When Minturn and Hyndman learned of the opportunity to purchase an already functioning brewery, they were in the midst of writing a business plan for building one from the ground up.
"Being brewery owners was something Jake and I really wanted to do for a long time even before we met each other," says brewer Hyndman, who formerly worked at Ska Brewing, Green Flash Brewing Co., Rock Bottom Denver, and Dry Dock Brewing Co. "When we realized we had complementing strengths, we decided we should give it a go. That's when the opportunity to buy Elk Mountain popped up."
"It was super advantageous," adds Minturn, who has 20 years of experience in the service industry including managing taprooms at Joyride Brewing and Copper Kettle Brewing Company. "If we built from the ground up, we'd be spending most of our money sitting in the red for six to eight months during production. Buying Elk Mountain was about a third of the cost, and we had revenue from day one. The day we signed the papers, money was coming in, so we were able to spend on projects like redecorating, upgrading, renovating, and adding a pizza kitchen."
They operated under the Elk Mountain name and brewery manufacturer license for the first 18 months they were in business. "Our new brew pub license required that a minimum of 15 percent of our revenue come from food sales," Minturn explains. "We weren't allowed to use that license until our kitchen was completely constructed and ready to make food."
They kept their 13 tap handles full of previously brewed Elk Mountain beer as they slowly transitioned over to their own recipes. "It took us a couple months to kick through all of their beers," Minturn continues. "That was a bit of a struggle from an identity standpoint because we still had to use the name Elk Mountain until we could use our own logo and branding."
The pair has retained Elk Mountain's Saturday Nut Fever, a peanut butter brown, in their core lineup, though they've modified the recipe. "The rest of our core four are our Collision Kölsch , Après Amber, and Melisandre, a raspberry golden," Hyndman says. "They hit a lot of the flavor spectrum. Then we rotate other beers through the rest of our tap handles to provide our customers with something new."
Hyndman notes that Downhill Brewing's IPAs are generally quite popular. Collision Kölsch is a big seller during the warmer months. "We do a line of saisons that are fruit forward," he adds. "When those come out, they are pretty heavy up there on the bestseller list."
Inspiration comes from other breweries, culinary experiences, and reaching back into classic styles. "There's a lot of innovation in beer as far as recipes," Hyndman says, "but a lot of times, brewing a classic style is a great way to go."
Some of those classics will be entered in this year's Great American Beer Festival. "They're allowing ten entries per brewery this year as opposed to the usual four," Minturn says. "We're starting to release a lot of those beers that we're entering in the competition. While there won't be a public festival this year, there's still a good chance to win some medals to bring home and hang on the wall."
Downhill Brewing is also entering a cucumber sour ale aptly named Fresh AF. It's a kettle-soured light ale with 250 pounds of hand-skinned and -juiced cucumbers added. "It's a pretty lengthy process, but it really comes out fresh and balances the sour with sweetness," Minturn adds. "It has been a real fan favorite."
Hyndman says the brewery produced 532 barrels in 2019 and is on track to "do a little better than that" with 550 this year. Every drop is brewed in a direct-fire kettle that produces around eight barrels per batch. "Our brewhouse is pretty interesting," he adds. It includes a mash tun handed down from Dry Dock to Elk Mountain, which is "basically like an old Grundy tank with the top lopped off. It makes some great beer."
The brewery also has two 20-barrel fermenters, two 16-barrel fermenters, one eight-barrel fermenter, and a 24-barrel dish bottom fermenter that they frequently use as a lagering tank. "Like a lot of breweries, we have a gathering of what was available and at a good price," Hyndman notes.
Favorite beers: "I'm loving our cucumber sour right now," Hyndman says. "It's one of my favorites that we make every year. As far as other breweries go, any IPA out of Comrade Brewing Company is phenomenal. They do really great beers and knock it out of the park anytime they do a hoppy one. I have a good buddy down at Little Machine and he makes a phenomenal Mexican lager. The Little Machine Cerveza is quite good."
Minturn is also a fan of Downhill Brewing's cucumber sour. "I drink pretty seasonal, so that and our Kölsch and cream ale," he adds. "But my favorite beer in any calendar year is a Märzen, which is what we brewed yesterday and today. Elktoberfest is an easy drinking style that signifies the changing of the season. When we tap that beer, I'll dive in headfirst."
Challenges: Minturn says uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 is a big challenge. "We've been in a holding pattern at 50 percent capacity for a while now," he explains. "We're trying to make people feel safe in here without alienating them or making them feel like we're looking over their shoulder at all times. We don't want anyone to feel terrified of germs while they are in here, but we want them to feel safe where we're not going to let people in who are coughing up a fit or not wearing a mask. Maintaining the balance has been challenging."
He notes that winter will bring further challenges if reduced capacity rules continue. "Right now, we have our temporary license for our front patio and parking lot as well as a 50-foot back patio. We're talking about maybe getting that back patio enclosed and heated so we can use it not only during the pandemic but every winter going forward."
Opportunities: "While a lot of businesses had a kind of 'woe is me' mentality in their social media marketing during the shutdown, we kept a positive mindset and tried to do everything in a positive, comedic way to give people a reason to laugh," Minturn says. "When we were only allowed to do takeout and beer delivery, we actually gained a lot of clientele. We're now seeing a lot of new faces who have become regulars. We worked hard during a rough time and it worked to our advantage to expose our product to our town."
Needs: Hyndman says Downhill Brewing is fortunate to be without immediate needs. "We have a really great staff," he adds. "We've put a lot of money into the taproom, pizza kitchen, and patio. At some point, we'd like to invest in some new brewing equipment, but it's really more of a want than a need."