Industry: Brewing & Distilling
Co-founder Ron Abbott rebooted a family tradition in a renovated body shop on West Colfax Avenue.
Abbott worked for Mike's Hard Lemonade in the early 2000s. Not long after Mike's moved from Lakewood in 2005, Abbott encountered Great Divide Brewing Company founder Brian Dunn and told him he was a longtime homebrewer looking for opportunities.
"Why don't you start your own brewery?" was Dunn's advice, says Abbott. "That got me thinking."
Abbott subsequently served as senior director of finance for First Data in the intervening decade, then sat down with his brother, Jason Abbott, and colleague and neighbor Frank Thomas, who had a background in beverage distribution. "Over a couple of these," says Abbott, hoisting a beer, "the thought kind of stewed and stewed and we finally thought, 'Let's do it.'"
That was 2011. In 2014, Seedstock leased a space on West Colfax in Denver in a former auto body shop. The brewery opened two years and a major gas and water upgrade later, in April 2016.
But Abbott's inspiration for the venture dates back 150 years, when his German and Czechoslovakian ancestors arrived in Nebraska. "After they got settled, the first thing they did was put in breweries in their barns, because they missed the beer from back home," he says.
The Seedstock brand dovetails into Abbott's resurrection of the family tradition. "Seedstock is a farming term. What it means is: You harvest your grains and you set some some aside to plant next year -- that's your seedstock."
"We're definitely about back-to-the-basics beer styles as a tip of the cap to my ancestors," he says. "That's us. I love East Coast IPAs and I love milkshake this and that, but we would never brew that here," he adds. "It's not what we do. We believe craft doesn't have to mean fancy, so we really stick to what we do, what we love, and, frankly, what we know."
It follows that the focus is squarely on traditional German and Czech styles. The menu almost always includes Czech Pilsner, Seedstock Amber, Bohemian Ale, No Coast IPA ("because we do have to make money," says Abbott), and Vanilla Espresso Stout along with five or six rotating taps.
Working Class Rye is in the regular rotation, brewed from a notably high 60-plus percent rye in the grain bill, and Dusseldorf Alt just nabbed Beer Connoisseur's nod as the third-best beer of 2018.
When Seedstock spreads its wings, it's largely about reviving old styles. "I'm a history nerd," says Abbott. "We brew gruit. There's no hops. It's an old Danish Viking drink." The recipe, with juniper and yarrow root, "is like eye of newt," he jokes. A barrel-aging program includes Scotch ale aged in an Infinite Monkey Theorem Cabernet Franc barrel and a blond ale with juniper berries.
The supply chain is "almost exclusively from the Czech Republic and Germany," says Abbott, and yeast from Inland Island Yeast Laboratories in Denver.
In 2018, Seedstock scaled back its draft accounts from 30 to about 10 select outlets. The brewery also sells 22-ounce bombers directly to consumers at the taproom and through a few local retailers.
Production hit roughly 500 barrels for 2018, up from 425 in 2017. Abbott says that is "pushing” capacity on the current seven-barrel brewhouse with four fermenters. "We're content right now, especially with all of the changes going on in the industry," says Abbott, who runs the business side of things. "I'm a numbers dork," he says. "If I'm good at anything, it's paperwork."
Jason is head brewer, and works with a number of pieces of equipment he made himself and a mash tun that's a converted dairy tank "He's really mechanical," says Abbott. "He built the keg washer." A tankless water reuse system saves the brewery about 20,000 gallons of water a year.
"Where we look a little different is the cooler," says Abbott. Seven-barrel tanks serve as "multi-use vessels. We carbonate in them, we lager in them, and we serve from them directly into the tap."
On Seedstock's taps, he's partial to the Czech Pilsner. He also gives a nod to Flekovský ležák, the Bohemian dunkel brewed by (and the only beer available at) U Fleků in Prague, open since 1499. "Supposedly, they are the oldest operating brewpub in the world," he says. "That might be my favorite."
Challenges: "With so many breweries, it's getting your name out there," says Abbott. "It's letting people know that you exist."
"Second, it's telling our story," he continues. "We're trying to do something a little different in the craft beer world. . . . Everything comes back to this seedstock concept."
Full-strength beer at grocery stores presents uncertainty, although Abbott feels independent liquor stores could benefit in the long run "I think they'll thrive," he says. "If I had a few bucks, I might invest in a liquor store right now."
Also, having a lager-heavy selection takes time, but Abbott "wouldn't have it any other way."
Opportunities: Introducing drinkers to traditional Czech and German styles, or as Abbott puts it, "We want people drinking our beer wearing hipster boots and cowboy boots and work boots."
Needs: "I could always use more money, but I'd probably do something stupid with it," laughs Abbott.
He sees a not-yet-pressing need for more space in the long term that could involve an adjacent space in the current building and/or a separate production facility. "I don't think we'd greatly expand production here," he says. "We'd find a warehouse in Commerce City or somewhere like that."
More "good people" is an ongoing need. "It starts behind the bar," says Abbott. "They're folksy, it's comfortable, and it's not a schtick."