By Angela Rose | Aug 29, 2021
Steamboat Springs, Colorado
In 2019, Storm Peak Brewing Company made the Brewers Association's list of the 50 fastest-growing craft breweries in America. It wasn't an achievement they were particularly proud of.
"To be honest, we weren't excited to be on that list," says Patterson. "Fast, explosive growth doesn't really fit our business model. We prefer to let the market pull us. The goal is really to just slowly expand as it makes sense and can be managed. If we grow too fast or too quickly, we feel we'll lose sight of what we're after and be more stressed out than we need to be."
Patterson believes they landed on the Association's radar that year due to a move they made back in 2017 from their previous 2,050-square-foot brewery and tasting room into new 6,000-square-foot digs. The relocation enabled them to jump from a seven-barrel brewhouse into one with 20-barrel capacity, and they had finally fully ramped up production in 2019.
In the last five years, the business also grew from seven workers to 22 employees, including a full brewing staff. In 2020 -- despite the pandemic -- the team produced 2,600 barrels. Patterson says they're on track to brew close to 4,000 this year.
Maestro IPA continues to be Storm Peak's number one best seller. A classic West Coast-style IPA, it's followed by Chowder IPA in popularity. Hoochie Mama, a guava kettle sour, rounds out the top three. The tasting room offers a rotating menu of 20 beers on tap, and Patterson says his brewers are doing a lot of experimentation with newer hop varietals that they're featuring in a rotating IPA series.
Collaborations with local nonprofits and businesses are also keeping the brewing team busy. Patterson says he's particularly excited about a recent collaboration with the Colorado Water Trust. "It's a pale ale using local hops from Smoking River Hops in Meeker," he explains. "Proximity Malt, our local malt supplier, donated all the malts for it. It's completely different from any other beer we've made, and all the proceeds are going to the Colorado Water Trust."
Patterson and his co-founders -- his father, Erik, and brother, Zach -- have invested in an automated canning line and labeler, which he says have been very useful during the pandemic. When the shutdown was mandated last March, they immediately shifted to to-go sales and canning the beer they would usually have kept in kegs.
"We needed to get it into packages we could sell before it went bad," Patterson continues. "We ended up canning a much wider variety of the beers we have on tap, and we're still doing this today." The brewery has also continued to self-distribute, with 85 percent of its beer consumed in the Yampa Valley and the rest distributed to Winter Park, Vail Valley, Craig, Moffat County, and Denver.
Favorite beers: "Coors Banquet, always," Patterson says. "And anything that Odell is putting out. They always make good, clean, quality-consistent beer. As far as our beer here, I'm really loving our Urban Sombrero Mexican-style lager. It's super refreshing. And we recently brought back our Citra Breezin', a dry-hopped session ale."
Challenges: Patterson says the biggest challenge for his brewery is maintaining the culture and brand as they continue to grow. He notes that it's also difficult to find employees who can afford to live in the expensive mountain town. "I talk to breweries in Denver who put out job postings and get hundreds of applications," he says. "We put out a job posting and only get a couple because there are only so many people who can make living here work."
Opportunities: "I think it's just really focusing on what we can do locally," Patterson says of the brewery's current opportunities. "To grow onsite sales, we're working on building a rooftop patio that will be open next summer. That will expand our taproom space quite a bit. We're also working on getting another taproom open over at the ski area."
Needs: Patterson says he -- and just about every other employer in Steamboat -- urgently needs the city to build more affordable housing. "It doesn't just affect our business and our taproom but also our ability to sell beer to other businesses," he explains. "If they have shortened hours or aren't able to serve as many customers [because of staff], then they're not pouring through our beer at their site as quickly as they could be, and we're losing out on those sales."
Fortunately, he says the Yampa Valley Housing Authority is working on the issue. A four-story apartment complex is under construction across from Storm Peak's taproom, and the Authority recently purchased a tract of land on the west side of town for building deed-restricted housing, apartments, and condos. "Housing is the top item at every city council meeting," Patterson says. "But it's going to take time because it's so hard to build things right now. I think in two or three years, things will be better."