By Gregory Daurer | Jan 26, 2017
Gobien is fond an old expression: "Farmers make wine, engineers make beer."
He explains: "How do you make great wine? You grow fantastic grapes. . . . With beer, there's a much more level playing field. Everyone who makes beer has access to the exact same, raw materials . . . and what comes out at the end of the process is your attention to detail, and your understanding of some microbiology, but mostly physics and science."
Gobien moved to Colorado in 2010, after completing his doctorate in materials engineering at North Carolina State University. In the process of obtaining his degree, Gobien fell out of love with the field. "It's not socially engaging or fun," he says. "People don't hang out at their engineering firm after work."
Gobien had been homebrewing with his wife, Kristen Kozik, who went on to secure a job as a pediatric nurse at Children's Hospital. Once both were settled in Colorado, they opened the brewery. Gobien brewed in the morning, and he and Kozik split the bartending shifts.
Gobien had never brewed commercially before. But he must be following protocols somewhat correctly: He's won gold medals at the GABF for his Mexican Chocolate Stout (2011) and his Belgian Blond (2016). (Although the latter started off as a "total, blind accident." Gobien had set out to make his helles, but he'd received a mislabeled strain of mystery yeast: perhaps a Belgian strain, perhaps a German hefeweizen variety. Nevertheless, the GABF judges deemed it worthy of a gold in the "Other Belgian-Style Ale" category.)
The brewery cans six-packs of its "everyday" styles: Helles Lager, IPA, and Milk Stout. And it bottles specialty beers like its Naja Red Imperial IPA and Mexican Chocolate Stout. It also has a pricier line of rare beers, brewed just once per year, like a barleywine and bourbon barrel-aged oatmeal stout; they're also bottled, and sealed with wax.
The 15-barrel brewery made 160 barrels in its first nine months of existence. Six years later, it's producing about 1,200 barrels annually.
In its southeast Denver taproom, the brewery serves over 100 different types of beer per year. The space displays a warm atmosphere. Decks of cards abound, in case customers want to play a game while quaffing beer. There are two TVs tuned to sports, but the volume remains muted. Music fills the room; on one Monday afternoon, the bartender had picked a John Coltrane jazz station on Internet radio.
The neighborhood clientele is "over 30 with children, or middle-aged and the kids are out of the house. It's definitely more a family crowd," Gobien says. [We] don't cater to as a young a crowd as downtown breweries, where you can have almost a nightclub feel, sometimes."
The beers display a near-uniformity in the most desirable of characteristics: a velvety mouthfeel.
Le Chapeau is the brewery's mixed culture, orange-yellowish wild ale, aged in red and white wine barrels. Gobien notes its "complexity, without being necessarily acidic."
The deep, dark Mexican Chocolate Stout is made using three types of chiles: ancho, guajillo, and habanero. (The handling of the latter requires the donning of a face mask or respirator; the amount that fits in the palm of a hand is enough for a thousand gallon batch.) Another addition is "cinnamon" (actually, it's cassia from Asia). The burn of the chiles is slight, coming on at the back of the throat like ginger. But the spice presence isn't overwhelming. For some customers, Gobien says, the Mexican Chocolate Stout is a "one and done," while others will drink it all night long. It practically calls out for vanilla ice cream to accompany it.
Well Bred is the brewery's fall release: an English-style barleywine, aged in bourbon barrels, clocking in at 10 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). It's brewed with English barley and East Kent Golding hops. Gobien says, "In terms of recipe development, it's an ultra-simple beer, but the flavor profile that results is very elegant and complex. It has a lot of facets to it." He suggests pairing it with a dessert or a cigar.
After trying some of the brewery's higher-alcohol offerings, and then returning to its 4.8 percent ABV helles, it's remarkable how the flavor still pops out in a pleasing fashion.
Gobien calls the helles "a simple, simple beer." Nevertheless, he says, "It's got some zing to it. . . . You have a beer sometimes, it's just dead; there's no life to it, it's boring."
But, not this Bavarian Helles, which he sometimes describes to people at festivals as "beer-flavored beer."
Gobien explains that the ingredients are "great barley, great hops -- like one of each. Simple yeast."
But there's something else at work as well, he adds: "A good engineering process."
Challenges: Gobien cites balancing growth, while still seizing opportunities. "We're a self-funded brewery. We don't have any deep-pocket investors. Our trick has been to grow fast enough, but not take too big of a bet. We kind of need to balance our growth and cash flow. It's actually been very easy to get access to capital, but you don't want to take too many loans on."
Opportunities: New markets. "We haven't started distributing out of state," says Gobien. "Currently, we only sell beer in the state of Colorado. So only 3 percent of the U.S. population has access to our beer. But we have access to a lot more markets, if we wanted to, so we're going to start dabbling in out-of-state distribution on a limited basis and see how it does."
Needs: "Finding people that are knowledgeable and dependable," says Gobien. "Staffing is always tricky. Finding people that fit your culture, that get along with your existing staff. We've had some turnover in staff, but we've got a really good staff in place now."