Renegade Brewing Co. is another newcomer to the Denver craft beer scene. Located in the Santa Fe Arts District, they opened a little over three months ago to very positive reviews. In that time they’ve already taken home 2 medals at the Colorado State Fair (silver and bronze). If you’re in the mood for big, bold flavors and perhaps a few you never thought you’d see together, look no further.
Here’s a look at their beers (descriptions from their website):
Hop head? Yeah, this one’s for you. Crisp malt with a touch of caramel and a generous helping of rye. Oh yeah, and hops, hops, and more hops. This Rye IPA is 7% ABV and 100+ IBU’s.
That whistle’s blowin’ and you’ve been bustin’ your hump all day for the man. This clean, crisp blonde ale has just enough hop character to make it interesting, but remains a nice easy drinking session beer. 5% ABV
One for you and one for your new best friend. We make this Mexican style amber with an uncommon yeast strain for added flavor and we add just a hint of roasted chili peppers. 6.5% ABV
Renegade’s take on a red ale. Malty with notes of burnt sugar and Irish red, but hopped up. Hip Me again barkeep! 5.6% ABV
Love a good thrill? Well, find your next one in a beer glass. This imperial baltic porter will make your taste buds dance. 10% ABV
You’ll probably want a growler of this at the ready when you grab the morning paper. American Strong Ale brewed with a healthy dose of locally roasted coffee beans. 6.8% ABV
I sat down with Brian and Khara O’Connell to talk about why they got into brewing and where they’re going with it. Here’s what they had to say:
How did you get the idea to start Renegade?
Brian: I started as a home brewer a few years back. Kara bought me a home-brew kit for Christmas one year, actually a Mr. Beer kit. So I just started playing around with that… but the beer you can make on a Mr. Beer kit wasn’t that great.
Khara: But it was enough to hook you. We had always been into beer and would take beer vacations. It was always a big part of what we did together.
Brian: Then I got more and more into it and got a more sophisticated home-brew setup and joined home-brew clubs. It was just something that was a big part of our lives. We were centering all of our free time around beer and it became a dream to open our own place. I went through a series of jobs that I didn’t really like very much and thought to myself I could spend my life doing jobs I’m not crazy about or I can take a leap and start something that I do enjoy. That’s the attitude I went into it with, just try to see where it goes. It took 2 years to get it going. At each phase I’d keep saying just try to get something done, just try for the next thing, just try for the next thing. Eventually it all came together and here we are.
Are you guys from Denver or did you arrive here after one of your beer vacations?
Brian: Kinda, yeah. We were living in Phoenix and I’d been talking to a consulting firm here. I was sorta back and forth on how seriously I wanted to talk to them. We came for the Great American Beer Festival and I said to Kara, well while we’re in town why don’t I call these people up and talk to them… since we’re going to be there anyway. So I did that while we were in town and a couple of weeks later they offered me a job. And that’s originally what brought us here.
What’s your background, Khara?
Khara: I’m originally from Arkansas. That’s where we met, in college. Then we moved around a bit. We went to Vermont, then Florida, then Phoenix, and then here. One of the things that brought us here was the beer culture and knowing we wanted to break into the industry. But… [laughs] your original question was what my background was. I’ve always worked in education, which I’m still doing. I work full-time at the Community College of Denver directing a Federal Grant program that helps adults go back to school. So I’m full-time there, full-time here.
How long ago did you start home-brewing?
Brian: I started about 6 years ago, but it got ramped up pretty quick. I’d say I’ve been serious about it for 5 years. That first year I was just tinkering around with my Mr. Beer kit and different extracts and stuff like that, just figuring things out. We actually had a neighbor that was a home-brewer for 20 years. We ended up brewing together a couple times. He taught me a lot and helped me get a better system together. That was one of the turning point for me, hooking up with him and learning and getting more serious about it.
Khara: We both joined Foam on the Range when we first moved here. Getting connected into that network was really helpful.
Khara: … I still feel like it’s strange to be interviewed and answering questions about what I do. I just can’t get over it.
Brian: A lot of times I still feel like just a regular home brewer. People say “you’re a pro brewer”, well yeah, I guess so. When I think ‘pro brewer’ I think of big stars in the industry. It’s funny because we’re fans of the industry just like everyone else. We certainly have our favorite breweries.
So what are your favorite breweries? Do you agree on one?
Khara: It’s constantly changing. Our dog, who’s usually here with us, her name is Rogue so that’s definitely one of my favorites. In Colorado, I really like Ska and Avery, they’re a couple of my favorites. And Oskar Blues.
Brian: And Great Divide. You know, Stone and Dogfish Head are some of the ones outside the state that are big for me.
Khara: Russian River
Brian: Yeah, Russian River. Gosh, we could go on all day.
Do you have a favorite beer right now?
Khara: My favorite beer of ours is the Rye IPA (Ryeteous Rye IPA). I love IPA’s anyway, but I really like that one. My favorite beer right now that’s not Renegade… I really like Modus Hoperandi.
