By Angela Rose | Oct 01, 2017
The Labbe family has been hanging around Leadville since the late 1980s, so it was only natural that the closure of a favorite local watering hole -- Rosie's Brewpub -- in 2009 would inspire them to contemplate opening a replacement of their own in what had become their home away from home. "I eventually bought the building that used to be Rosie's," Labbe says, "and we got this thing started."
It was a complicated process, as is the case with most new craft breweries these days. "Once we had the building, we had to do a lot of planning," Labbe continues. "The federal paperwork process is fairly ridiculous and it's hard to understand all the requirements before you jump in. There were also a lot of pieces to put together, and we were all still working full time while trying to do so."
The "we" in this case refers to Labbe and Periodic's other co-founders including his wife, Pam; his brother, Evan; and his sister-in-law, Beth. While Chris continues to work full-time as an engineer, driving up to help out when he can, Evan and Beth moved their family to Leadville to act as the daily operations and management team.
"The brewery was initially self-funded out of my pocket," Labbe explains. "That was the arrangement we had: I would bring the money and Evan would bring the labor. We thought what we were building was going to basically be a glorified homebrew shop selling a little bit of beer while hopefully having some fun. But then we got successful."
In the first two months after opening, Labbe had to expand Periodic's cellaring capacity from 12 barrels to 40 to keep up with demand. Though the brewery can now age 50 barrels of beer at one time, Labbe says he still feels like production is coming up short. "The tourist season that runs from May through September is extremely strong," he adds. "We also get tourists in the winter, and they are absolutely looking for a brewery as soon as they get into town."
Of the 35 unique styles Periodic has brewed so far, Labbe says IPAs have by far been the top sellers. "There's still this huge segment of the population that just wants the hoppiest thing anyone makes without regard to the beauty of a lot of other styles," he muses. "However, we have other beers that sell out almost right away. One is our Sugarloaf Amber Ale, a unique version of an American amber ale. It's lighter in body and very drinkable. We also have an IPA that is really mild. It gives you the IPA experience without blowing up your palate."
As a Certified Cicerone and trained beer judge, Labbe is often inspired by traditional styles with interesting twists. "I really love beer," he says. "Not just to drink beer, but to experience beer. Though we're trying to stifle some of our creative impulses lately and stick to a bit more of a rotation that can support our distribution, it's still fun to make a new, interesting and maybe quirky style and put it in front of the customers to see what they think."
Favorite beers: "I really am a fan of well-built, Kolsch-style beers," Labbe says. "To me, the style is just a good balance between the fruitiness of an ale and the crispness of a lager. That's why the Germans have been making it for 500-plus years. While most of them aren't well-built, Left Hand just introduced a really good one."
Labbe also enjoys Ten Fidy Imperial Stout from Oskar Blues, Wake up Dead from Left Hand, and Old Rasputin from North Coast Brewing Co. "Those were all inspirations for our Night Run Russian Imperial Stout, which I personally think is a really good version of the style," he adds.
Challenges: Periodic Brewing produced 250 barrels in 2016 and is on track to reach at least 550 by the end of this year. However, Labbe says they could have brewed and sold much more if they hadn't lost valuable time due to supply chain issues. Because they were without grain for nearly a month, they had to temporarily suspend their distribution of bottles and bombers as well.
"If you're a Denver brewery, your suppliers are right in your backyard," he says. "But when you're in the mountains, somebody has to make a two-hour trip down and a two-hour trip back. And if you're ordering grain at high volumes, you have to rent a van or take a trailer. While all of our suppliers will ship to us, it takes additional time and planning."
Grain delivery has been particularly problematic. "We've had an ongoing fight with the commission of shipments going to third-tier, barely professional trucking companies that service the mountains with less-than-load contracts," Labbe says. "They've shown up with broken bags and our grain sprayed all over the back of the truck. We have to over-order to compensate and hope that it isn't one of the specialty grains that is busted when it shows up."
When one shipping company spent three and a half weeks telling Labbe, "We'll have the grain to you tomorrow," he eventually gave up and went to get it himself. "When they lie to you every single day, because they are afraid to admit how bad they are, it paralyzes you," he continues. "It's not a unique situation, either. Other high-mountain breweries have been making moves to insulate themselves with silos and warehouses where they can over-order supplies and not have to deal with this. But we learned the hard way. Next year we'll make sure we aren't supply short going into summer."
Opportunities: Labbe says Periodic's brand is strong and their quality is good, so he is confident they are going to do quite well despite what feels like a crowded mid-tier market. "We do need to find a way to increase capacity though, and that isn't going to happen in our existing facility. We'll be continuing on projects to help us find a production space and maybe even put part of our brand into the Front Range with another facility or brewpub."
Needs: In short, good employees. "Most of the really professional restaurant servers or bartenders are working in Summit County," Labbe says. "They go over the hill every day to work in Vail or Breckenridge. If you look at our reviews, while we rarely get somebody saying our beer is not good, we do get negative comments about our staff. It's an unfortunate function of the supply of people we can employ in the high mountains."