When Chris Wright founded Pikes Peak Brewing Co. in Monument in 2011, the southern Front Range was home to five commercial brewers. At a time when Colorado Springs was beginning to earn props as one of the nation's craft beer-drinking hubs, most of the small-batch suds flowing from local taps and gracing liquor store shelves wasn't made here - or even in Colorado.
"People were drinking craft beer but not local craft beer," Wright said.
Thankfully, that's no longer the case.
"One of the coolest things about having done this for six years is watching how the Springs brewing community has grown," said Wright, a U.S. Army veteran who took up home brewing after discovering a love of beer while he was stationed in Germany. "It's been great to see that growth in the brewing community and see how the local market has reacted."
The market has reacted enthusiastically to Wright's contribution, the northernmost destination in a region where the craft brewery count is nearing 30.
Wright's first year in business, he produced 700 barrels; last year, that number was 3,562.
Pikes Peak Brewing was the top-producing craft brewery/restaurant in Colorado, and No. 38 nationwide, among those where onsite sales accounted for at least 25 percent of business, say 2016 numbers collected and reviewed by the Brewers Association.
"I find myself fortunate to be embraced by the community as much as I have," said Wright, whose brewery was among the first in the region to sell its wares in cans. "I love coming to work every day."
Wright's beer now is available well beyond its origin, in 124 restaurants and 195 liquor stores in 19 Colorado counties. Earlier this year, the brewery expanded its patron area and the production operation inside a 13,000-square-foot facility on Lake Woodmoor Drive, adding a much larger, more efficient brewing system as well as space for an office and quality assurance lab.
"When beer starts traveling farther from the brewery, we have to make sure it's shelf-stable and the flavor maintains over months. All this will allow us to meet demand in Colorado and look at a few out-of-state markets," said Wright. "Almost every year and a half to two years, we've almost doubled in size, so we should be good for a while ... I hope."
Wright was going for a distinct vibe when he founded the brewpub six years ago, and a couple of years back he took a gander around the business and realized he'd achieved that goal.
"I wanted to create that third space where the community gets together, and I wanted to create that environment around craft beer in Monument," Wright said. "One day, I looked out at the biergarten and it was full of families; there were more kids than adults. That was just a really touching moment for me."
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