Brian: My favorite beer from Renegade is also Ryeteous.
Khara: I know what you’re going to say your favorite beer is…
Brian: Yeah, my favorite beer of all time is Angel’s Share by Lost Abbey, just a killer beer.
Khara: Ok, so… Modus Hoperandi would be my favorite ‘everyday’ beer, but my favorite ’special day’ beer would be Concecration.
With all of your ‘beer vacations’, do you have one that was the spark? Does one stand out among the others?
Brian: I think there’s different things we learned on different ones. We took a trip to Portland and one thing we learned was just how many awesome breweries you can pack into one city and they can all succeed.
Khara: Yeah, when people say “there are so many breweries popping up in Denver, are you worried?” Look at Portland, we didn’t rent a car or anything. We hopped on the train, went to our hotel, and did nothing but different beer stops for an entire week only on foot, or maybe an occasional train.
Brian: Since Denver is starting to grow in the beer scene, people will ask “do you feel like there are too many breweries here?” [Laughs] No.
Khara: One thing I hear from other people, and I agree, is that we’re all doing our own thing. You look at CAUTION and us and Copper Kettle, we’re all doing different stuff. So it’s appealing for people to come check us out, go to them, go to there. Some people like to hit the same place every day, but most people like to have a good rotation and I think Denver’s providing that.
Brian: I think our place reflects the elements that we liked that we picked up from different breweries on our travels. The atmosphere we’ve set up here and the beers we provide are a reflection of the different places we’ve traveled and the things we like.
Khara: Yeah, if it’s not a place that we enjoy and we feel is representative of us, then it’s not genuine and that’s going to come through. So when people ask “Hey, are you going to be putting in TV’s?”, we’re like no, we’re not putting in TV’s. If you want to go watch the Broncos game somewhere else, cool, come here for a beer another time. No hard feelings. That’s just the atmosphere we want to have.
Brian: When I think about beer companies that I really like, they’re the ones that stay really true to themselves and that beer company is really a reflection of the owner. Like Sam from Dogfish Head, he’s out there everywhere and really excited about his beer. That company is really a reflection of him. Same thing with Greg from Stone. That’s what we want Renegade to be, a reflection of us and our personality. That way we stay excited about it 20 years from now when Renegade’s out there, we’ll still be out there excited about it making other people excited about it. That’s sort of our philosophy about it.
Kara: We just wanted to do beers that were bigger, different, not necessarily your typicals, and just do some experimentation. Like the Mexican Amber with roasted pablanos, it’s not a really spicy chile beer, but its not a classic amber. It’s kind of somewhere in between. We just want people to try something that’s not like anything they’ve tried before.
Brian: The idea behind Renegade is let’s do what we want to do and not worry about the trends. A lot of people come in and say “When are you going to make a Saison?” and “Where’s your Saison”? I’m not going to make a Saison. I’m not going to do it because 1) everyone else is doing it and 2) I’m not a big fan of that style. That’s fine that it’s a trend and that’s fine that other people enjoy it. Not to knock it and I’m not knocking anyone for doing it, that’s just not something we’re interested in doing. We have an American Strong Ale, a lighter style beer with coffee in it. You can’t find that anywhere else. That’s what Renegade’s is meant to reflect, that’s what the name’s about.
What is your role in the brewing?
Brian: I work in all parts of the business right now. Renegade as I see it has 5 components: brewing, tap room, sales, marketing, and operations. Operations being finance, legal, insurance, and all that stuff. I deal with that exclusively. Marketing is really Khara’s job. Then you’ve got the three other parts, which I do parts of those – brewing, tap room, and sales. I do all the creative direction of the beers. I set what beers are coming out, what the style profile of those beers is going to be. I’m sort of the head of all the departments and have people helping me out with them because it’s just too much to do.
How did you decide on the 15 barrel system? Was it just so you didn’t have to upgrade later?
Khara: Basically, yeah. Our goal is distribution. You see so many people outgrowing so quickly, so we figured let’s just put a little more out there up front so we can grow in and not grow out.
Brian: I’d originally planned for a 10-barrel system. I’d learned pretty quickly from the guys that I asked running a 7-barrel system that they were running out. So I thought I’ll step up to a 10-barrel. Then I read this article by Patrick Rue from The Bruery, who’s somebody that I really respect – a newcomer to the industry that’s made a huge impact really quickly. Basically in the article he said if you want to be serious in the industry and you want to turn a profit, do not get anything smaller than a 15 barrel system. So after I read that I started looking at what it would take to upgrade to 15. It’s not like a 15 is double the cost of a 7, but it’s definitely more. So we just kind of rethought our startup and could we stretch it a little further to have capacity longer and not have to upgrade. Just taking the cues we could from the industry and decided to go with the larger system.
How are you looking to distribute?
Khara: We’re starting with tap sales and then we’re planning to can whenever we can buy a canning line.
