Chris Wright believes there are five key ingredients to beer: malt, water, hops, yeast and friends.
While he loves the taste of a pint of suds as much as any brewer, he enjoys the social lubricant aspect even more.
“I love that it brings people together. It removes barriers,” he said. “Every night there are people who come into the pub, they don’t know each other beforehand but they hang out, they have a huge in-depth conversation and they leave having met a friend. If beer can help people become friends, I think that’s a magical thing.”
Wright’s Pikes Peak Brewing Co. might be the friendliest place in northern El Paso County. Eighteen months after opening, the brewpub recently doubled in size to accommodate the unexpected demand for seats and beer. He hopes to brew 2,000 barrels in 2013, up from 1,000 last year and 350 in 2011.
It’s an exciting time for a former Army captain who only a couple of years ago was selling computer networks.
Clearly, northern El Paso County was thirsty for its own brews.
“It was so crowded on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, that people would come in, not find anywhere to sit and walk away,” said Wright, 40. “The way the community has embraced us has been amazing.”
A Virginia native, Wright came here while in the Army and decided to stay. He got into brewing when his wife bought him a class at a home-brew shop. In 2008, he published a book, “The Beer Journal,” encouraging people to reflect on and take notes on what they drank.
Wright is part of the new generation of Colorado brewery owners, those who came not from a large, established operation, but home brewers looking to share their concoctions with the world. He never had worked at a brewery before opening the pub and picked Monument because it’s where he lives and the area had no brewery of its own.
He chose the name because, well, Pikes Peak is what we’re famous for, and named brews after local landmarks.
For the record, despite the name, it’s the farthest brewery from Pikes Peak in the county. But it has a nice view of the peak from the beer garden.
The beer menu has grown but the food menu hasn’t, offering panini sandwiches, beer-cheese soup, pretzels, a meat-and-cheese plate and a sandwich of the day from Front Range Barbecue. Wright doesn’t want his brewpub to be a restaurant that happens to brew beer. It’s a brewery that happens to serve light food, he said, and visiting feels like going to a coffee shop, or to a friend’s basement — if that friend had a bar and two rooms full of 15-foot stainless steel vats.
The beers aren’t as experimental as those at some other breweries. Wright takes an established style and tweaks it to make it his own, as he did with Devil’s Head Red. He gave it a blast of hops and caramel malt, resulting in a red ale that is thicker and sweeter than usual, with a hoppiness and spiciness seldom found in that style. It’s his reigning best-seller.
With the expansion, he hopes to branch into more experimental styles, such as sours, and to age more beers in oak casks. He put some Elephant Rock in a cask for a month, and what was a basic IPA with strong hoppiness became a subtle, complex brew that is his current favorite. Several weeks in a red wine barrel turned the Gold Rush Belgian Ale into a sweet drink more akin to a cider.
Customers in the once beer-starved area appreciate the variety. Brian McCarthy used to drive to Castle Rock or Colorado Springs to enjoy a fresh microbrew. He likes to rotate through the menu, enjoying a half-pint of each.
“They’re full-bodied. The commercial-type beers, they tend to be light,” he said.
Does he have a favorite?
“All of them.”
Wright hopes the expansion will spread the brewpub’s name south and the extra capacity will let him sell at more than the 30 bars and restaurants where it is currently available. He also plans to begin canning beer.
“My mission for 2013 is to make sure Colorado Springs knows we’re here,” he said.
“I’ve got a lot more beer to sell.”
Rappold writes about the local beer scene bi-weekly in Food.