construction is finished.

Paste: How has Breckenridge grown in your time with the brewery?
Usry: I’ve been with Breckenridge Brewery 24 years. When I started, there was this great pub up in Breckenridge. Our founder, Richard Squire, was looking to open up a production brewery in Denver so that he could package and distribute Breck beer beyond the mountain towns. That’s when I joined. At the time, I would imagine the pub brewed 1,000 barrels a year, I’m not really sure. We were just the 3rd craft brewery in the state at the time, so tracking those numbers wasn’t such a thing. The good old days…

Paste: When did you officially open in Littleton? Is everything now in full operation?
Usry: The Farm House, our taproom and restaurant, opened just after Memorial Day. The brewery opened to the public for tours on June 21st.

Paste: The plan is to phase out the Denver building and sell it. How is the transition between sites coming along?
Usry: We’re brewing all of our beers at the new facility, and we’re amazed at the efficiency of the new equipment. We’re still firing up the packaging hall, and we’re getting really close, but until we’re able to ship beer out the door, we’re running both breweries simultaneously.

Paste: What does the new space allow? Are you planning for increased distribution of existing beers, or a lot more limited releases and smaller batches?
Usry: Both, actually.

Our first goal is to increase distribution to our existing markets. We’ve been capacity constrained for so long, we’re looking forward to filling orders and growing business with all of our current distribution partners.

With the additional tank space, packaging capabilities, and a new barrel-aging room, we have lots of plans for more specialty beers in various packages that include 22 oz. and 750 ml cork and cage.

Paste: How do you expect the new brewhouse to affect your impact outside of Colorado?
Usry: More availability and variety. We’re getting brighter flavor out of our beers with the new brewhouse.

Paste: What’s the biggest challenge with this kind of growth? Does it change your role in the craft brewing scene—do you feel more pressure?
Usry: We have a lot more moving parts now and more sophisticated equipment. Keeping it running smoothly is the biggest short-term challenge for me.
We’re making a concerted effort to “grow smart” by working very closely with our partners to make sure we all have the same goals and grow successfully together.

Hell yes, there’s pressure.

Paste: How does your new office compare to the old one?
Usry: Well, it’s a little less cluttered, that’s for sure. I had 20 years’ worth of life in that windowless, dusty office at our old brewery. The new office is a breath of fresh air. I have a view of the Farm House and Pike’s Peak to the south from my windows. And I share a balcony with my core team. The whole team is more together in the new brewery. We got to build from the ground up with that in mind. Everyone’s excited for this fresh start together, but we’ll miss our old home in Denver with so many memories there.

Paste: How is the original brewpub tied to the current complex in Littleton? How do you promote beer tourism between the two?
Usry: Our pub in Breckenridge is integral to the brewery in Littleton. We work together and help each other more than ever in recent years. The pub in Breck traditionally has had more flexibility to experiment with new recipes—developing recipes not only for local visitors but also as a pilot system for the larger Denver operation. Beer tourism had always been a bigger part of the Breckenridge pub experience. Since we designed our Littleton brewery with beer tourism in mind, though, we now offer mountain pub and urban-ranch, large scale production tour experiences.

Paste: What excites you about brewing in the Denver-Littleton area right now?
Usry: Being part of an exploding craft beer region is awesome, inspiring, and humbling. Colorado Brewers Guild released a report on the economic impact of craft beer on the state of Colorado: we have a formidable impact on the economy, employ thousands of people and, as an industry, we give back to the community in big ways. Those stats apply to the state as a whole. The beer scene, specifically in Littleton, has grown hugely over the last year alone. We each offer unique styles and experiences for people who come see us.

Paste: Who are some of your Littleton neighbors that visitors should check out?
Usry: Locavore, Living the Dream, Saint Patrick’s, 38 State, and Grist are all neighbors in Littleton. Reaching out a little further, people should definitely check out Lone Tree, Cannonball Creek, Strange, Black Sky, and the list goes on.

Paste: For your 25th you’ve teamed up with Leftover Salmon. Have they ever played Hootenanny before?
Usry: This will be our sixth Hootenanny, which started on our 20th anniversary.

Leftover Salmon played at our brewpub in Breckenridge back in the early ‘90s. In more recent years we’ve partnered in several events and collaborations with them, but this is the first time they’ve played at our Hootenanny.

Paste: How available will the Leftover Salmon beer be after the event?
Usry: Silver Salmon IPL will be sold in all of Breckenridge Brewery’s markets nationwide, but it is a small-batch specialty beer, so availability will be limited.