Brewers in Steamboat Springs driven by passion and love of craft

John F. Russell
Nate Johansing, who co-owns Butcherknife Brewing Co. with Mark Fitzgerald, checks the status of a batch of Hefeweizen Bavarian ale.
John F. Russell

— By the time mid-morning rolls around, Nate Johansing and Rob Schwarz are well into the process of producing the latest batch of the Butcherknife Brewing Co.’s popular Hefeweizen beers.

Brewing is a process that requires patience, attention to detail and, in the case of small local craft breweries, the ability to wear many hats. The latest generation of craft breweries in Steamboat Springs shares a passion and love of the craft. But as it turns out, the owners often are the ones running the process, cleaning the tanks and making sure end’s meet.

On this day, Johansing is in a room filled with large stainless steel tanks covered with levers and dials, hoses that would make a fireman jealous and enough kegs to supply a college fraternity for a semester.

But it’s the aroma and his passion for creating a great beer that truly is intoxicating.

“I tried to stay as close to the true Bavarian style as possible,” Johansing said. “What keeps it traditional is the different temperature ranges that we are using throughout mash part of the brewing. We start out with a lower temperature and then raise it throughout the whole mash schedule, and what we are looking for is a specific compound that is released with the wheat that gives it the banana and clove flavor.”

It’s the chance to brew beers, like the Hefeweizen, that drew Johansing to the business a few years ago. He built and opened the building, which houses the local up-and-coming brewery, with Mark Fitzgerald in 2014.

But the company’s roots go back to 2009 when Fitzgerald registered the business with the state of Colorado. Shortly after, Johansing joined the company. The owners served their home-brewed pilot batches to locals starting in 2011, and the two have been working on the company’s new facility the past couple of years.

Luckily, Johansing and Fitzgerald are brewers and understand that some of the best things are worth the wait.

The new facility has allowed the two to build the Butcherknife following in Steamboat and to craft some tasty creations including the Hefeweizen, Blonde X, Amputator, The Bridge, Simultaneous Saison and Morningside Porter.

The same passion for beer can be found just down the road at the Storm Peak Brewing Co., where Tyler Patterson and his brothers were brewing a batch of Funky Touch Belgian-style pale ale in the days leading up to Christmas.

“Our passion is beer,” said Wyatt Patterson, co-owner and managing partner of Storm Peak. “We started this project because we wanted to brew beer. We enjoy drinking beer, and we love the process, and we enjoy talking to people about our product and sharing our product with people.”

On this day, brothers Tyler, Wyatt and Zach Patterson shared in the process of making one of the companies most popular menu items.

“Today we are brewing our Funky Touch, which is a Belgian-style pale ale,” Wyatt Patterson said. “So it is a classic American pale ale. It’s kind of hoppy, slight bitterness. Then we put some Belgian yeast on, so it gets some really good flavor. It has a kind of spicy, clovey Belgian flavor that you find in a Belgian beer and the hops kind of round that out and bitter it up a little bit.

“The fun thing about brewing this batch is that we are basically brewing American pale ale … then we add the Belgian yeast and that gives it all these flavors that you otherwise would not get if you used regular clean finishing American ale yeast. So it’s fun to put something in the fermenter that’s somewhat simple and not very involved and not very character rich and getting out something that has tons of flavor and a wide variety of smells and tastes.”

Storm Peak also can brew six beers at a time, and Patterson said each of those beers take about three to four weeks for the company to make.

“Right now on the menu, Storm Peak has eight regular beers and two on nitrous, so we take the same beers that are on the regular taps and put those on nitrogen, which brings out a completely different flavor, different aromas and different mouth feel,” he said. “We are also doing some pilot batches, so a lot of times if you come in and ask us what we got in the back on the pilot batch, we might have something that we can bring out and pour for you that’s not on the menu. So that’s a lot of fun.”

While many people might expect a growing competition among Steamboat Springs local craft beer breweries, which also includes Mahogany Ridge Brewery and Grill, Johansing said that’s really not the case.

He feels like having Storm Peak and Mahogany Ridge out there delivering craft beers is a great situation and said there is a lot of mutual respect among the brewers and a passion to see craft brewing continue to grow in Steamboat.

Patterson echoes the sentiment. And while the different brewers are motivated by their own love, there also seems to be a common reward at the end of the day.

“The moment the beer comes out of the tap and gets served to a customer, I love to see their reaction,” Patterson said. “I love getting their feedback and I love talking to them about beer. That’s why we do this. Yeah, we love brewing and we enjoy the process, but ultimately, it’s sharing our product with our friends and family.“

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966

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