On Nov. 2, 2013, Grist Brewing Company opened their doors to the thirsty craft beer world of Colorado. The booming Colorado craft beer scene has seen countless breweries open over the past six or seven years, and Grist is one that has enjoyed massive success since it opened a little over a year ago.
Creating balance through science is one of the themes you’ll find when talking with founder Rob Kevwitch. Some breweries create beer just for the sake of being wild and crazy, but Grist makes beer with a strong sense of discipline and reality. Their catchphrase is “Science Balanced With Creativity” and you can see it in the beers they have created.
Getting a brewery up and running is no small task. Grist Brewing Company hit the ground running so Kevwitch and his group of employees had to learn on the job, and learn fast.
“It all happened so fast. The last year has gone by really quick. [When we got started] the science and the engineering part wasn’t obnoxious, it was always the little things that bit us in the ass. We went through a couple different yeast suppliers just trying to make sure we got the yeast we really liked and was active,” Kevwitch said.
One of the hardest challenges any company has to overcome is getting its name out and into the public eye. How that is done can be answered in a million ways, but during the first three months of the brewery’s existence that was the primary goal. Kevwitch remarked that even til this day they “still have people coming into the brewery” and saying they had no idea Grist was there.
Trying to start a brewery in a state that is filled with them is hard enough, but when you couple that with an industry stigma, challenges grow to dangerous heights. Kevwitch talked about how some people within the craft beer community thought it was taboo that they would put their brewery in a suburban location.
“We had a lot of folks that were used to breweries in Denver and kind of wrote us off right off the bat. Once we finally got some of them in here tasting the beer, I think we changed a lot of minds. Since we’ve opened down [in Highlands Ranch], there have been another five [breweries] that have opened within a five-mile radius of us,” Kevwitch said.
Before Rob opened up Grist, he held a steady, corporate job that provided a comfortable lifestyle for him, his wife and children. Walking away from that in pursuit of his craft brewing passion was not an easy choice and it absolutely involved miles of risk.
“I walked away from a pretty comfortable 40 hour per week job into about a 100 hour a week job where I’m getting paid less and have no benefits. It was a pretty risky choice. When you are on one source of income and you quit a pretty comfortable job, there’s a lot of risk involved with that,” Kevwitch said.
The risk would eventually start to show signs of paying off. Kevwitch said that after only seven months of operations Grist Brewing Company had entered into the black and began making profits. Make no mistake about it, that is an incredible feat that not many companies get to say, period.
If there is one common denominator in the craft beer industry, it’s that great beer shows through everything. Of course there are other factors that come into play, but producing a great product for people to enjoy is the ultimate business strategy.
The brewery features six core beers with anywhere from four to seven additional beers on tap. The mainstay beers are the Transition State Kölsch, Colorado IPA, Window Tour Hefeweizen, Third Ring Belgian Strong Ale, Niobrara Stout and Berliner Weisse.
As someone who isn’t a light beer fanatic, finding the Transition State Kölsch to be a favorite was surprising. This is one of the most refreshing beers I have ever had. So how did Kevwitch come up with this divine brew? He said doing research on the style of beer was important, in addition to a little trial and error. Eventually though, he landed on the right formula and the Kölsch has pleased even the harshest of critics.
“The Kölsch is my favorite beer because one of my friends in the industry came down to Denver for the craft beer conference. The thing he always does when he goes into a brewery is try the lightest beer they have. He does that because you can’t hide anything in a light-bodied, light-flavored beer.
“He drank the Kölsch all night and that was probably my best compliment on the Kölsch. If they’re willing to drink it all night long, that means it’s pretty solid,” Kevwitch said.
Making an infected beer does happen in brewing. Some breweries decide to pour it out because they do not want to serve an infected beer, while others find ways to mask their mistakes and then sell the beer anyway. Deciding not to serve infected beer is something Kevwitch emphasized as being of paramount importance.
