Castle Rock, Colorado
Industry: Brewing & Distilling
Founder Eric Seufert was a first mover in booming Castle Rock with his craft brewery, now riding a wave of growth as it enters expansion mode.
Formerly a helicopter pilot for the U.S. Army, Seufert, 43, moved from his native Maryland to Colorado in 2010 for a government job.
The hitch? "I didn't like government work," says Seufert. "I liked it as a soldier, but not as a civilian."
Seufert found something he did like when he started homebrewing the same year he relocated. "I homebrewed once a week for five or six years straight. I always loved making beer."
He says that engineering is often artless, but with brewing, "You get to add a little bit of art to the science."
In 2013, Seufert opened Castle Rock Homebrew Supply, partly inspired by The Brew Hut in Aurora (the launchpad of Dry Dock Brewing Company). "The entrepreneurial side kicked in," he says. "I wanted to open a brewery from the get-go. I'm glad I didn't. I realized it was going to cost way more than I could afford."
Seufert ran the shop and continued his government job while he honed a business plan and "saved enough money to give it a go, albeit on a very shoestring budget."
The contact with homebrewers at the store also provided an education. "Homebrewers have 20 questions for every dollar they spend," says Seufert, noting that the resulting research was instrumental in getting 105 West off the ground.
Before the launch, the craft brewing landscape in fast-growing Castle Rock began and ended with a single brewpub: Rockyard. Others never got off the drawing board until 105 West opened in 1,800 square feet in 2015.
"I couldn't believe no one had opened a brewery in Castle Rock," says Seufert. Now roughly 70,000 people, the population had eclipsed 50,000 at that point in time. It's now home to five breweries, including 105 West and Rockyard, with a Great Divide taproom and eatery on the way.
With a 15-barrel brewhouse, 105 West uses Castle Rock Homebrew Supply to store some cans. The businesses occupy 8,100 square feet, with a dance studio in between. Production has grown from 800 barrels in year one to 1,501 in 2019.
105 West's menu is divided into six categories: lighter beers, IPAs, Belgians, reds and browns, stouts and porters, and sours. Every Friday, the staff taps a new beer for the Bear Naked Friday Release.
"We try to brew something for everybody," says Seufert. "We're trying to cover the spectrum, not focus on one style. We listen to the consumer -- the consumer gets a vote, too."
With the help of a Twin Monkeys Gunnison canning line, the brewery has self-distributed cans in Colorado since 2018. The current year-round lineup includes Deez Nuts Hazelnut and Peanut Butter Ale, Hopped & Loaded IPA, Rocky Mountain Juice IPA, and Blackberry Sour, and there's a notable list of seasonals.
The bestselling beer has varied from year to year. "IPAs dominate sales," says Seufert, noting that Hopped & Loaded and Rocky Mountain Juice have alternated as 105 West's top label in recent years.
The Blackberry Sour has been a hit as well, but it's a tricky beer to package, says Seufert. "You've got to make sure it's fully attenuated, fully fermented, and give it enough time in the tank to make sure it's clear," he explains. "We don't filter that beer, we let gravity do all the work. That means it has to sit in the tank longer than some brewers would like."
That dovetails into the guiding principles of 105 West as a business. "We're really focused on steady, controlled growth," says Seufert. There are no plans for a "big surge of multi-state distribution." The goal? "Keep it local and keep it growing."
Taproom sales are the big driver. With cans, "The margins are so slim," says Seufert. "It's hard to make money. It's hard to make the argument we make anything in distribution."
That said, 105 West is readying an expansion of the taproom, including a kitchen, and fermentation tanks. Seufert says construction will start when the dance studio vacates the space between the brewery and the homebrewing shop in May or June, with a target for completion in late 2020.
Maximum occupancy will roughly double from 72 to about 140, and the brewing capacity will likewise jump from about 2,000 barrels to 3,500 or more. "This is the biggest step we've taken," he says.
At 105 West, he gravitates to Rocky Mountain Juice and other IPAs, as well as Bear Chested Barrel-aged Imperial Stout. "I almost never drink anything with fruit in it," he adds. "I'm a little bit of a classic beer guy."
Challenges: Following the "routine" challenge for construction for the expansion, Seufert says 105 West's long-term challenge is market saturation. "You can't isolate yourself and obsess yourself over new breweries coming in," he notes. "Competition's good. It makes everybody better."
Distribution "is hard to do when you're doing it yourself," adds Seufert. "The liquor store shelf is only five six-packs wide."
He says 105 West will launch a new self-distribution model in summer 2020. "I think we have a creative idea that could solve that and bring more small, local craft beer to the market in Colorado. We're trying to be innovative any way we can."
Opportunities: Hazy IPAs. Seufert is readying some new recipes with better shelf stability to unveil in March 2020 and beyond. "We've never been pleased with the hazies we've done in the past," he says. "We're experimenting with some different Northern European ale yeasts that not a lot of people are using that lend themselves to that fruity IPA characteristic."
105 West is also brewing Bear Claw in response to the hard seltzer craze. "It's a great light beer," says Seufert. "It's actually a beer that tastes like beer and is on the lower-calorie side."
Another taproom in Colorado could be in the works. "Splitting time is the challenge," says Seufert. "Do you lose that local connection?
One last opportunity: "We've been doing a little contract brewing," says Seufert. The client, Next Stop Brew Co. in Denver (formerly Intrepid Sojourned Beer Project), is getting into canned distribution.
Needs: "People," says Seufert, noting that 105 West pays good salaries and employs a no-tipping policy -- cash left gets donated to local nonprofits -- that makes for a better atmosphere for customers.
Rather than specializing in the brewhouse or taproom, employees typically work in multiple areas. "Your eight-hour shift is the same no matter what," he explains. "Our payroll's probably ridiculous compared to similar businesses."