The wall behind the bar in the eclectic taproom is festooned with medals, as every signature beer crafted by Bootstrap Brewing is an award winner. Steve and Leslie, Niwot locals and the married founders and owners of the three-year-old establishment, have won dozens of honors in high-profile competitions, though they are most proud of their recent Great American Beer Festival silver.
"It was for Wreak Havoc, our imperial red ale," explains Steve, a former tech industry mechanical engineer. "And it was always a dream of ours. A GABF medal is like winning the World Series or the Super Bowl because there are so many great beers out there."
Steve brews Wreak Havoc and the rest of Bootstrap Brewing's lineup -- including 1956 Golden Ale, Boomer Brown, and the profoundly drinkable Backfire Chili -- on a 15-barrel system with 50-barrel fermenters. The bestsellers, Insane Rush IPA and Stick's Pale Ale, are canned on a Wild Goose line.
The couple has always focused on brewing "really drinkable beer that people want to have over and over again," says Leslie. It's an approach that appears to be working. Bootstrap Brewing has doubled production annually, increasing from 727 barrels in 2014 to about 1,500 this year.
Their product is available in 65 liquor stores throughout Colorado as well as a number of restaurants. This is no mean feat, as the self-funded business has always self-distributed their kegs and cans.
"Up until six weeks ago, everything we did was delivered out of our own cars," says Leslie. "Sometimes we'd have to make two trips to Denver in a single day because we could only fit so much in the Cherokee. We finally had to get a van."
The rest of the brewery's product is enjoyed by loyal patrons in their friendly, community-oriented taproom. Many of the decorations above the bar -- from a giant Krusty the Klown to a Pee-wee Herman action figure -- were brought in by regulars to enhance the location's memorable ambiance. The paintings on the walls are created by a customer during the live music performances the brewery hosts every Saturday night.
"I call our place the Cheers of the brewing industry," Steve says. "Folks will come in and Bob [the bartender] will have their beer sitting on the counter before they can order. He already knows what they want. And that's what we like. The beer is awesome -- it's our core business and we love it -- but there's more to it than that."
He continues, "Thanks to the GABF medal, we've become a destination. People want to come to Niwot to visit the brewery, and then they ask us for restaurant recommendations. So the town is also getting recognition, which is great. Our success builds support for other businesses in the community."
Community involvement -- and "giving back” -- has always been an important part of the couple's philosophy. In Bootstrap Brewing's first few weeks of business, they donated the profits from sales of their Flagstaff Amber to the Boulder County Wildfire Co-Op. After the floods of 2013, they again donated profits, this time to a regular customer who had lost her home.
"There are all these awesome opportunities aside from making great beer," Steve says. "Frankly, a lot of breweries make great beer. So for us it has to be more than that."
Favorite beers: "I can't keep my hands off our Flagstaff Amber," says Leslie. "After that I either move to Insane Rush IPA or Backfire Chili. But every time I hear of a friend going back to Wisconsin, I ask them to load up their car with New Glarus' Wisconsin Belgian Red. I love to drink that anytime I can get my hands on it."
"I also love our Insane Rush IPA," Steve says. "That was my go-to beer in the beginning and it still is. But whenever I have the opportunity, I like to drink Ballast Point Sculpin. I think they make an awesome IPA as well."
Challenges: Managing growth. "This last summer was all about growing," Steve explains. "We had a lot of restaurants and liquor stores on allocation, and that was painful for them as well as for us." But thanks to the bigger brewhouse, "We finally have real inventory again, not just-in-time type of stuff."
Opportunities: "Now that we've expanded our production, we can finally add some new customers," says Leslie. "We're also looking three to five years down the line," Steve adds. "We might reach our 3,000 or 4,000 barrel capacity in this location in the next year or so. When that happens, do we stay that size? Will we be happy with that? Our customers are telling us we need to continue to grow. So we've been talking about where we could build another facility and how we would make that happen."
Needs: Good people. "We're still putting in close to 100 hours a week, whether we're here or at home across the street," says Steve. "We need to find some exceptional people -- people who are better than us at the jobs we do now so we have time to do other things that we're growing into."
"We're used to working way more hours than we should," Leslie agrees. "We need to identify where we need to add staff as we grow. Where do we need the most help? What strengths are we looking for in additional employees? We want to figure all that out so we can grow our staff in a smart way."