Industry: Brewing & Beverage
A commitment to quality and thoughtful growth has allowed co-founders Neil Fisher and Colin Jones to realize a nearly 400 percent increase in production at their fledgling brewery.
Soft, smooth, hazy and mouth-wateringly fruity, Juicy Bits is a New England-style IPA with an appearance, flavor and aroma reminiscent of citrus juice with extra pulp. Since its release in March 2016, it has garnered an average 4.3 out of five rating from beer aficionados on UNTAPPD, a 4.22 average on Beeradvocate, and is among the top 50 highest-rated IPAs on RateBeer. Named one of the hottest new brews in Colorado by The Denver Post this past July, it is also WeldWerks Brewing's best-selling, and best-known, beer -- a fact that head brewer Fisher still regards with a bit of amazement.
"We were shocked at the buzz Juicy Bits generated when we released it," he recalls. "At the time, there were only three other breweries in Colorado making hazy IPAs. The biggest was Odd 13's Codename: Superfan, which they had released for distribution in early 2016, just before we released Juicy Bits. They introduced the market to the style, and I knew they had done really well with it, but I didn't think there would be so much interest."
The first batch sold out in just a few days, and what had been "just kind of a fun beer we wanted to brew for our anniversary" became "one we realized we'd need to keep making," Fisher says. "Since then, the response has been tremendous." He explains that he brewed batch 25 of Juicy Bits in late 2016. "That's the most we've brewed of any beer, including the beers we opened with. In fact, it just passed our Hefeweizen for the most batches brewed, and in half the time or less!"
Juicy Bit's popularity -- along with the reputation the team's other carefully crafted beers have earned the upstart brewery -- has enabled Fisher and Jones to ramp up production from 600 barrels in 2015 to just under 2,000 in 2016. "We've had nearly 400 percent growth this year," Fisher says. "We really had no expectation for that."
Despite skyrocketing demand, the pair has been cautious about entering new markets and taking on new accounts. "We want to make sure we have the right infrastructure in place with staff, equipment, and things like vehicles and logistics," Fisher explains. "I don't see us doing 300 percent more next year. We might do 4,000 or 5,000 barrels max. If we can get down to 100 percent growth per year, I think that will be more than enough."
One of the ways he plans to reach those markets is with the addition of cans for distribution. Fans of WeldWerks, who previously had to search for the brewery's products at local bars and restaurants, or purchase pints or crowlers from their 2,500-square-foot taproom, can now find the team's award-winning Hefeweizen and Puesta Del Sol, a Vienna lager, at liquor stores throughout Northern Colorado, as far west as Boulder, and as far south as Littleton.
"We started with our most approachable SKUs," Fisher says. "We just don't have the hop contracts in place yet to be able to satisfy the draught demand for Juicy Bits right now, much less the packaging demand. We're trying to work on that infrastructure first and then hopefully we'll launch it in cans eventually."
WeldWerks is using Sleeping Giant Brewing Company, Denver's first dedicated contract brewing company, for the production and packaging of their canned beers. Though they have a 15-barrel system, nearly 4,000-square feet of production space, and recently added additional fermenters, "We just don't have the tank space to dedicate to packaged beer," Fisher explains. "Using Sleeping Giant enables us to keep our production dedicated to draught while the cans come from them. Their canning line meets all our specs and is nicer than what we'll be able to afford for at least five more years."
Favorite beers: "My go-to has been Odell IPA for as long as I've been into IPAs," Fisher says. "It's my benchmark for a really well crafted, very complex, very drinkable and also accessible beer." His favorite new IPA is Odd 13's Hop Wizard, which he wishes was available year-round. "It was a really well done New England-style pale ale."
Fisher is also impressed with the brews coming out of Denver's Bierstadt Lagerhaus. "They are so classically Germen, super-complex, flavorful and well-executed," he says. "My favorite is the Slow Pour Pils. It's one of the best pilsners I've ever had and is definitely a beer you can drink all the time. Bill [Eye] and Ashleigh [Carter] have done a phenomenal job. Their attention to detail and commitment to tradition is so rare to find."
Challenges: Managing growth is by far Fisher and Jones' biggest challenge for the coming year. "When you start a brewery, you do so much work projecting out your financials. You have this idea of what your growth is going to look like," Fisher explains. "But when you open the doors, you have to throw all that out and reassess from month to month because it's always changing. We've been growing so quickly, I don't think we even know what our five-year plan is. Every month is bigger and more expansive than we ever thought it could be!"
Quality is also a focus. "We must maintain the quality that has earned us the reputation we have, and that's always challenging when you're growing," he continues. "As we produce 4,000 barrels of beer, I want to make sure it's as good as when we produced 500 barrels of beer. But we're getting better at it. None of us had commercial brewing backgrounds, yet the beers we are making now are better than what we were brewing a year and a half ago. We're fine-tuning and improving our processes."
Opportunities: Fisher sees plenty of opportunity in the variety of craft beer drinkers in the market. "We need to make sure we're engaging both the craft beer elite -- those who follow all the new releases and will stand in line for new beers coming out -- and casual beer drinkers who are into craft beer but don't chase the latest thing," he explains. "Those are two important demographics as well as female beer drinkers and the large Hispanic community in Greeley. We're working on finding out what styles of beer will cater to those groups to get more diversity in the people we're selling beer to."
Needs: "No matter what size you are or how much growth you have, capital is always going to be something you have to deal with," Fisher says. "Our cash flow this year was amazing and we reinvested almost every dollar back into equipment. But we still have a laundry list of things we want to buy, such as more barrels, more tanks, more kegs, and upgrades to the brewhouse. So, capital is always going to be a need."
He also foresees a need to increase the number of people working for WeldWerks. "We have an amazing staff, including people in production, sales, the taproom, delivery, and logistics. But we're going to need more of them. I think that as we grow, we are going to have more need to bring good, solid, invested people on."