By Gregory Daurer | Oct 31, 2017
Garfinkel explains why Finkel & Garf's Oatmeal Milk Stout pairs excellently with a Hostess Twinkie: It's the combination of the lactose sweetness and texture of the stout playing off of the Twinkie's spongy exterior consistency and creamy filling, he says.
Initially, that side-by-side offering at his brewery's taproom was a way to poke irreverent fun at the highfalutin' beer-food pairings that some breweries and restaurants offer. "It started off as comical," Garfinkel says. "We tried it and it was actually very good." He also suggests dunking Oreo cookies into the roasty flavor swirl of a stout -- which won a gold medal at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival in the "Sweet Stout or Cream Stout" category.
At Finkel & Garf, customers can select a wide array of junk food to accompany their beer: Cheez-Its, Spam, Lay's Barbecue Flavored Potato Chips. Mini-Tootsie Rolls sit in a jar on the bar.
But, as their GABF gold win indicates, the beer isn't trashy.
There's a Red IPA with a tropical "mango-papaya" nose that's maltier, he says, than the brewery's "citrusy, dry" IPA. "We were just blown away at how well it did," Garfinkel says of its sales.
There's also a Rye Saison with a "cotton candy, bubblegum character, and then this peppery note," he says, and an amber dry hopped with Chinook hops. "We felt like there was an opportunity in the amber category to maybe modernize it."
Near the front of the brewery there's a rack of barrels, in which a bourbon stout is aging. But Garfinkel says, "We never set out to make beer geek beer. We always thought that new-to-craft-beer drinker was our sweet spot." One novice accustomed herself to the brewery's beer by at first mixing the Oatmeal Milk Stout with the house-made root beer, then gradually finding herself requesting over time less of the root beer in the mix. The taproom offers blends of its other beers as well, poured together from its taps.
That rack of barrels from Breckenridge Distillery sits near a shelf filled with boxes of games: Monopoly, Risk, Stratego, Operation. Throughout the taproom there are vintage toys: a Slinky Jr. on a shelf; a shuffleboard board on a wall. Boxes of Legos sit on the brewery's table for customers to fidget with. On the brewery's crest-logo there's a robot, a wind-up car, a frisbee, a Jack in the Box, and a Big Wheel.
The brewery's whimsical knickknacks attest to the fact that Garfinkel's parents once ran a vintage toy mail order business selling Lincoln Logs, Tinkertoys, and Erector Sets. In 2014, Dan started the brewery with his father, Eric. Dan's mother had long called his dad "Finkel" and Dan "Garf" -- hence the brewery's name. When Dan, now 32, would visit his parents, who had relocated to Colorado from Virginia, he and his father would spend time visiting local breweries. They brainstormed their eventual family business, as the tech company Dan worked for in New York was in the process of being purchased by PayPal.
The Garfinkels brought on an experienced brewer, Myke Johnson, who had previously worked for FATE Brewing Company and Tommyknocker Brewery. Garfinkel credits Johnson with fulfilling the brewery's quest to make enjoyable, sessionable beers."Beer was getting serious, and we wanted to dial it back a little bit and not take the beer so seriously and enjoy what beer brings," Garfinkel says of the brewery's mission to appeal to beginner beer drinkers, in addition to hosting a fun locale where patrons can socialize.
Johnson has also brought an eye for system details and quality control -- traits he practiced in the Navy when working on a nuclear submarine -- as well as a desire to make standout beers. Garfinkel says, "Myke told me a while ago that he was not going to be satisfied with any of our beers until there was not another beer on the shelf in that category that he would want over one of ours."
Working out of a 15-barrel brewhouse with six 15-barrel fermenters, four 30-barrel fermenters, and eight serving tanks, the Finkel & Garf crew can many of their beers: American Lager, Cream Ale, Wheat (with cherries and black currants), in addition to the ones previously mentioned.
Blank cans come in on pallets and then pre-printed labels get affixed, based upon what they're going to be sending out for distribution. "We aren't forced to can anything that isn't selling," says Garfinkel of that thrifty business decision. "It's a roll of labels, it isn't the end of the world."
Liquor stores from Berthoud to Boulder, Golden to Denver presently sell the beer. In 2016, Finkel & Garf brewed 2,500 barrels and the brewery's on track to produce 4,000 in 2017. "Things are moving," says Garfinkel.
And now there's another Garfinkel working at the brewery: Dan's younger brother, Cary. But, as far as Dan is concerned, the sense of Finkel & Garf being a family business extends beyond his blood relatives to the brewery's employees, as well: "They might not have the family name, but they're all Garfinkels."
Garfinkel says, "We're all just kind of big kids in [adult] clothing that can drink alcohol," before letting out a mirthful laugh. "The crest -- the images in it, the name, all just kind of remind me, and the people who work here, not take to take ourselves so seriously. Have fun, be young, and enjoy, and smile and laugh. And that's ultimately what's important. So we have a good time here."
Favorite beers: Garfinkel chooses an old-school selection from Pennsylvania: "When I'm back East, Yuengling [Lager] is my beer of choice. I wish I could get Yuengling out here."
Locally, Garfinkel says, "I think WeldWerks is doing some amazing things, and [owner/brewer] Neil's great. You can't come to Boulder and not go to Avery and see what they're doing. . . . [Founder Adam Avery has] been at this for a long time, and he's built a fantastic reputation and quite the facility over there. And, I mean, they make fantastic beers. Great people. We have a great relationship with them."
Challenges: Making a strong first impression in a crowded, retail market: "The initial challenge for us was, How do you cut through the clutter, how do you stand out on a liquor-store shelf in the cooler when there's 25 or 30 doors? How do you break through? My dad and I come at this from the consumer side, where we said, We need to improve this . . . the design, the colors, the way our beers present themselves on the shelf, that was the first major challenge."
Opportunities: A first-time medal at the Great American Beer Festival has led to increased attention: "I think the big opportunity now is we were lucky enough to [have won] a gold medal. I hope that opens some doors. It kind of puts us on the map...We've seen, even in the past two weeks, an uptick already, and people that maybe a year or so ago weren't necessarily interested in carrying our products, we got immediate calls saying, 'I saw you won the gold. Congratulations. We'd love to carry you.' And I think that's exciting."
Needs: Another set of wheels to increase deliveries: "We are looking to grow a bit more, so one thing I will need for that is another vehicle. Being in Colorado in the winter, it's good to have four-wheel drive. So right now what I'm looking for is a four wheel or all-wheel drive delivery vehicle option, so we can deliver beer even when it snows."