By Aron Johnson | Apr 16, 2016
Colorado Springs, Colorado
When Baldwin left the Army in 2009, he tried an office job. He quickly realized it wasn't for him. "I was miserable with corporate life," he says. "I knew pretty much right away that I didn't want to do that the rest of my life."
An avid homebrewer, he decided to change course and open Red Leg Brewing Company. "Basically, I wanted a career path that I enjoyed, where I can help decide its outcome by my work ethic and commitment to it. Sort of like the army, where you have a mission statement and a goal and you go out and do it. It's fun. I can't complain," he says.
Red Leg Brewing is inspired by Baldwin's military service as an artillery officer and the history of the military itself. During the Civil War, the field artillery unit was identified by a red stripe on their trousers and were known as "redlegs." The beers are named with military references (SGT. Pils, Howitzer Amber). "Our mission is to serve those who served," Baldwin says.
At the end of the day, however, it comes down to one thing: making a quality beer that sells itself. "I don't want people to buy our beer just because we're veterans. I really want people to drink it because it's really good beer. That's really paramount in what we're trying to do," he says. With a capacity of about 2,000 barrels a year, Red Leg has five year-round beers and four seasonals.
That focus on the beer comes across in the tap room, a laid back environment where everyone seems to know each other. "We don't have Wi-Fi here," Baldwin says. "This is a place to hang out and be with friends. We want people to interact and socialize."
Part of Baldwin's commitment to serving those who serve is providing a resource to other veterans trying to start businesses. "It's interesting the amount of veterans that came to us after I opened looking for help," he says. "We were willing to help wherever and whenever we could. It's really cool."
That helped inspire the creation of the Veterans Beer Alliance, which Baldwin co-founded. "Instead of one veteran brewery buying hops, we can now buy in bulk as a co-op. As a non-profit we're able to get better pricing," he says. "It's pretty cool how we're working together to help not only grow and promote but educate. It's been fun."
Favorite beers: "Oh, man, that's the toughest question ever," Baldwin says. "Whatever's in my hand." When pressed, he says, "I love Chilly Water from Trinity Brewing. Elephant Rock IPA from Pikes Peak is another favorite."
Challenges: "It's always the capital thing," Baldwin says. "We never have enough money, especially as a single owner. We're lucky we have an awesome bank in Pikes Peak National Bank. They're awesome. They've always helped us whenever we need it to keep our expansion plans going. It always goes back to that. We can only grow as fast as that allows us while being fiscally responsible as a business owner. You can't shake the money tree."
As for regulatory issues, Baldwin has made peace with it. "When you have your own government agency, it's pretty wild that everyone cares about what you're doing," he says. "You just kind of accept the fact that, in our industry, especially a growing industry like ours, they are always interested in what you're doing. You kind of get used to it."
Opportunities: Growth. "Our goal is to be the craft brew of the military." Baldwin says. "I'd like to be on every military base in the United States within five years and then hopefully every military base in the world sometime after that."
Red Leg Brewing Company is dedicated to giving back to the veteran community. "We want to continue to partner with a lot of different non-profits to help veteran businesses not only go through the planning phase but just be successful, too," Baldwin says.
Needs: Employees. "We're going to hire more people this year," he says. But Red Leg hasn't had issues with raw materials shortages. "We buy in bulk," he says. "We buy it with Chris from Pikes Peak Brewing Company. We buy our cans together so we get more of a deal. It keeps both of our costs down."