“I would rather spend the money, eat the margins and dump a batch of beer than serve it, turn someone off to Grist, or worse, turn someone off to craft beer in general. If it’s somebody’s first time coming into a craft brewery and they get an infected beer, the odds of them ever going back to a craft brewery are slim. Why would they pay the extra money for a good craft beer, only to have an infected taste?” Kevwitch said.
Adding fruit puree or other ingredients is one of the ways some brewers try to mask an infected beer. Ever gone to a brewery that you’ve been to before, order a beer you’ve drank previously and thought, “this beer tastes off?” Well that’s an infected beer for you, and not all breweries have the courage to dump it when it is bad.
“I think there are a lot of breweries that are afraid to eat the cost of dumping a beer. We’re not afraid to dump beer, we’re not happy about it, but we’re certainly not afraid to do it. It’s not an easy decision when we do it, I’ll say that,” Kevwitch said.
So, you don’t like beer?
Just about any craft beer enthusiast who hears someone say they don’t like beer, will respond by telling them they just haven’t found a beer they do like. Grist Brewing Company has been turning non-believers into believers with its Berliner Weisse.
In what is clearly one of his favorite moments at the brewery so far, Kevwitch described a time when a family came in for a beer and not everyone was quite as smitten to craft beer as others.
“The youngest son orders a beer and his girlfriend said, ‘oh you know, I don’t really like beer.’ I said come around the bar, pour yourself a little taste of every beer. ‘Between every beer we have, you tell me if there’s nothing that you like.’ She poured all 12 and I think she ended up having two or three of the Trippel we had [on tap] at the time.
“I treat beer like wine, so if someone were to say, ‘I don’t like wine,’ the answer is you just haven’t found the wine you do like. That’s the approach I take when people say they don’t like beer, you just haven’t found the right beer. There’s a beer for everyone, people just have to experiment a little bit,” Kevwitch said.
This is the power of creating great beers with wide, diverse tastes. But what makes a beer great? Is it the amount of sales it generates? Is it the name or the label? For Kevwitch, and for many within the craft beer industry, a great beer is “true to style.”
“You always hear in corporate America that you have to think outside the box. I think in brewing, it’s a lot harder to think inside the box than it is outside. It’s harder for me to make something that is true to style than it is to make a Cherry Kölsch. If I messed up a little bit on the Kölsch, I can just add some of that cherry puree and you’re never going to know it.
“We always say, everything in the brewery should be science, balance and creativity,” Kevwitch said.
Collaborations are quite common nowadays. Most breweries work together with one another to bring to life a unique, interesting beer. Grist Brewing Company is no exception to this as they are working with not just one brewery, but with seven other breweries.
Grist Brewing Company, CB & Potts, Rock Bottom Brewery, Lone Tree Brewing Company, 3 Freaks Brewery, 38 State Brewing Company, Living The Dream Brewing and Blue Spruce Brewing Company are all participating in this collaboration. The collaboration will be released on Dec. 5 and is called Bock 470.
“During the first meeting we all sat around and had some beers, deciding whether or not we wanted to do it. During the next meeting, we tossed around what kind of beer we wanted to make. Everyone is going to make their own version of it, but everyone is going to make a Weizenbock.
“We wanted to make a Weizenbock that was true to style, but wanted to get creative within that style. Yes it’s German, so there’s not a lot of variation you can add to stay within the style, but there’s a fair amount. If you go to all eight breweries, you’re going to taste different flavors and profiles, which is by design. We want people to realize that you can make the ‘same beer’ at different places and you’re going to find something different at each,” Kevwitch said.
If you are driven to do so, those who visit each of the eight breweries and try all eight versions of the collaboration, they will receive a stamp inside of a passport booklet the breweries will have on hand. The first 300 people to complete the tour will be given a pint glass with all of the participating breweries’ logos on it.
For a brewery that is so young, but has grown so fast, it certainly seems to share a lot of qualities that most major, successful breweries do these days. Keep your eye on Grist because their beer is some of the best.