I made my first visit to Strange Brewing this year during the Great American Beer Festival and sampled their large 9-glass sampler tray which included their Zora rosemary pale ale and two different versions of a cherry accented ale. Tim Myers, one of Strange Brewing’s co-founders, later shared more info about their brewery and philosophy.
At what point did you know you’d work with beer for a living?
As a homebrewer, I always thought it would happen someday. But when I got laid off from my newspaper job at the Rocky Mountain News in April 2009, I knew it would become a reality. Looking for a job during the Great Recession just held no appeal to me. So my brewery partner and I cashed out our 401Ks (they were going nowhere but down fast anyway) and started Strange Brewing Company.
Is there anybody who mentored you along the way? If so, what did they teach you that was so valuable?
Starting in 2007, I began to worry that my job was in jeopardy. That’s when I started investigating what it would take to open a small brewery in Denver. At the time, there was really nothing in Denver like what we envisioned, but there were several similar around the state. Kevin Delange, owner of Dry Dock, and Tom Hennessy, owner of Colorado Boy, were big inspirations and always gracious with their answers to my numerous questions. Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head, was also a huge inspiration, considering he started at 10 gallons a brew. I would see him in Vail during Big Beers Fest and he was always supportive of what we were trying to do. Opening a brewery is incredibly challenging, and setbacks can be daunting. But all of these brewers were doing exactly what we wanted to do, and their continued support and encouragement kept us going.
What was the first beer you ever brewed, and how did it turn out?
First beer EVER? An American Brown, brewed at a brew-on-premise with my future wife. That was back in 1997. Luckily it turned out great, I caught the homebrew bug, and have been brewing ever since. First beer ever brewed in the Brewery? A Belgian Tripel brewed on April 23, 2010, which would have been the 151st anniversary of the Rocky Mountain News, and incidentally was the 1st anniversary of getting laid off. Turned out great! We let it condition in the kegs for a year and tapped it on April 23rd, 2011.
What’s the criteria for a beer that you brew at your brewery? What does a beer have to be?
First and foremost, I brew to drinkability. While I enjoy the occasional West Coast Hop Bomb or big American Sour, I’d much rather enjoy a brew or three with friends and still be safe to get home after. Most of our beers are in the 5 to 8% range which still gives me quite a range to play with. And while I don’t necessarily focus on uniqueness, I also like our beers to be a bit different, a bit Strange, from what everybody else is brewing.
What’s your top selling beer, and why do you think that’s the case?
By far and away, our top selling beer is Le Bruit Du Diable Farmhouse Ale. People really enjoy the drinkability of our Farmhouse, and also its unique, Belgian flavor profile. Our house Belgian yeast really dries out the brew, making it deceivingly light. I say deceivingly because at 8.5%, it’s also the biggest beer we brew regularly.
How do you go about naming your beers?
The beers pretty much name themselves. I try not to go into a new brew with any preconceptions. There’s been a few times when we tapped a batch without a name. Then found its identity after feedback from our Strange taproom patrons.
What was the most recent beer that you brewed, and what was your inspiration and approach?
Right before Denver Beer Week and Great American Beer Festival, we brewed a 7bbl batch of Pumpkin Porter. I really wanted this brew on tap for Beer Week, but had to wait for the organic pie pumpkins to come into season. This beer is totally homebrew. We cut the pie pumpkins in half and roast them at Hops & Pie in their pizza ovens to caramelize the sugars. Those then get cubed and thrown into the mash tun with the grist, but not until we take a portion and boil it for an hour first to create a pumpkin “stock” that also goes into the mash. And then, just in case we haven’t instilled enough pumpkin character, we also throw some puree in the boil. Like I said, totally homebrew.
How are you able to maintain balance in your life, if you’re even able to?
Family is very important to me, so I made the choice early on to keep Strange small so it wouldn’t completely dominate my life. We were closed on Sundays for the first year we were in business which guaranteed at least one full day at home. Most brew days we’re done by 5p, which means I can run home in time for dinner even on brew days. And we’ve been blessed to find a great core group of people to help run Strange, which let’s me share much of the day-to-day tasks that dominate so many brewers’ schedules.
If you could only drink one more beer, and you couldn’t brew it, what would it be and why?
That’s the toughest question you asked. I love such a huge variety of beers, picking one is like picking your favorite child. Only pick one? Guess I’ll say it has to be something from Cantillon brewery in Brussels. Apart from the fact that I don’t live in the Pajottenland region of Belgium so it’s hard for me to brew a true lambic, the whole process of fermenting a lambic is so alien to everything I was taught that, rather than being an anathema to me, I see it as a brewing challenge to conquer. Every creation of Jean Van Roy I’ve had the pleasure of tasting is amazing. But I’ve never tasted his Kriek, and since Strange is something of a Cherry brewery, I will pick Cantillon Kriek.