With an insatiable desire to push the envelope, WeldWerks Brewing in Greeley, Colorado, has proven that a brewery can be exceptionally innovative without relying on gimmicks.
The crew from WeldWerks uses insight and inspiration from the worlds of brewing, culinary arts, distillation, mixology, and hospitality to enhance every aspect of its brand. And, despite its early success, the crew refuses to stop learning and improving.
“We obsess about f*@#$%! everything,” says Jake Goodman, director of sales and marketing at WeldWerks. “We will sit down for two hours to discuss one small facet of a beer release. It doesn’t ever stop. We constantly discuss what can be improved.”
Weldwerks Brewing has won a slew of awards, including at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) and the World Cup, since bursting onto the scene in 2015. Though Citra DDH Juicy Bits—one of the most acclaimed hazy IPAs—might serve as one of its most recognizable beers, it has won awards for an expansive array of beer styles.
The GABF gold medal-winning Medianoche (which means “midnight” in Spanish) is a chocolate-forward, bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout that’s rested for more than 18 months in 7- to 12-year-old Breckenridge Distillery bourbon barrels. According to Goodman, the name represents the “hard work, patience, and uncompromising dedication to excellence we value at WeldWerks.” And seeing as WeldWerks announced that it would be brewing more than 100 beers in 2018 (and then proceeded to brew 130), it’s difficult to argue with their self-assessment.
One might assume that a brewery staff with an insatiable desire to improve its beer might think about brewing day and night. “[But] when we get together to play poker, we are not breaking open rare bottles of beer; we are tasting whiskey,” Goodman says. “We are whiskey hounds around here.” And it’s not just the flavor that attracts the Weldwerks group to the brown spirit. They enjoy connecting with an industry that’s much older and bigger than the American craft beer industry.
“Whiskey, especially bourbon, has been around a long time in this country, but no one knows exactly where craft beer is going,” Goodman says.
“We’ve had such a boom in the last five years or more, so where will it be once there aren’t 7,000 breweries? What will happen when things settle down? We want to be part of the thread of where craft beer is going; we connect with whiskey for that reason.”
– Jake Goodman
Drinking whiskey can also provide good luck, too. While at the GABF in 2018, the WeldWerks gang gathered in the hotel room of head brewer and co-owner, Neil Fisher, to indulge in some whiskey. “Somebody happened to find the UnTappd menu,” Goodman recalls. “We looked at it and said, ‘Does that say what I think it says?’ Sure enough, out of some 4,000 beers, our Peanut Butter Cup Medianoche was the highest-rated beer. We were like, ‘Wow, what does that mean? How can you explain that?’ It was awesome. You wouldn’t expect it.”
WeldWerks adds Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups to this blend, and that’s probably what garners the most attention. But it also uses freshly emptied, 7- to 12-year-old Breckenridge Distillery bourbon barrels and newly emptied Woodford Reserve Double Oaked barrels, which are used to age the Medianoche for 16 to 24 months. So one can argue that understanding both the nuances of whiskey and beer led to the brewery’s success in developing its lauded bourbon barrel-aging program.
The customer response also helps guide Weldwerks in its journey. “We can have an internal compass, and we might think we really love it,” Goodman says. “But when you have a body of people saying they love it, we can then say, ‘Shit, we did it!’”
But this doesn’t mean that Weldwerks will hold back on making beers that might not enjoy popular appeal. “One of the beers we have Dynamics, is a blend of two different hops styles that we are absolutely nutty about,” Goodman explains. “We think it’s one of the coolest IPAs we have made in awhile. WE are bonkers about it. But customers are more like, ‘Yeah, it’s pretty good. Not bad.’ So it can work both ways. But if you are going to release 120–130 beers a year, you have to ask, ‘How much can we push the envelope? How far can we go?’”
The answer is pretty far. WeldWerks’ brewers remind you of mixologists who spend years perfecting a cocktail, or star chefs who tweak recipes until they have an unforgettable, delicious dish. The melding of flavors, no matter the style or process, into a refined, well-composed fermented beverage is what matters most.
Weldwerks also remains fascinated with the art and science attached to creating an assortment of IPAs, ranging from single-hopped West Coast styles to Milkshake varieties. To keep it interesting, the crew continually tests a combination of hops and malts. Earlier in 2019, they tested a theory by Randy Mosher (a renowned instructor, author, consultant, and lecturer) when making an experimental IPA. Mosher proposed that “Nugget hops, which are high in linalool essential oil, when combined with Chinook hops, which are high in geraniol essential oil, could potentially emulate the ubiquitous Citra hops, which are high in both oils.” The team brewed the beer and named it Experiments in Combination, and then asked their customers to compare it to Weldwerks’ Citra-hopped IPAs.
For WeldWerks, listening to customers goes beyond pure market research or some notion of playing to trends. Rather, engaging with customers is part of the brand’s broad commitment to hospitality and how it connects with the local community—including establishing The WeldWerks Community Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on supporting other local nonprofits through events like the WeldWerks Invitational.
It all started in Greeley, Colorado, the hometown of WeldWerks co-owners Neil Fisher and Colin Jones. The town sits amidst a sea of ranches and farms, far removed from brewing hotbed cities like Boulder, Fort Collins, and Denver. But its success has turned Greeley into a beer destination. Now, WeldWerks is opening a second location in Colorado Springs, again avoiding the typical beer hotspots.
“For us, there’s an intrinsic pleasure in putting down roots in communities that inspire us,” Goodman says. “Colorado Springs has all of the amenities and excitement of a larger, up-and-coming city combined with the warmth, uniqueness, and authenticity of a tight-knit community.”
The Colorado Springs location will operate solely as a small, 1,300-square-foot taproom (no beer will be brewed on-site), and a west-facing patio will allow for some excellent mountain views any time of the year. With this new location and no signs of slowing down their experimental brewing process, the future looks bright for WeldWerks.