Feature Image: Twisted Pine owner Bob Baile. Credit: Paul Hagey, BLDRfly.
Tucked near the retail madness of 30th Street and Pearl Street lies Twisted Pine, one of Boulder’s oldest breweries.
Creator of the ghost pepper-infused Ghost Face Killlah, a 5.2 percent alcohol-by-volume, 23 bitter-unit wheat ale, 23-year-old Twisted Pine, as owner Bob Baile says, gets “weird with beer.”
Although you won’t get a six-pack from your liquor store or the grocery spot down the street (like fellow Boulder brewpub Mountain Sun). Once with a 13-state distribution footprint and annual production of 5,000 barrels, the brewery pulled back in 2016 to focus squarely on sales at its community-focused, 24-tap alehouse at 3201 Walnut Street.
The decision was part business and part vision, Bob says.
The taproom had steadily become busier over the years — fare started at peanuts, then hotdogs, and slowly stayed open a little longer, later. Bursting at the 700-square-foot taproom seams, the brewery expanded the existing space to full 1,500-square-foot brewpub size in 2014.
Now it has a full kitchen with pizza as a mainstay. “We found that (surprise) pizza and beer were a good thing,” Bob says.
Twisted Pine will do 1,200 barrels this year and plans to expand its tap count from 24 to 30.
Intense competition both locally and regionally played a role in Twisted Pine decision to focus on in-house sales. The number of craft breweries in the U.S. jumped 15.5 percent to 6,266 breweries from 2016 to 2017, according to Brewers Association numbers. From 2012, the leap is sky-high: the number of craft breweries jumped over 150 percent from 2,420.
That, along with new Colorado laws that ease restrictions on grocery stores’ ability to sell beer at multiple locations, has made distribution tough and slimmed retail margins, Bob says.
But it’s also a good thing, he adds. Focusing on brewpub sales frees up Twisted Pine’s brewers to get creative and work on smaller batches of beer. With retail, they had to keep large quantities of staples in production. Now they can do smaller, more frequent, different batches, which stokes creativity.
Brewing and selling its beer onsite improves quality, too, as Twisted Pine can tightly control quality. The beer never gets stored in a warm warehouse, for example. The brewery can ensure a cold-and-fresh pour.
A brewpub focus also allows Twisted Pine to spend more energy on cultivating community, which, thanks to the immediate area’s exploding residential growth, is vibrant. It holds local fundraising events, meetings and talks at the space.
The spirit of Twisted Pine founder, firefighter and Boulder-area beer legend Gordon Knight is an important element of the brewery.
Bob bought the brewery from his good friend Gordon in 1996, a year after Knight founded it.
As Bob says, Gordon was an innovative, great brewer who was excited about starting things — he founded High Country Brewery in Estes Park in 1993, Twisted Pine in 1995 and Wolf Tongue Brewery in Nederland in 1998 — but whose interest waned after startup.
Gordon, for whom Oskar Blues’ G’Knight Imperial Red is named (formerly named Gordon before a cease-and-desist letter from Gordon Biersch forced a change), won gold medals at the Great American Beer Festival at all three breweries.
“Gordon could make a dollar scream,” remembers Bob with a smile. Gordon died when his helicopter crashed while fighting a wildfire near Rocky Mountain National Park in 2001, and Bob says he thinks of him often.
Along with a frugal, efficient mindset, the brewery also baked Gordon’s meticulous and innovative brewing style into its operations.