Industry: Brewing & Distilling
Products: Spontaneously fermented beer
Co-founders Lisa and Brandon Boldt pair spontaneous fermentation with an innovative business model at their barrel-focused brewery.
There are few couples as thoroughly immersed in the craft beer industry as Lisa and Brandon Boldt. Not only do they work full-time at reputable local breweries -- Lisa at Odd13 Brewing and Brandon at 4 Noses Brewing Co. -- but they've spent every spare minute for the last three years preparing for and launching their passion project, Primitive Beer.
"As much as we love working in those breweries, it was a dream of ours to have our own place where we could get as creative as we wanted," Lisa says. "As we honed our business plan and drilled down to what we really enjoy, we decided to focus specifically on spontaneously fermented Lambic and Gueuze styles."
"It turns out it's not very practical, especially from a business standpoint," Brandon adds, laughing. "But we're making it work. And in terms of the market, spontaneous-only breweries are still relatively far and few between. We've created a little space for ourselves to exist that way."
At Primitive Beer, the Boldts produce spontaneously fermented barrel-aged Lambic and Gueuze-style beers from 100 percent Colorado-grown ingredients. All of their current beers and blends are aged in wooden casks for nine months to three years and served uncarbonated.
"We make at least one new beer each month, but there are some months where we release two or three," Lisa says. "It's all from the same recipe but blended and refermented on different fruits or hops, or aged in barrels differently," Brandon adds.
"We're different from other modern breweries in that we're very much seasonal," he continues. "We can only brew from November through April when nighttime temperatures are cold enough. Then, during the summertime fruit harvest, we get all of our ingredients from our farmers."
Brandon brews Primitive Beer's wort at 4 Noses or Odd13 and then transports it to the brewery's Longmont location where it's transferred to the koelschip and left overnight for 16 hours. "The next morning, we homogenize it by moving it back into our blending truck," he explains. "Within the next hour, it goes into barrels. It will ferment and mature in those oak barrels for at least the next nine months."
At the nine-month mark, the Boldts taste the beer and determine whether each particular barrel needs to age more, can be released as is, or will be blended with others and refermented on fruit and/or in spirits barrels for another six months to three years. "Again, this goes against the normal brewing business model of trying to release new cutting-edge beers all the time," Brandon adds. "For us, it's about taking this really old style and tradition and allowing our beer to get older, age, and develop."
In April 2019, the Primitive Beer tasting room, which the Boldts usually open to the public the second and fourth Friday and Saturday of each month, is celebrating its one-year anniversary. Lisa says the couple has saved at least one firkin of every beer they've released so far and will tap them on the brewery's anniversary weekend.
"I'm really going to geek out over trying all of these at the anniversary," Brandon adds. "I've wanted to tap some of these firkins for the last six to eight months, but we had to hold back. It will be like unwrapping a bunch of gifts all at once!"
Outside of tasting room hours -- which Lisa notes have been increasing and can be tracked on the brewery's social media pages -- consumers can enjoy Primitive Beer at a few other locations.
"Our first outside account is Babette's Artisan Bread across the street from us," Brandon notes. "There should always be at least one variant of our beer available at their shop. We have some other accounts in the works as well, but we're definitely going to be super-selective about putting our beer outside our tasting room for now. Our beer works better in the world of wine and food pairing than a lot of typical beer, so we're headed towards more restaurant-focused accounts that can use our beer in that way."
Favorite beers: "We love various Lambic and Gueuze producers from Belgium," Lisa says. "But as far as beers from the U.S., we've been really into pilsners lately. They're the opposite of everything we make at the breweries we work at."
"I'd give a big shout out to Bierstadt Lagerhaus and their Slow Pour Pils," Brandon adds. "And the beers from Liberati that I tried at the Big Beers festival were really awe-inspiring. Anytime you can start to blur the lines between different fermented beverages, it's really exciting."
Challenges: The pair agrees that consumer education is their biggest challenge. "We get customers in who want an IPA or a Brown, but we don't make those," Lisa explains. "Some people try to return our beer because it's flat. They don't understand that it's intentionally that way. But it has been cool to see people, who didn't know anything about Lambic or Gueuze styles before, try our beers and become converts."
"We have to educate them about the culture we're trying to create as well," Brandon adds. "One of the reasons this style of beverage was so inspirational to us was because of the community-focused elements of it. You go into a place like Cantillon and you'll wind up making new friends as you all pay in to share as many bottles as you can. In America, people will have a lot of samplers of beer. But in Europe, they'll drink a bunch of beer. The latter, while doing it responsibly and safely, is what gets us more excited."
To that end, the Boldts offer pitchers of beer for consumption in their tasting room at budget-minded prices, even if that means underpricing from a production standpoint. "A big part of Belgian culture is that beer should largely be available to anyone who is interested," Brandon says. "It doesn't have to be a luxury item."
Primitive Beer can also be purchased for off-site consumption in 1.5-liter bag-in-box format.
Opportunities: "We've had a lot of opportunities to make connections," Brandon says. "Whether customers, fruit farmers, maltsters or the artists who make our labels and boxes, we love supporting other people who are passionate about their own weird, geeky hobbies and professions. It has been really rewarding and special on our end."
Another opportunity is effervescent beer. "Our beers are getting old enough in such a way that when we blend them and put them into champagne-style bottles, it will take them four to 12 months to carbonate," Brandon explains. "Within the next month, we're going to start putting our first blends into bottles. In another four to 12 months, some of those bottles should be ready to be released to the public."
The Boldts note that bottle-carbonated versions of their beers should be more approachable for the typical American beer drinker. "In Belgium, young Lambic is traditionally served still," Brandon says. "The older, blended equivalent of Lambic is Gueuze, and that's what most people think of when they think of Lambic style in the U.S. It's highly effervescent and more mature. For us, younger, rough around the edges Lambic is an all-day drinking beer that we love. But it will also be fun to showcase our equivalent of a Gueuze-inspired spontaneous blend. That's what clicks best for a lot of people, and they'll probably understand what we're doing a little more."
Needs: "Time," Brandon says. "With our full-time jobs, doing this, and trying to pretend we have any life outside of it, more hours in the day would be really great."
"We could use them to sleep," Lisa adds, laughing. "We're definitely burning the candle from all ends."