Coming upon Avery Brewing’s sprawling campus in Gunbarrell awe hits you like a well-hopped IPA. The gleaming building feels like something out of a beer fairytale.
In a way it is.
The stoke that powers craft beer makers and homebrewers alike is alive and well in the 3-year-old $35 million, 67,000-square-foot brewery, restaurant and taproom, whether sitting down with founder Adam Avery or touring its pristine operations that will pump out just over 60,000 barrels of beer this year.
This makes it one of the largest craft brewers in the eight-state Mountain West region. Launched in 1993, Avery is among America’s second generation crop of craft brewers, drafting off first gens such as Sierra Nevada, Anchor Steam and New Belgium.
Reporting this BLDRfly craft beer issue has made one thing clear — craft beer, in Boulder if not everywhere, is about founders dreaming big and somehow making a business out of their passion, a career they view as fun, creative and communal.
That is definitely Adam Avery’s case.
Avery, which has 156 employees and produces over 120 beers each year, celebrates its 25th anniversary tomorrow at its headquarters at 4910 N. Nautilus Court where it celebrates all the beers that got it to 25. $40 tickets give attendees unlimited two-ounce pours of over 90 Avery beers. Tickets here.
From homebrewer to brewer
This must be every craft beer brewer’s story: come across homebrewing, enjoy the creativity, taste and community that results, and then get the crazy idea that it could turn into a profession.
Again, Adam fits the bill.
From Decatur, Illinois, he cultivated a connection to Boulder and the Front Range hiking 14ers with his father, Larry, growing up. A good Catholic boy, when he was ready for college, his Front Range stoke could only lead him one place: Jesuit-run Regis University in Denver.
In the early nineties he went to a Super Bowl party thrown by his then boss, who had homebrew on offer. Inspired, Adam, then in his late-20s, went the next day to a local homebrew store and purchased a kit. He was hooked — brewing two or three batches at a time. (He, of course, had his copy of Charlie Papazian’s Joy of Homebrewing).
Staring future in the face, Adam took the LSAT for the career fallback track of law school — he was accepted to Denver University’s Law School. His climbing buddies said don’t do it.
So he started kicking around a beer business plan, which included an idea to produce white-labeled brew for Boulder-area establishments.
That’s when his runner father, Larry, who had moved to Boulder and was looking to open a running store, entered the scene. His father wasn’t finding a place to launch his running vision and that’s when Adam proposed they open a brewery. He bit.
$90,000 later and they had a brewery up and running in 1993.
Beer first. The rest will follow.
You transport into a new world visiting Avery offices at HQ — the trek takes you upstairs, through the restaurant through a door and onto a lengthy footbridge overlooking the pristine brewery 20 or more feet below to a pod of offices hovering above, surrounded by brewery.
In his office at Avery HQ, Adam, 52, ponders Avery and how it fits into the increasingly competitive craft beer landscape.
Avery released new, cleaner can designs this year featuring work by San Diego artist Neil Shigley. Pictured: Seasonal sour beer Bug Zapper is flavored with lime zest, ginger and mint. Photo: Paul Hagey, BLDRfly.
The craft beer business, flooded by new entrants near and far, has become a difficult operation.
Even with Avery’s pioneer status, making it was tough. It wasn’t until fellow craft brewer, and distributor, Stone Brewing, came across Avery beer in the early 2000s, loved it and asked to distribute it, that Avery really took off, Adam says. Demand went up, distributors began clamoring to carry Avery.
Adam’s focus has always relentlessly on beer and quality and innovation. Avery has six full-time lab employees making sure the beer produced here is top-notch. This quality focus birthed its tagline — “Beer first. The rest will follow.”
That’s part of the reason Adam began looking for a strategic partner two years ago to help take Avery to the next level, help it grow into its capacity, which Adam says could easily be 10X production at its current location to over 500,000 annual barrels.
After meetings with many potential partners, Adam met family-owned international Spanish brewer Mahou San Miguel, which took a 30 percent stake in the company early this year.
Along with aligning as a fellow family-owned brewer, the 128-year-old Spanish company will help Avery up its sales-and-marketing game to play with the bigger boys. For example, it plans to push its popular Belgian White, White Rascal (its No. 1 seller), to compete with Miller Coors’ Blue Moon, which has taken off like a rocket.
“There’s a big vacuum under Blue Moon,” Adam says.
Mahou San Miguel, in its part, gains access to craft brewing expertise, something it hopes to apply to its operations.
There’s already been a brand refresh. Avery cans have a clean redesign featuring art by San Diego artist Neil Shigley.
Avery began exploring producing barrel-aged beers in 2003. Barrel-aging beer involves aging beer in barrels previously used to age everything from wine to bourbon, whiskey, tequila and more.
Avery has a 42,000-square-foot windowless warehouse near its main brewhouse grounds that houses 3,000 barrels. The company’s leaning into the barrel-aged brew market. It will soon introduce 16-ounce cans of barrel-aged beers to replace the 22-ounce bottles — to make the beers more accessible.
On my tour of the brewery, Avery wood cellar manager Travis Rupp pulls a barrel sample of Avery’s fall-seasonal rum barrel-aged pumpkin ale, Rumpkin. It had yet to be carbonated, but the 15 to 18 percent ABV brew was delicious — spicy, pumpkinny, delicious.
Rupp, also a University of Colorado classics professor, runs Avery’s well-chronicled antiquities program, which recreates ancient brews.
That’s just one example of the explorational Avery spirit that has helped it thrive for 25 years.
When reflecting on the new brewery and how everything’s gone since starting out in ’93, Adam has just one phrase. “It’s worked out perfect.”
Feature image: Avery Brewing Co. co-founder Adam Avery in his office at Avery HQ. Photo: Paul Hagey, BLDRfly.