What do you need to start and run a successful craft brewery? In addition to serious brewing chops, adequate funding, and a place to set up shop, you also need plenty of energy -- something the Foxes feared they might not have enough of if they waited until their golden years to realize their dreams.
"We always knew we'd have a brewery one day," Marie says. "It was what we planned to do with our lives in retirement. But as we visited all of the new breweries opening in the area and observed their operations, we decided it was really something we needed to do now, while we still have the energy."
That youthful stamina has already come in handy. It took about three years just to find a suitable building in Boulder County's tight real estate market. They didn't spend those years resting on their laurels. Jamie finished his post-doc studies in neuroscience and studied at the Siebel Institute in Chicago. And the couple homebrewed every single week, testing and perfecting their recipes.
"We focused on our business plan and financial model," Marie says. "We joined the Hop Barley and the Alers homebrew club, and spent even more time visiting breweries and getting to know the brewers. We asked brewers all over the Front Range and Denver metro area to let us brew with them so that we could get that firsthand commercial experience. We poured every dime we had into getting this started. And, luckily, we had the energy to pull it off."
In addition to personally funding the brewery startup, the couple decided to tap into some of the goodwill they had built up over the years and do a small round of funding in the form of individual personal loans to help them increase the brewery's initial production potential and create a superior taproom and event rental space.
"Our brewery was highly anticipated, and a lot of people wanted to help us out in a meaningful way," Marie explains. "Though we had originally figured we'd sublet part of the space, we realized while waiting for our building permit from the City of Boulder that we had the opportunity to put something together that might even bring in extra revenue."
For the fans who couldn't invest $10,000 or more, the Foxes created an Indiegogo campaign. "We primarily did that campaign to get the community involved and get people excited for our opening," Marie says. Over 100 backers contributed nearly $11,500 total in exchange for stickers, free pints, bottle openers, beer glasses, and other swag.
By the time the brewery finally opened in spring 2017, the Foxes had more than 60 recipes that they considered ready to go. When divided by style, those recipes resulted in 16 different categories for production. "Our goal is to have all 16 of those categories represented in our taproom," Marie says. "We have 25 taps, and we'll be maxing them out in February. For a six-month-old brewery, I don't think that's too bad."
Beers that taproom visitors can look forward to include barrel-aged Milo of Croton, an export stout. "We aged it in single-malt whiskey barrels from Geek Spirits Distillery just down the road in Boulder," Marie explains. "It turned out amazing, and we're super proud of this beer."
As an homage to Mountain Sun's Stout Month, she says that Gunbarrel Brewing Company will be releasing a number of new stouts this month. "We have a stout aged in red wine barrels, and another that is an imperial blonde milk stout that was both fermented and aged in whiskey barrels on cocoa nibs and coffee beans from Ampersand Coffee Roasters just down the street from us."
Marie says the brewery will have a lot of sours coming out in spring 2018. "We sour everything the traditional way, so that takes time," she adds. "Now we're starting to work with some of those beers, and it's really exciting to add some funk to our tap list."
While Gunbarrel Brewing Company produced just under 200 barrels in 2017 on their 10-barrel brewhouse and one-barrel pilot system, Marie believes they'll be closer to 800 this year. "We're just under 150 barrels of fermentation capacity," she notes, "though that changes all the time as we're taking on a lot of oak now. We collect barrels, and we love blending and doing interesting things with our spontaneous and sour beers."
Favorite beers: "For us, just like for so many other craft beer drinkers, favorites change fairly frequently," says Marie. "Right now, we're really enjoying IPAs from Foam Brewers in Burlington, Vermont, and Melvin Brewing in Wyoming. We're also enjoying a lot of the funky, sour flavors Jester King is putting out."
Challenges: Marie says the brewery's biggest challenge right now "is for people to know we exist." However, as the couple starts distributing their beers on a limited scale this year, she believes educating outside consumers will also be challenging. "So many of our beers have such unique and rich stories, and interesting brewing and aging techniques," she says. "It's really important to us that we maintain the education aspect as we send them out into the market and no longer have that opportunity to explain the beer so thoroughly across the bar from an actual guest."
Opportunities: "Our opportunities definitely lie within our taproom," Marie says. With 3,200 square feet of taproom space at her disposal -- plus additional unused space in the 20,000-square-foot building -- she's busy filling the brewery's calendar with events designed to "bring in people from different walks of life every day."
"Our menu also offers us the opportunity to really open people's eyes to what beer can be," she adds. "That's an opportunity we have with every single guest that walks through the door. Everyone who bartends here has a tremendous amount of fun sharing all the flavors we produce with our guests."
Needs: To facilitate their plans to begin limited distribution of four-pack cans out of their taproom as well as continue keg distribution, the Foxes are in the process of erecting a large walk-in cooler and installing a brite tank. "Other than getting the brite tank up, we also need to continue to focus on moving forward and exposing people to our brand and the beer we produce," Marie concludes.