Gold Medal-Winning Brewmaster Chris Fish to Open Telluride Brewing Co.
by Martinique Davis
Sep 15, 2011 | 3492 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
GOLD-MEDAL BREWMASTER – Telluride Brewing Co.’s Brewmaster Chris Fish (right) and business partner
Tommy Thacher in front of their shiny new brewing facility at Lawson Hill. Retail sales and beer tastings will be available soon. (Photo by Brett Schreckengost)
GOLD-MEDAL BREWMASTER – Telluride Brewing Co.’s Brewmaster Chris Fish (right) and business partner Tommy Thacher in front of their shiny new brewing facility at Lawson Hill. Retail sales and beer tastings will be available soon. (Photo by Brett Schreckengost)
TELLURIDE – Local brewmaster Chris Fish balances atop a ladder, tinkering with the components of a gleaming new fermenting tank. Meanwhile his business partner Tommy Thacher weaves his way through mountains of malt-filled sacks piled high throughout their new brewery in Lawson Hill, a laptop computer tucked under his arm.

They are, in a sense, already the picture of a well-honed business couple: The maker and the marketer, the authority and the educator, the brewmaster and the bartender.

And their progeny, the Telluride Brewing Company, is shaping up to be Telluride’s next picture-perfect new business.

“The spirit and the culture of Telluride is what we’re really trying to bring out through our beer,” says Thacher, the din of construction echoing through the high-ceilinged warehouse located four miles west of downtown Telluride. Earlier this week, plumbers and electricians were putting the finishing touches on the space, which will serve as Telluride Brewing Company’s brewing and retail headquarters. Fish will begin brewing the company’s first batches of beer this weekend, as beer and music lovers from around the country descend on Telluride for the 18th Annual Blues and Brews Festival.

Local connoisseurs will get their first tastes of Telluride Brewing Company beer later this month, as TBC cans hit the shelves at regional liquor stores and The Llama bar and restaurant in Telluride becomes the exclusive purveyor of TBC drafts.

Although TBC has a few more weeks before its wares will be ready for consumption, the company already seems to be on solid footing, thanks to its burgeoning reputation. Fish is an accomplished brewer, having been awarded both a Gold (2005) and Bronze (2003) prize at the largest judged beer festival in the world, the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, for beers he crafted for Telluride’s Smuggler’s Brewpub.

TBC hats are already a sought-after commodity among in-the-know locals, and Governor John Hickenlooper was even spotted wearing a TBC T-shirt at a recent beer tasting event in Grand Junction.

“We’re making a company that I would want to work for,” Fish says of the growing hype surrounding the impending opening of Telluride Brewing Company, adding, “A company that takes care of its employees, who are stoked to be here in Telluride making beer with us.”

Yet the duo’s mission to become a civic-minded local company isn’t all its supporters are looking forward to as Telluride Brewing Company faces its final countdown to Grand Opening. Let’s face it: Those who’ve been tasting Fish’s wares for the last eight years he’s been brewing in Telluride know that it’s really all about the beer.

Fish has been renowned since his days as head brewer at Smuggler’s, thanks to his gold medal-winning Rocky Mountain Rye beer, an easy-drinking brew that utilizes the spicy and dry flavor of rye, balanced with a decent amount of hops.

But Fish promises he’ll be “taking things a lot further” with the range of beers he’ll be brewing in their expansive new space at Lawson Hill, which will house a tasting bar.

“A lot of our focus will be on big and bold flavors, as well as American twists on traditional styles,” Fish says, noting that the first Telluride Brewing Company beer to come out of the on-site canner will be a rye pale ale, a brew he describes as a really hoppy pale ale with generous rye overtones.

He’ll also eventually develop IPAs, stouts, and porters, a lager-style rice beer, in addition to diving deeper into Belgian-style beers. Ultimately, there will 12 TBC beers on-tap at The Llama, and 20 on-tap for tasting at the TBC brewery.

Seeing their new Telluride-bred business take shape represents the culmination of the long-held aspirations of both Fish and Thacher, who met at a Telluride bar where Fish was the brewmaster and Thacher the bartender. At night, they spent long hours discussing their quest for the perfect beer and their ultimate dream of opening a brewery. Thacher went on to teach history at the Telluride Mountain School, while Fish perfected his craft, but neither left the idea of opening their own brewery altogether.

“I knew I was going to start my own brewery eventually, and I wanted to make it happen in Telluride, but I didn’t know how realistic that was,” Fish says, going on to explain that after he and Thacher joined forces with Brian Gavin, a local realtor and TBC investor, that dream finally grew wings.

They started work on the Lawson Hill space last April, slowly transforming the facility into a state-of-the-art brewery where the centerpiece is an artisan-made American stainless steel brewhouse Fish flew out to California to purchase.

“It’s his baby,” Thacher says with a sly smile and sideways glance in his business partner’s direction.

The duo envisions the TBC space in Lawson Hill to be a beer production powerhouse, where they’ll brew and can beers that they’ll distribute around the Four Corners region.

TBC beers will be available exclusively in cans, not glass bottles. Fish explains that the decision to go with cans over bottles had to do with the environmental aspect (aluminum cans are the most-recycled material in the world, and, much lighter than bottles, boast a smaller carbon footprint when shipped) as well as the packaging quality issue (cans let in no light and less oxygen, thus making for a longer shelf-life and, ultimately, better taste).

“But really, the big thing is portability,” Fish admits. “For fishing, skiing, river trips… cans are far superior for getting beer out there.”

TBC will begin brewing beers this weekend, with its first brews being available for purchase in cans, growlers, and kegs starting later in the fall. Its tasting room, where visitors can try four ounce pours of all TBC beers, won’t open for a few more weeks. The owners are planning a Grand Opening at the Lawson Hill space sometime in mid-December.

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