But with just three tanks in which to brew its craft-style ales, stouts, beers and lagers, the brewery has had a hard time keeping up with demand.
“We were selling out of beer every week,” said brewmeister James Walton. “I just didn’t have the capacity to make enough beer.”
Proprietor Erin Eddy had a suggestion: “Let’s build another brewery.”
In fact, Eddy’s ambitious long-term vision for the Ouray Brewery has always been to produce, can and bottle brews – and distribute them regionally and even statewide.
Now Eddy and a tight group of conspirators including Walton, business partner and financial backer Dennis McKee of Texas, and Durango-based builder Scott Frazer (an old skiing buddy of Eddy’s), have gathered together to make it happen.
Over the past several months, the Ouray Brewery has significantly expanded its operation to include the Ouray Brewing Company, a new 3,000 square-foot brewing, bottling and canning plant and tap room in the old BIOTA building alongside the Uncompahgre River in the North Ouray Corridor, at 1900 Main Street.
The plant’s first brews were kegged last month. The taproom, which eventually will seat up to 120 customers, is slated to open to the public on Memorial Day weekend. It will offer both indoor and riverside seating as well as tours, snacks, swag and more, and will remain open through the summer and into September. There will be live music every Friday from 5-7 p.m.
“We’ll have a limited menu and we’re exploring doing pizzas,” Eddy said. “Pizza and beer on the river ... I think that would be OK!”
Standing outside the BIOTA building on a recent mild spring morning, as the Uncompahgre River sparkled in the sunlight and sang its quiet riffling river-song, it was easy to imagine what a cool refuge the beer garden will be, come summertime.
“The river is an asset,” Eddy said. “It’s so beautiful.” And it doesn’t hurt that the North Ouray Corridor trail system connects directly to the spot, beckoning pedestrians and cyclists alike.
Eddy envisions beer-imbibing patrons peddling back and forth between the brewpub in town and the new taproom, on a fleet of bicycles he plans to purchase for this purpose. There will be bike racks at both locations.
Originally intended as a commercial bottled water plant, the spacious BIOTA building is the perfect place for a brewery. It’s plenty roomy for the current operation, with even more room for future planned expansion. As a bonus, the industrial character of the building lends a very cool ambiance to the taproom.
An old hang glider and gondola car dangle overhead from high ceiling beams. (The gondola car was salvaged from the Ouray Ice Park, where it was dumped years ago.)
Garage bay doors lift to let in daylight and fresh air, and a number of interior windows between the taproom and the fermentation room allow visitors to vicariously experience the beer-making process.
All kinds of recycled materials were put to use in fitting out the tap room, from a semi-truck full of lumber rejects from a local lumberyard, to $25,000 worth of donated tongue-in-groove aspen siding, to corrugated sheet metal from Recla Metal. Barnwood, old skis, used tables and stools from other restaurants, even old shelving units from the original BIOTA plant have been re-purposed.
“Everything except the nails in here was reused,” Eddy said. “It’s totally green.”
The recycling theme goes along with the repurposing of the BIOTA building itself, which since its false start as a water bottling plant well over a decade ago, has been purchased by local entrepreneur Ben Lockard who rechristened the complex River Park.
Here, Lockard also runs his kitchen cabinet and counter manufacturing business and leases out space not only to Ouray Brewing Co. but a number of other businesses and nonprofits including Weehawken Creative Arts, Hypoxia Gym, and a commercial laundry business. Altogether, there are now over a dozen people who report to work there each day, according to Lockard. That will probably double this summer once things at the tap room get rolling.
“I’m really glad to see a manufacturing company open up in Ouray,” Lockard said. “It will also be nice to have some food services on the north end of town.”
When BIOTA was in operation, there was a pipeline that delivered spring water from Ouray’s municipal water source at Weehawken Spring straight to the bottling plant. That system has since been disabled, so the brewery is using good old tap water to make its suds, which is fine by Eddy.
“The water up here is arguably the best in the state for brewing,” he said.
The brewing room is a cool place too. It is filled with a hodge-podge of gleaming, industrial-sized fermentation tanks, including a couple of old milk tanks from a dairy on the east coast, some erstwhile wine fermenters, and a pair of stainless steel beer tanks manufactured by a pharmaceutical company in China.
“They learned that their stainless welders can make a lot of quick money by doing beer equipment on the side,” Walton explained.
Together, Walton and Eddy have retrofitted the six tanks, and are now well into production mode. The tanks have a total capacity of 66 bbls (a measurement term for units of barrels), or roughly 2,000 gallons of production and storage every two weeks.
That’s a lot of suds.
Ouray Brewing Co. has brews on tap now in restaurants in Montrose, Silverton and Durango, on the mountain in Telluride, and even in Denver. It’s all happened over the last 75 days.
“We’ll have 32-ounce bottles in the local liquor stores within the next 40 days, and cans in the fall,” Eddy said.
For now, they’re focusing on their four flagship brews: the San Juan IPA, Camp Bird Blonde, Alpine Amber and Box Canyon Brown. In the fall, they’ll add more tanks to have the ability to have six beers on tap.
“We’re hitting it hard,” said Walton, who has been fascinated by the chemistry behind the beer-brewing process ever since he was a teenager in Grand Junction. Over the past decade he has dedicated himself to perfect his craft, working at large and small microbreweries throughout the West and obtaining a Master Brewer’s certificate from the American Brewer’s Guild in Middlebury, Vt.
Brewing beer, in Ouray and elsewhere according to industry statistics, appears to be a recession-proof business. Remarkably, the Ouray Brewing Company now employs 19 people year-round, Eddy said. In the summer, that could grow to 50.
“The guy that made all this happen is Dennis McKee,” Eddy said. “A bank never would have lent money on this project. It’s too risky. So you’ve got a guy that created 50 jobs in this town. I can’t figure out why anyone would do this. One, he’s got a lot of money, and two, he actually cares a lot about this area.”