By Eric Peterson / CompanyWeek | Jun 07, 2016
[Editor's note: Declaration Brewing ceased operations in 2020.]
Science underpins everything at Declaration.
The brewery has three Ph.D.'s on staff who strive to bring the rigors of the scientific method to processes ranging from canning to barrel-aging to yeast propagation.
"Being nerds, we always have to have a control group," says Blandford. For barrel-aged brews, that's typically a refrigerated keg alongside, say, wheat wines in two different wheat-whiskey barrels from Bear Creek Distillery and Laws Whiskey House. (These specific offerings will be released for the 2016 Great American Beer Festival.)
"It's for the greater good of beer," says Schlichting, whose background in renewable energy research at the Colorado School of Mines helps fuel Declaration's science-driven approach and its commitment to sustainability.
As a teaching assistant for a bioprocess engineering class, Schlichting met then-student Blandford in the early 2010s. Fittingly, one of the main thrusts of the course was to make beer. "It's a beautiful illustration of using a biological process to effect a chemical change," says Schlichting. "We can take four basic ingredients and make thousands of different products."
The approach has guided Declaration since it opened. Schlichting oversaw the brewing of more than 50 different styles in year one and the brewery has started canning six year-round beers, including bestsellers Hardtack Copper Ale and Veiled Vixen Strawberry Wheat, and several more are on the way. After Declaration brewed about 1,000 barrels in a truncated 2015, Blandford projects 2016 output at "right around 5,000 barrels."
But it hasn't been easy. "Everything's been harder," says Blandford. "It's definitely been a battle to keep it going. Every single hurdle -- and there's been a few -- we've figured out a way to get around it."
Take canning. After a false start with another vendor, Declaration bought the second canning line ever made by Codi Manufacturing and has since upgraded to the Golden company's third-generation machine. Blandford and Schlichting wanted dissolved oxygen at less than 50 parts per billion, and Codi's technology is easily under that threshold.
"Under 50 is where you want to be," says Schlichting. "Under 10 is what the macros have. Most lines are around 150." The result is a can of beer with a shelf life of two to four months, double that of lines that don't hit the target of 50 parts per billion.
Declaration's distribution has rapidly grown to 150 accounts in Colorado. Blandford wants to break into Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico next, followed by states in the Midwest and Southeast.
But growing in Colorado's mountain resorts is a priority. Declaration has several accounts in Steamboat Springs, Winter Park, and Summit County, and Vail is a current focus to complete "a nice little loop," says Blandford.
The expansion plan in the high country dovetails into Liberty Craft Beverage Company, the distributor Blandford hopes to launch on the brewery's block in the coming year. His vision includes Liberty Hall, a craft beer bar with a kitchen to be operated by a different vendor every year. "We'll have the Food Truck Battle and whoever wins gets to operate the kitchen for a year," he says.
Blandford, whose background includes launching a clothing brand, outdoor retail, and water filtration for oil and gas, brings a lot of ideas to the table. Besides Liberty Craft Beverage and Liberty Hall, Blandford plans to publish a Declaration comic book, produce a web series called Drunkyard Wars, and push into exports in a big way.
Built by Declaration brewer Ben Ketchum, "The Machine" in the corner of the taproom is tangible proof that the team here is capable of executing on wild and crazy ideas. The Rube Goldberg-inspired contraption consisting of laser-cut wooden gears and all sorts of moving parts is triggered by the adjacent pachinko-like Ice Cold Beer arcade game, made by Taito in the early 1980s. When someone wins the game, the gears start turning and ultimately deliver a token good for a free pint at the bar.
It's all about figuring out how to troubleshoot problems and make things work. "When you have a degree in engineering, you only have a degree to learn shit quick," laughs Blandford.
But he's also learned a lesson in the time since pouring Declaration's first pints: "I'm learning I can't do as much as quickly as I'd like to."
Favorite beers: Blandford highlights the Biggest Small Beer Ever, a recent collaboration with 110 breweries all over the country. It was a fundraiser for Declaration co-founder Dr. Paul Ogg, who was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer shortly after the brewery opened in 2015. The recipe was Ogg's favorite from his homebrewing days.
When they're not sampling their own suds, the Declaration crew gravitates to the distilleries in the surrounding Overland neighborhood. "Our go-to is Bear Creek Distillery," says Blandford. "I will put dbo's cocktails against anybody in the city if not anyone in the country."
Challenges: "Capital for growth is always a challenge," says Blandford. "Meeting demand is a challenge."
"And you have to have quality, too," interjects Schlichting. "Quality is the biggest thing going on in the beer world right now."
Opportunities: "There's a lot of opportunity in the mountains," says Blandford. He also points to the planned launch of Liberty Craft Beverage Company to distribute craft beer from Declaration and other local breweries to accounts in Colorado.
Yeast and lab services are additional opportunities. Under the guidance of Ogg -- who has worked tirelessly to catalog wild yeasts from all over the world and discovered new species of Archaea in the process -- Declaration propagates all of its own yeast in-house, and has a growing library of strains in its lab.
"We haven't bought a pinch of yeast from a supplier in almost a year," says Blandford. He touts the purity and viability of Declaration's yeast: While most suppliers claim that 90 percent of the organisms are alive in a given sample, Blandford says, "We've looked at samples where we haven't been able to find a single dead cell." As Schlichting says it makes for faster and better fermentation, the plan is to market yeast to local craft breweries.
"We're going to offer lab services to everybody," adds Schlichting. "We have the background -- I was working in a lab for about eight years before we opened." He adds, "We don't want to charge people too much. It's a friendly industry -- we're the anomaly."
Needs: "Finding good people," says Blandford. "I'd put that in the top three, if not number one."