Montrose / Ridgway, Colorado
Industry: Brewing & Distilling
Founder Tom Hennessy is a Colorado brewing legend: As an entrepreneur and educator, he's helped launch about 100 craft breweries.
"I could fit a brewery into anything," quips Hennessy. "If you take over an existing restaurant, you don't spend any money, everything's there. You don't even need to use an architect because you're not changing the use. So you save a ton of money."
It's a statement that reflects the pragmatic approach to launching breweries that Hennessy has championed for decades, both at his own breweries, like Colorado Boy, and those he's helped others launch, which he estimates is closing in on 100 breweries through courses he and his former students now teach.
"There's kind of an ethos in brewing where we help each other and a camaraderie and I'm just part of that. I get super excited and might go overboard and source their equipment and give them recipes," Hennessy says. He feels that camaraderie deeply and credits Bill Carver -- founder of Carver Brewing Company in Durango with helping him get into brewing in 1993. "Carver's was the second brewpub in Colorado," he says.
Starting in the early 1990s in Albuquerue, Hennessy has launched seven breweries on his own, including Colorado Boy, which has locations in Ridgway and Montrose.
The idea for Colorado Boy, named for a mine outside Ouray, came after hiking with his wife in Scotland. "One of the first nights it was kind of cold and wet, and we went into pub," Hennessy says. "It had a little brewery and a cask ale. The tiny little town, the cask ale, it was all so good."
Upon returning home, the couple set out to re-create the magic in Ridgway. "Even if it wouldn't work, I just thought the town should have a little pub," says Hennessy. "I figured somehow we could make it work. We came back from that trip and built Colorado Boy. Back then, it was beer and popcorn."
The Ridgway brewery started pouring six beers and a cask ale during the final week of 2008, "just as the stock market was totally crashing," remembers Hennessy. He says he worked for free for the first two years, but the town of roughly 900 supported it. The 23-seat taproom "was exactly what we had hoped for, this really comfortable little locals' corner pub," says Hennessy.
Hennessy sees the intimate, local brewery as a sort of blueprint for more breweries. "If you've got a brewery in a small town, you can compete with anybody," Hennessy contends. "You have trouble competing as soon as you leave your town. When somebody comes in and they buy a pint from me, money's going right into the bank down the street and we support the little-league team and we do all these other things."
Now that the Ridgway brewery has been open for nearly a decade, it's gained a bigger following. Whereas only locals new about it for the first four years or so -- Hennessy can't advertise on the highway, he says -- now people traveling to and from Ouray and Telluride know about the brewery and will stop in for a beer and pizza.
After establishing the Montrose location in 2013, Hennessy sold the Ridgway brewpub to Daniel Richards of Echo Brewing in Erie and Frederick, but remains involved in brewing operations. "I think of Ridgway as a pub and Montrose as a pizzeria that serves beer," Hennessy says. "We probably sell twice as much beer in Ridgway than in Montrose." That's despite Montrose being a bigger facility and serving a larger population of about 20,000.
Hennessy's experience with helping others open breweries goes back to the mid-1990s when he launched his Frankenbrew videos showing people how to open a brewery without spending a lot of money. He's since written books on the subject and started offering immersion courses with the help of some former students. "We teach in five different breweries, two on the Front Range and three on the Western Slope," Hennessy says. "It's more of a mentorship. It's like joining our club without the blood initiation. We and all the past students will do whatever we can to help them get their brewery open."
But Hennessy has turned some away from the course. He says those are mainly people who want to brew because they think it's cool or are investing millions of dollars into expensive systems without know how to brew beer. "They're getting into it for money," he says. "The people we teach are passionate about beer. They're looking to support their families but not to get rich."
While Hennessy anticipates that breweries will continue to grow in the U.S., he does see the potential for some sort of bust. He says it's usually people that got into brewing for the wrong reasons -- like the students he's turned down -- behind breweries that shutter.
"If it is to slow down, it would be IPA fatigue," Hennessy says. "How many IPAs can you have? Or how many sours can you have? The growth, I think, is going to be small local pubs, just like small coffee houses."
But he thinks "local, easy-drinking beers" will be the big driver. "I see a trend toward less-alcohol beers that are flavorful," Hennessy says. "A lot of the beers have so much hops it rips the enamel off your teeth or there's so much alcohol, you finish one, pay $10 for a snifter and you're drunk."
Challenges: "I guess it would be my age," says Hennessy. "I turn 60 this year. I'm not as aggressive as I used to be and I'm not going to grow it."
Opportunities: Hennessy sees potential to take his concept to more locations. "Colorado Boy to me is a small, local pub. If it was to grow, it would take over some little spot and turn it into a pub of some sort. It wouldn't have to be called Colorado Boy, but it would follow our systems."
Needs: "We need space," says Hennessy. "I'd love to have extra space in Montrose. In Ridgway, we have to build another brewery because there's no space."