Updated: July 17, 2013 at 10:03 am
Todd Baldwin gave three years to the Army, jumping out of planes in the 101st Airborne Division and spending much of 2007-08 in Iraq.
When he left the service, he landed in a place he never expected to.
"I had a desk job, man," he said with a sigh. "I got out of the Army and I was like, 'Is this really where I was supposed to be when it was all over with, in a cubicle? Is my life over at 26?'"
Fortunately for him, and for Colorado Springs beer lovers, he found his true calling.
On July 4, after three years of planning, Baldwin opened the doors of Red Leg Brewing Co. on Forge Road, off of Garden of the Gods Road. It's the area's first military-themed brew pub, with 3-D camouflage on the walls and a permanent 10 percent discount for current, former or retired military.
His motto: "Continuing to serve those who serve."
"We are vets. We're all proud of it. But at the same time we make great craft beer," said the 29-year-old. "We don't want to say we're just military or we're just craft beer. We're both."
A Virginia native, he was honorably discharged in 2009 while stationed at Fort Campbell in Kentucky and moved to Colorado Springs when his wife got a job here. He was a longtime home brewer and decided this town, with five military installations and one of the highest per-capita veteran populations in the nation, needed a military-themed brewery.
Two years of frustrating bank loan rejections followed, until the Small Business Administration helped him get financing. He found the location in a former tile store, chosen because of its proximity to a couple other breweries, Trinity and Great Storm brewing companies, to form a "beermuda triangle." Plus there's a stoplight at Garden of the Gods and it's not far from Interstate 25, beneficial for when he begins distributing.
He hired Jeff Lockhart, another veteran who has brewed at many places, most recently at Shamrock Brewing Co. in Pueblo, as brewmaster. Though his system is small - during a pre-opening party July 3, the India pale wasn't ready for consumption until halfway through - a 15-barrel system is on order, and they hope to begin canning for sale in liquor stores by mid-September. The brewery was only open Fridays and Saturdays initially, with plans to extend that to Thursdays-Sundays.
All five branches of service are represented in the beer names: Sgt. Pils (Army), Blue Nose Brown (Navy slang for sailors who have crossed the arctic circle), Do Llittle IPA (for Air Force pioneer James Doolittle), Devil Dog Stout (nickname for a Marine) and Cutter Wit (for the Coast Guard ship.)
As for the name "Red Leg," that's what artillerymen were known as during the Civil War, and as artillery was his speciality in the 101st, he picked it as the name and put a cannon in the logo.
Baldwin has plans beyond being just a 47-seat nano-brewery in an industrial park. Four times a year, he will invite military units from across Colorado to apply to have a beer named after them. A portion of the proceeds will go to their deployment funds.
He also wants to able to show service members and recent veterans, who may be feeling lost or shiftless, that life does indeed go on and they can accomplish great things.
They only need to talk to the owner for inspiration.
"We definitely want to be a success story for other veterans who are maybe getting out and wondering, 'What do I do next?'" he said. "I spent 36 months trying to figure it out. I was hot happy."
"And now I haven't' said 'work' in a year and a half."