It all started aptly over a beer in San Francisco. She was on vacation for the long weekend, sitting in the Anchor Steam taproom sipping a post-tour beer. He, a brewer, had just gotten off his shift and was ready for a cold one. The two started talking, he regaled her about skiing and fishing in Colorado and both of them discussed desiring to live the good life.
It didn’t take long for Kevin Selvy, a Denver native, to move Marisa to the Vail Valley, where they started Crazy Mountain Brewery four years ago.
“We knew we wanted to fill our lives with passionate high Rockies pursuits: Brewing the finest craft beer, skiing Vail’s infinite Back Bowls, fishing clear mountain streams, hiking with our dogs, and basically loving life,” says Marisa Selvy.
At the time the Selvy’s opened Crazy Mountain in January 2010, there were no other production craft breweries for 100 miles. The pair, and their chocolate lab Doobie, were in charge of everything at the time – they brewed, packaged, slung beer in the taproom, performed their own construction remodeling and drywall, hand-delivered beer throughout the Vail area in a beat up pick-up truck, cleaned the toilets, and mopped the floors. Needless to say, fishing, hiking, and skiing were put on the back burner.
Their hard work paid off, though, as the brewery has grown to 30 employees and has undergone two major expansions in their first four years to keep up with demand. The first expansion came in 2011, and then again at the end of 2013, when Crazy Mountain expanded from 12,000 barrels to 20,000 barrels projected for this year. The 20-bbl mountain brewery also surpassed the Selvy’s expectations in terms of distribution – their original plan was to stay local until their fifth year in business, but by their third year Crazy Mountain beers were already in 14 states and three countries.
The laid-back taproom in Edwards, which features beetle kill tap handles and furniture (all the wood was salvaged by Crazy Mountain employees), consistently pours 10 original draft beers ranging from its flagship amber to a hoppy barley wine or a citrusy Wit. Annually, Crazy Mountain produces eight year-round beers and around another 18 one-offs and seasonal brews.
“Our tasting room used to just be a quiet spot for locals to grab an after-work pint, and it has grown to become part of a vacation agenda’s must-see for tourists on holiday from all over the world,” says Selvy. “Our beer still has the same quality ingredients and is hand-crafted with much love (no automated brewing here).”
While it’s too soon to say, the Selvy’s are potentially “eyeballing a move” to open a Denver production plant while keeping their location in Edwards as home base. We caught up with Marisa Selvy to find out about Crazy Mountain’s success and get details about what’s to come in the brewery’s busy fourth year.
What are some big lessons you have learned in your first four years in business?
More than we could list. I guess the overarching lesson that we’ve learned over the last few years is that this is an industry of passion and if you want to be successful, you have to manage every aspect of a brewery with this passion leading the way. You need to surround yourself with people that share this same passion. This includes employees, consumers, distributors, vendors – they all have to share a passion for not only the beer aspect of the craft brewing industry but the lifestyle and culture of it as well. You’ll get into trouble if you make decisions that aren’t motivated by this passion. We’ve learned this lesson the hard way a few times.
What do you think about your clientele? How do you think it would be different if you were in another location?
They say, ‘If you are lucky enough to live in the mountains, you are lucky enough.’ The locals who live in the Vail Valley are very happy-go-lucky, laid-back, friendly people who appreciate the value of sunshine paired with a cold craft beer. Most of the locals are transplants from other parts of the country that came here in search of a more positive and less complicated life. The people who live here fell blessed and proud, and are great supporters of local businesses like Crazy Mountain Brewery. Craft beer also pairs well with an outdoorsy lifestyle and most of our clientele lives very active lifestyles with summer and winter seasonal sports. A cold pint is the best thing to quench your thirst after a day of mountain biking in the wildflowers or getting face shots skiing tree runs on a powder day.
Your brewery has a great set-up with the unique outdoor wooden shacks housing your grain room and mill, what was your inspiration for this?
At Crazy Mountain, we are surrounded by beetle kill pinewood and are doing our best to help combat the epidemic that has devastated Colorado forests. In an effort to help clean up these dead trees that are a huge danger during fire season, Crazy Mountain is using the branches and trunks to create our tap handles and all of the furniture and sheds at our brewery. The wood is all gathered and hand-cut internally by our employees. Each tap handle is made by hand and is uniquely different from the next. Our aim behind this program is to not only pair craft-made tap handles with our craft beer, but to help protect and clean up our valuable forests.
I have heard rumors of a possible expansion to Denver – is there any truth to these rumors?
We are currently eyeballing a move to open a Denver plant and still keep our headquarters in the Vail Valley, but it is too soon to say…
What are your goals for year four?
Our largest goal is to move out of the ‘craft brewery’ designation and into the ‘regional brewery’ designation. A regional brewery is defined as a brewery that produces over 15,000-bbls of beer per year. While it is an arbitrary and silly designation that really means nothing, it is a landmark for us in terms of our production rate that we are excited to hit. We also want to take our annual beer festival, Ed Fest, to the next level. We want to grow the number of breweries that attend and bring in a nationally touring band. Also on the docket for 2014 is releasing another handful of canned beers. Maybe find some time to fish a little more as well.
Any new recipes up your sleeves?
Crazy Mountain is developing an awesome recipe for an Imperial Red Ale called “Sangre de Diablo”. The name translates to “blood of the devil” and it will be a beast of a beer. It should be available on draft in March and then in 22-ounce bombers in the fall.
What is your favorite beer to brew at Crazy Mountain?
Brewing Lava Lake Wit is wonderful because we use a variety of spices and the whole factory smells like chamomile flower and sweet orange peel for the day. It is heavenly (and cathartic) to inhale. We also love brewing our fresh hopped ale, Sticky Fingers, because we get to go to Palisade to hand-pick ripe hops straight from the vine in August and then quickly drive them back to our brewery and dump them in the boil. This process of wet hopping yields maximum lupulin content and hoppy goodness.
What is your favorite Colorado brewery and why?
It is hard to narrow it down to just one favorite, but we are huge fans of Breckenridge Brewery. Their success story is something we use as inspiration – a new brewery starting out in a sleepy mountain town that grows into a craft beer powerhouse distributing to all corners of the country and building their own 18-acre compound in Littleton. Breckenridge consistently makes good beer and they have a great following nationwide.
What do you think about the craft beer explosion in our state?
Colorado is to beer what California is to wine, and we are proud to be making beer in this fine state. The craft beer industry is one of the only industries out there where the more members we have, the better. Seeing more craft beer tap handles around town means less available placements for the big breweries. Converting American light lager beer drinkers into craft beer drinkers is a huge win, no matter whose craft beer does the trick. Craft breweries can band together to gain more market-share and increase exposure to consumers as allies, not competitors. I love the craft beer explosion because we all support each other and root for each other because we have a common rival.