Do you have any advice for home-brewers looking to start their own brewery?
Brian: The best piece of advice I can give is to ask questions. That was my best resource. Just asking guys “Where do I get business insurance and what business insurance do I even need?” That’s stuff you don’t even think about when you’re home-brewing.
Khara: You’ve gotta be OK with running a business most of the time and making some beer on the side. It’s all about running a business and beer is involved, but you have to be committed and have the brain for business. You’re the one with the business brain, not me.
Brian: If you’re not ready to deal with all the finance and insurance and legal aspects, don’t do it. As the owner of the business, you’re the only one that really should be doing that. You shouldn’t be hiring somebody out to do that stuff right away. You need to make sure your business is secure and things are set up correctly. And there’s a lot that goes into that. It’s not just hanging out and making beer. If you want to just hang out and make beer…
Khara: Buy a kick-ass home brew system.
Brian: Yeah, that’s just not the way it works.
Brian: Definitely not, no.
Khara: It’s different. If someone had told me I’d be working 90 hours a week, I would be like “You’re crazy!” But when it’s for yourself and something you’re building for yourself, it’s definitely still work, but it’s different.
Brian: It’s just something you do. Instead of going out to dinner, you go to work. Like I said, I’m doing different things. Sometimes I’m sitting at the desk, sometimes I’m back in the brewery, sometimes I’m out here pouring beers, sometimes I’m out trying to make a sale, and that keeps it interesting. So yeah, it might be 90 hours for the week, but it’s certainly tons of different stuff.
How has it been working together?
Khara: Not bad!
Brian: It’s been pretty easy. Like I was saying, we have our own things that we’re responsible for.
Khara: It definitely helps having clear definitions of this is what I’m doing and this is what you’re doing.
Brian: When we’re working the bar we’re more talking to customers than talking to each other, kinda doing our own thing. I think it’s good, you know, to have each other to bounce ideas off of and have somebody else that’s…
Khara: Just as tired as you are!
Brian: You get up and you’re like “I’m so tired today!” and hopefully the other person isn’t as tired. We can kind of get each other going.
Which beers will you be pouring at GABF?
Khara: The Blonde, Rye IPA, Mexican Amber, Red, and the Porter. [Laughs] Basically those were the five we had when it was time to enter. I feel like GABF is going to be a feeling of “We did it, we’re here, we got the badge!” It’s definitely a mix of apprehension and excitement, just wondering what it’s going to be like in the tap room and if we’re prepared.
Brian: We’re only 5 blocks from the Convention Center here, so we will probably be biking back and forth.
What will you be doing for GABF?
Khara: We’re doing a tap takeover at City o’ City on Wednesday night during GABF. That same night, at Watercourse, they are doing a beer dinner. Three of the courses will be paired with Renegade beers.
Brian: Thursday we have an after party here with Tap Hunter. Friday we are in the Beer for Brains Festival on top of Ghost Plate & Tap. We’re also doing a free shuttle running M-F 12-5 that picks up at Pints Pub. It does a loop that goes to Strange, Wit’s End, Breckenridge, here, and back to Pints Pub. The last pick up at Pints is at 4pm.
Anything else you have in the works that you’d like to share?
Brian: We’re planning a brunch.
Khara: Yeaahhhh, I’m excited about that! We were getting a lot of feedback from people that we had a lot of breakfast-friendly beers. So we’re going to partner with one of our food trucks, Chef Driven, and he’s going to do a few different brunch selections like breakfast burritos, chicken and waffles, and maybe french toast. We’re going to do red beers out of the Mexican Amber and the coffee beer and we may have some of the smoked IPA back by then.
Brian: We should have 4-5 beers to go with the menu. It should be Sunday, October 23rd.
So there you have it! All you need to know in order to start your own brewery, make millions of dollars, and bathe in unicorn blood. Well… maybe not, but hopefully you learned a little. If you haven’t already stopped by Renegade Brewing Co. I’d highly recommend it. For such a new brewery, their beer is on another level. Will it be good enough to take home a coveted GABF medal? Only time will tell. Do you think they have a shot at a medal?
Here are the rest of the pictures I took while hanging out with Brian and Khara:
925 West 9th Avenue
Denver, CO 80204
Tags: 15 barrel, 5 o'clock, Angel's Share, Another Thrill, avery, beer, Beer for Brains, Brewery, Brian O'Connell, caution, Colorado, Colorado State Fair, Concecration, Copper Kettle Brewing Co., craft beer, denver, Dogfish Head, Foam on the Range, GABF, Great American Beer Festival, great divide, Hit Me, home brewing, Khara O'Connell, Lost Abbey, Modus Hoperandi, Mr. Beer, Oskar Blues, renegade, Renegade Brewing Co., Rogue, russian river, ryeteous, santa fe, Santa Fe Arts District, Ska, Sunday Morning, Tap Hunter, una mas, unicorn blood