For the record, we had no idea what an "Upslope" was either. It's a Colorado thing apparently . You'll have read on to figure out what it actually is.
Per the usual, we can't get enough Colorado beer. The beer is amazing, the people are awesome, and they have some killer land to roam around on. Upslope Brewing Company has been making great beer since 2008, and they're not slowing down. We had a chance to talk to Matt Cutter (owner/founder) and Katie Hill (marketing guru), to see what they've got brewing these days.
This is Matt.
Hey Matt. What’s your background?
I’m originally from Cleveland and I literally didn’t drink craft beer in Ohio. I moved to Boulder in 1991, and I think Left Hand Sawtooth was my gateway (drug) beer. I came here to ski and discovered craft beer. I did all the outdoor things; hiking, mountain biking, etc. Then I started homebrewing back in 1995. There’s an on-premise brew shop in South Boulder, and you brewed it right there on premise. My next door neighbor was a homebrewer as well, so we got to chatting about it. When everyone else brought a 6-pack to parties, I’d bring some homebrew. People were excited to try my beer at these parties.
About a year later, in 1996, I was really interested in the craft beer revolution that was happening in Colorado and I thought…what would it be like to do this for a living? I sat down with the founder of Left Hand (I can’t believe he took the time to meet with me) and he helped me create a business plan. But that’s indicative of the industry…people supporting each other. I started looking for space, and quickly realized that nobody had any money to help fund this project. I ended up working in R&D for Seagate as a project manager. But I kept homebrewing. A little over 10 years later, in the summer of 2007, I went down to my cellar and found that old business plan. I revisited it, revised it, and it looked pretty good. I like business plans because they force you to think about the ins and outs of what a business actually needs. I knew how to homebrew, I could manage things pretty well, but I quickly realized that I didn’t know how to build a brewery. Dany pages contacted us from a brewery in Ushuaia, Argentina. He had experience brewing beer, building a brewery, and had a background as a chemist. I knew that I needed to team up with someone who had brewed on a production system, and ideally, someone who had already been with a startup. So I took a look on Probrewer and found Dany. At the time, I didn’t know if this was actually going to get off the ground.
As a sidenote, I remember speaking with my son about the business plan, and he asked me what it was for, so I told him it was for a brewery that I wasn’t sure would get going. He looked at me and said “but you have to do it…it’s your dream”. Powerful, honest words to hear when you’re not sure about something. At my house, over the stairs, I have a sign that says “what would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail.” It's good stuff.
So I found a space for a brewery, with 2200 sq ft, in North Boulder. Then I emailed Dany and said “I hope you were serious about brewing beer with us…I just bought a place to build a brewery”. Dany emailed me back right away and said “I bought my plane ticket and I’ll be there in two weeks.” He came to Boulder and we started carving out this brewery. I kept my day job while we figured this out. We developed the recipes of the Pale ale and IPA and just went from there.
Now that is a story. It looks like Colorado is a big part of your image.
We are, first and foremost, a Colorado brewery. That was the goal at the beginning. To be known through and through as a Colorado brewery. The way we structured it, and the way our branding manifests that image is in total support of that goal. The Colorado craft beer brand is well regarded nationally and internationally, so we built a brewery and structured a brand around that ideal. The more time you spend here, I think the culture of Boulder, and Colorado in general, becomes a part of you.
Since you started in 2008...how was it starting a brewery in the beginning of an enormous recession?
In terms of making sales…Henry just killed it. We were never able to produce enough beer for Henry to sell. For many years, our monthly sales goals were “an empty coldroom” (a coldroom is a giant refrigerator). Sales were never really an issue. The branding and the beer carried us through. The real scramble was cash. You can sell yourself right out of business if you don't keep the cashflow consistent. We almost went under in March of 2009. We had 3k left in the bank. My friend Steve, a mortgage broker, found a way to pull more money out of my house, getting us some much-needed liquidity. In Sept 2009, I got a small line of credit from a local bank and that kept us going.
So like…Henry was literally working for beer.
We didn’t have any way to get a payroll going, so I cut a deal with them for equity in the company. He knew that Henry was looking for a change and provided an introduction. I interviewed Henry in September 2008 and instantly knew that he was the guy. Henry had never sold beer before, but had sold Christmas trees back in Atlanta. He was an avid outdoorsman (perhaps the most avid outdoorsman that I know), and was Director of Accreditation for an accreditation program for outdoor adventure programs at the time. Henry was hired and began to figure out how to bring this new brewery's products, Upslope Pale Ale and Upslope India Pale Ale, into the marketplace. He opened one account at a time, many of them very hard fought to take on a new brewery's beer.
Where did you get your name?
Upon moving to Colorado, I’ve never heard of the word “upslope”. Here on the front range, specifically in the springtime, these huge storms come in extremely quickly and create a lot of chaos. This intense weather system is called an “Upslope”. It’s the locality of the word “Upslope” which unique, and very much something that happens in Colorado.
How do you source your ingredients?
When we started out in 2008, it was right during the hops crisis. We couldn’t get any hops. We ended up sourcing hops from Argentina. They were cascade hops, but their flavors were certainly different from the cascade hops in the northwest. We’ve been stuck with them since, and it gives our beer a unique earthy character. We have done some all-colorado beers, using all-colorado ingredients. We try to get malt from local suppliers whenever possible. We’d love to use whole cone hops, but they’re a little tough because they oxidize so quickly. Generally we just do our best to use what’s around us.
Why is Colorado such a beer mecca? What’s so appealing about it?
I think there’s a perfect storm of things that came together to make Colorado so strong in craft beer. For one, it’s the laws. You can self-distribute as a brewery. It’s also one liquor store, one liquor license (in other states, a liquor license might cover you for multiple locations). You can go, store by store, and you develop those relationships, one store owner at a time. Boulder beer, as an example, was the first craft beer license in the U.S.
CO also has phenomenal water. The reservoirs for Upslope pull from different places up in the mountains. There’s a lot that contributes to CO beer in the end.
What keeps you creative with so many styles out in the craft industry now?
We have the benefit of having a built-in research and development. Our second brewery maintains a bulk of the production and packaging. Our original brewery is where we can do barrel-aging, collaborations with other brewers, and other experiments. We certainly like to experiment, and sometimes the experiment goes wrong. But if you’re not trying something new, you’re not doing it right. We have barrel-aged sours, Belgian dark strong ales, sessions IPA’s, coffee-brown porters, all coming down the pipe…
We (literally) just drooled on our note pad. Do you identify with a particular “kind” of brewery?
That’s an easy one. We are an outdoor, lifestyle brewery. Our logo is an image of the outdoors and speaks to the outdoor lifestyle. Our manifesto is “ascend to new heights”. It all speaks to the kind of folks who drink our beer.
It’s hip to be green these days. From what we’ve heard, you built sustainability into most of your production.
We’re all about sustainability. We make sure to educate our consumers and community on how our business practices are sustainable every day. For instance, we’ve never even looked into the cost of bottling our beer. Cans are much more sustainable, better for the beer, and easier to take up to the top of a mountain and get an epic picture.
What are you drinking right now that isn’t Upslope?
Matt –Variety is the spice of life, so I’ve certainly got a few great beers in the fridge. I had a La Trappe quadruple. I had it in my beer cellar for a year and a half. It was everything I hoped it would be and more. I’m also into session beers right now. Stone go-to IPA is a great session beer. Firestone Walker beers are also awesome right now.
Published September, 2014.