"We always joke that Berthoud chose us," laughs Whitney Way when asked why she and her husband, John, located their brewery in a small Northern Colorado town with less than 6,000 residents. That choice was made when family members purchased a century-old building in the city's quaint downtown area that had once been home to one of Berthoud's oldest businesses: City Star Barn.
"They came to us and said, 'Hey, this is something you guys have always dreamt about,'" Way recalls. "We had the opportunity to rent this great, visible space, so we dove into the application process and self-financed by loading up credit cards for the most part."
Over the course of 18 months, the couple completed a full renovation and purchased necessary brewery equipment. "It was a building that some people probably would have just torn down," she says. "We were lucky to be a part of its renovation. During the build out, we did everything ourselves that we could from painting to woodworking. Our first equipment purchase was an old walk-in cooler from Upslope Brewing Company."
To this day, they continue to produce beer on their original 3.5-barrel system, brewing each recipe two to four times in a row to fill their 7- and 15-barrel fermentation and bright tanks.
"We brew quite a bit on our mighty little system," chuckles Way. In 2016, that amounted to 925 barrels of their six popular mainstays and around 40 different seasonals. "We've also been ramping up our barrel aging program," she adds. "We have a lot of fun trying to release two to three unique beers every month. Some we repeat from year to year. Others we repeat but make changes to the recipe. Then there are always beers that we retire so that we can add new seasonals to the list."
While they love playing around with new recipes, and are self-distributing kegs to local bars and restaurants, Way doesn't see their total production number growing anytime soon.
"Our goal has always been to be a taproom-centric brewery," she explains. "When we started out, we looked up to breweries like Strange Craft Beer Company, Wit's End Brewing Company, and Copper Kettle Brewing Company. We felt like that would be attainable for us. Then, as we continued to grow and establish relationships with bigger breweries, we learned things that reinforced our decision to choose this model. So, we've really been investing in our taproom and local community."
To that end, the Ways are currently wrapping up a 2,000-square-foot indoor and 1,000-square-foot outdoor expansion. "We bought the land and building to the east of City Star Brewing almost three years ago," Whitney says. "We always knew that we'd need more taproom space. While we weren't quite ready to dive in, we didn't want to miss the opportunity. It has taken us quite a while to renovate it because we're doing a lot of it ourselves. We were able to get a construction loan about a year ago to help us get through some of the bigger chores, but John has still had his hand in everything from framing to electric work."
The pair hopes that the expansion -- which includes a rentable barrel room, new bathrooms and spacious outdoor beer garden -- will help them continue to establish a foundation as Berthoud's local gathering place.
"On a weekly basis, we have live music and food trucks," Way says. "We also love to collaborate with local organizations. We have an annual festival called Hops and Harley that celebrates dogs and craft beer. Flap Jack Day is another big annual event. We also do smaller events throughout the year like local benefits. Our community is really important to us, and we're always looking for ways to participate in some way or another."
Favorite beers: "John and I agree on a lot of things," Way says, "and the beers we like tend to change with the seasons. In the summertime, we'll drink a lot of refreshing lagers and juicy IPAs. When it's colder, we especially like malty beers." She points to the brewery's bestsellers -- Cowboy's Golden, Bandit Brown and All American IPA -- as great representations of the styles they love most.
Challenges: Way says one of City Star's current challenges is finding the best way to take advantage of the recent expansion. "We have the awesome new space and we need to harness it," she added. "It's a really exciting challenge to have actually."
Opportunities: Way says there is still a lot of opportunity for expanding their customer base within the immediate area. "It's a small town, but a growing one as well," she says.
Needs: "When we first opened, we bought what we could on the budget that we had," Way says. "We're now definitely at the point where we need to invest in a grain mill and a keg washer. It would be great to upgrade our brew system as well. We've been so focused on the expansion project that it will be nice to be able to refocus some energy and resources into our brewhouse."