Industry: Brewing & Distilling
Though out-of-state distribution opportunities abound, co-owners Amanda and Andy Jessen prefer to keep their brewery's product closer to home.
Though Bonfire's handsome mouser and resident staff entertainer, Simon, is up to nearly 200 fervent followers on Instagram (including this writer), the brewery's family- and canine-friendly taproom is probably the biggest draw for locals and area tourists alike -- not to mention the 23 rotating taps of supremely approachable beer and house-made root beer.
"Our tagline is 'Gather Round,'" Amanda Jessen says. "It basically means that everyone is welcome. Everyone has a seat at the bar. We've never closed for a private party and we've never charged a cover. We're just really about being welcoming, community involvement, and things like that."
She and her husband, Andy, just celebrated their brewery's eighth anniversary in November 2018. "It has been kind of a whirlwind and seems like we just opened yesterday and decades ago all at once," Jessen laughs. "We've been excited to see what has happened in the eight years since we've been here in Eagle."
Though their flagship lineup has grown to include best-seller Firestarter IPA as well as Kindler Pale, Bruch Creek Blonde, Demshitz Brown, and WtFO Double IPA, Jessen says that the brewery's taproom customers have always been big fans of whatever is new. "That's usually the first question from the regulars," she adds. "'What do you have that's new today?' We love doing creative surprise-the-people beers. Some will go out for limited distribution, but the vast majority are one and done."
Jessen says that the Bonfire production team, along with new head brewer Zack Kaplan, created more than 67 unique beers in 2018 alone. "A lot of the time, the inspiration for a new beer will start with them, but we take input from everyone from bartenders to delivery drivers and sales," she adds. "Then it's up to the production team to turn those ideas into the most delicious reality that they possibly can."
These experimental beers are often produced on Bonfire's seven-barrel taproom system. Flagships are brewed on the 17.5-barrel system at the brewery's 15,000-square-foot production facility. "With that system, we have two 20-barrel fermenters, three 40-barrel fermenters, and two 80-barrel fermenters," explains Jessen. "We were lucky enough to acquire a building that has more space than we need. We're able to grow just by adding additional tanks."
Bonfire Brewing produced 3,853 barrels of beer in 2017 and wrapped up 2018 at around 4,300 barrels. "We had a bit of growth, but nothing too crazy," Jessen says. "We try to be consistent, slow, and steady with our growth."
In addition to the brewery's taproom, fans can purchase Bonfire Brewing beer in liquor stores and restaurants across Colorado. "A lot of people have asked why we're just in Colorado," Jessen says, "and it's definitely by design. We've had opportunities to go out of state, but we've chosen not to do so. We want to make sure that we can cover our home market and be every place we possibly can be in our home state. If we get to the point where we want to move beyond that, we will."
Favorite beers: "I'm definitely on the haze craze bandwagon," Jessen laughs. "I love the hazy IPAs. We have Outer Range close by and WeldWerks in our state, so we have access to some great ones. As far as our own beers, one of my favorites is our raspberry IPA. It's a summer seasonal, so I'm missing it right now. But we do have a guava kettle sour on that is also delicious."
Challenges: Rising costs are a big challenge for Jessen. "Our hop costs have gone up," she explains. "Steel and aluminum costs have gone up. And labor costs are going up as well. Everyone [in the industry] is feeling that, and they're definitely things we have to think about."
Jessen is also a little apprehensive about Colorado's new law allowing grocery stores to carry full-strength beer as of January 1, 2019. "There's uncertainty about how that's going to shake out," she adds. "We're going to have to keep an eye it as far as who is getting into the stores and how it's affecting the small liquor stores that we're already in."
Opportunities: "The town of Eagle has really changed over the last five to eight years," Jessen says. "Our downtown area where our taproom is situated has grown a lot and has become super vibrant. There are a number of new businesses coming in. I think our taproom business is going to have an opportunity to grow as our town continues to grow."
Jessen says that increasing the brewery's community involvement is another opportunity. "We do tons of partnerships with local charities and organizations," she adds. "And our big June music festival, Bonfire Block Party, has really grown into quite a large event that is very visible in our community and brings lots of people to town."
Needs: "When we're ready to do our next expansion on the production side of the business, we'll need to add new equipment like additional fermentation and kegs," Jessen notes. "All of that stuff can be a challenge with cash flow and things like that."
Jessen also says that attracting and keeping a reliable labor force is a need for the brewery. "Eagle is a unique place to live," she adds. "You have to really want to live here. It doesn't always work out if you just move here for a job and you're not into the mountain lifestyle. I'm super proud of the amazing team we have right now, but it's always a struggle when we grow and need to add positions and people."