By Angela Rose | May 31, 2016
"When I was 22, I was working at a college bar in Fort Collins when a guy came in to peddle his wares. It was Jeff Lebesch, the founder of New Belgium Brewing, and he was trying to sell what ended up becoming Fat Tire," says Hill of his introduction to homebrewing. "He told me he brewed it himself, and up to that point, it had never occurred to me that you could brew your own beer."
A short time later, he began whipping up his own sudsy beverages with friend and former business partner Josh Van Riper (now of Twin Monkey Beverage Systems). After several decades working in separate careers and a failed attempt to buy an existing brewpub at auction, the pair decided to open a brewery of their own. "We were both tired of what we were doing and wanted a new challenge," says Hill. "So we did six to nine months of intense research on the market, success rates, and the capital needed before we decided to go for it."
After brainstorming lists of hundreds of potential names, they landed on Odyssey Beerwerks. "It was about journey, travel, and experience," Hill recalls. "We'd both had some trials and tribulations and had been down different roads to get to our destination. 'Odyssey' summed up the journey with its highs and lows, positives and negatives. It fit what we wanted to convey."
Their goal was to produce a broad range of styles that would appeal to an equally broad customer base. "If someone comes in with an open mind, we'll find something they enjoy," Hill explains. "We cover a broad range of styles and flavors and chose our core styles for that reason."
The regular lineup consists of six diverse beers, from Clan Warrior Scotch Ale and Ghost Drifter Pale Ale to Heliocentric Hefeweizen and Palm Tree Caribbean Lager. The newest, Drift Away Session IPA, was released in May. All are available in cans throughout the state and can be found on tap at Colorado restaurants and bars and in the brewery's 12-tap tasting room.
The approach has certainly been successful. Odyssey Beerwerks has grown from producing 1,100 barrels on its 15-barrel system in 2014 to a projected 2,300 this year. Hill and his head brewer, Joe Savage, formerly of Hangar 24 Craft Brewery in Redlands, California, are currently working on their first foray into kettle sours. "Sours are not my area of expertise, but I like the ones that are really well done," says Hill. "Joe has some experience with sours and I have a lot of faith in his abilities, so we're about to brew our first American Sour. Our regulars have been asking us for one for a while."
Favorite beers: "We release a couple new beers here each month," says Hill, "so our beertenders would tell you that I rarely drink the same thing twice. However, if I'm being really lazy and don't want to think about what I want, I'll generally go with our Ghost Drifter Pale Ale or our Clan Warrior Scotch Ale. That's my comfort beer."
Outside of his own brews, Hill is a fan of Odell and Firestone Walker. "I love Odell's Myrcenary Double IPA. And I still enjoy most of Firestone Walker's lineup from Double Jack to Wookey Jack," he says. "And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale as well."
Challenges: Space is currently Odyssey's biggest challenge. Within the 2,400 square feet of their 4,000-square-foot facility that is devoted to brewing and fermenting they've also had to pack their storage. "We have to keep all our cans and grains and everything else there as well," Hill explains. "It's not a lot of space to squeeze everything into for a production brewery."
"I spend a lot of my time thinking about what we're going to need to do in the next couple of years," he continues. "Is there an opportunity to expand beyond our walls at our current location? Do we open a second location, either as a taproom or a brewing facility? Or do we pick up and move the whole operation to a much larger space? That's what keeps me up at night."
Opportunities: "Frankly, we haven't done a great job of telling people who we are," says Hill. "We take pride in our products, our taproom has a fun atmosphere, and I think we have a lot to offer the beer drinking community, but many people haven't even heard of us yet."
He plans to spend more time connecting with bloggers and others in the industry who can help promote his brewery as well as be more consistent in his use of social media. Festivals are also on the list -- but not all of them. "We'll probably do between 40 and 45 festivals this year but we really evaluate which ones we decide to participate in," Hill says. "We prefer festivals that offer the consumer something different, like live music or food pairings. That's a better experience than paying $50 just to walk around and drink two-ounce samples for three hours."
Needs: "We always wish we had more money to spend on enhancing our technology," says Hill. "Joe is always asking for new equipment that will either make measuring beer quality easier or make the brewing process faster, more effective or enhance our quality control. I wish we could spend more money on those things that we know would help the brewery. But other than that, we're doing really well. We don't have a whole lot of needs that we can't meet."