Craft Brewers: Communities Enduring Mother Nature

By Andy Sparhawk

Fires in the west, storms in the east, and record temperatures from one coast to the other—the U.S. seems to be experiencing the worst of Mother Nature this summer. America’s small brewers are working hard to support their communities affected by such extremes while worrying about their own wellbeing and livelihoods.

Affected by Fire

The Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs, Colo., quickly became the most destructive wild fire in Colorado history, and is just one of dozens of  fires burning across the Western U.S. Trinity Brewing Company’s Jason Yester chronicled the blaze through pictures and updates on Facebook. While the brewery was not damaged, it was evacuated for a time and fire has devastated the entire surrounding community. We caught up with Jason for a first-hand account of the fire and an update on how the community and brewery are doing now.

Saturday, June 23

I was at my home in Manitou Springs building a new chicken coop, when I looked up at the sky around noon, and saw smoke rising from the northwest. Waldo Canyon is extremely close to Manitou, so I headed up the closest trail head to take a look. I saw a decent column of smoke forming almost immediately. Over the next 10 hours all four ridges above Manitou went down with no sign of the fire slowing at all. Even though news channels were reporting Manitou would not be evacuated, I knew I was going to get a phone call or a knock on the door telling me to leave the city that night. I honestly thought Manitou was doomed, but at that point, I didn’t feel threatened at the pub or at the neighborhood north of Garden of the Gods.

I was evacuated from Manitou that night. I went around my neighborhood before leaving and woke up my neighbors to make certain they were getting out of town safely. I made my way with my two dogs and necessities packed into my Jeep and headed over to Trinity’s assistant brewer’s house to try and get some sleep. Sleep seemed very rare throughout this entire ordeal…I think I was up nearly the entire night trying to stay up to date and keep as many people informed as I could. I had to finish work in the brewery that night and ended up working till 4:30 am, and then had to be back at 7:00 am on Monday to brew.

Tuesday, June 26

It seemed almost 100 percent luck that saved Manitou as I understand it. Firefighters reported a small rain storm that came in and changed the winds, pushing the fire away from the city right as it was certain to jump Hwy. 24. That happened on Monday morning and I finally thought we could relax a little…boy was wrong. The fire changed direction, pushing through Queens Canyon and towards the neighborhood where Trinity is located. Tuesday morning again seemed to be a small bit of relief, as the C-130s flew in and started helping. We watched the huge planes all morning and early afternoon from Trinity. Then suddenly the C-130s were nowhere to be seen—I’ve been told they left to fight fires near Boulder. It seemed like moments after the planes left, flames climbed the ridge above the Mountain Shadows neighborhood just west of Trinity.

We were given the order to evacuate the pub at that point, but some patrons pretty much refused to leave. I remember one of bartenders arguing with a table of guys who wouldn’t leave as they wanted to finish their beers. But, I thought it was pretty much time to leave as you could literally feel the heat from the fire when you walked outside the pub. Evacuation traffic was at a standstill, so the assistant brewer and I finished kegging off one of our oak barrels before we had a chance to drive out.

Friday, June 29

We were able to reopen the pub on June 29. I’m not sure what is going to happen in Mountain Shadows. Some people want to rebuild, others do not and are likely going to move…we have definitely lost a number of our regulars. We are moving forward, but I’m afraid this event will have a dramatic impact on our pub. The pub has developed a certain level of homeyness and truly has a community feel to it. It’s something I’ve worked for and am extremely proud of. When Mountain Shadows went down the entire city was dismal and cold—I think most people were in a large state of shock. When Trinity re-opened on Friday, you could feel a since of relief and celebration that our community is strong and we support each other in times like this. I think for the people staying, this experience will prove to be a strengthening experience long term.

Sunday, July 8

It has been very difficult since the fire. Although a number of folks had extremely close calls, none of our employees lost their properties. I’ve had a couple things happen to me through this transition. First, and most importantly, I saw how generous and sharing the people in Colorado Springs and our state are. It does feel good that folks supported each other so well and we all made it through this thing together. I learned that Governor Hickenlooper is a great leader in our state, and I truly appreciate all the help he gave our community. I saw how brave and giving our firefighters are, and not only ours but crews from all over the country came to help! The second and most overwhelming feeling I have is one of being humble. Nature will always be more powerful than man, and this time it was directly in our faces. I feel humbled and quiet for my close friends who have lost their houses, and a sympathy I can’t even begin to explain for them. The third feeling I’ve had is gratitude—how lucky I am to have a house, a killer pub, and to be surrounded by such awesome people in my community.

Update

As fire crews work to get the costliest fire in Colorado history under control, ironically, the forecasted rain for the area could mean more trouble for residents as the burn area poses an increased risk for flash floods.

Sweltering Heat and Aggressive Storms

Over one million homes and businesses were without electricity after violent storms knocked out power to much of the mid-Atlantic, last week. In Alexandria, Va., Port City Brewing lost electricity for days, making it impossible to cool over 13,000 gallons of beer in various stages of conditioning. They secured a mobile generator to try to save the beer from excessive temperatures that could destroy the beer.

The Washington Post Visits Port City Brewing

 

Power was restored to Port City on the morning of July 5. Thanks to the generator, the brewery was able to sustain the temperatures in five of the six fermentation tanks. As for the sixth, Port City Founder, Bill Butcher provided an update in this excerpt from a letter to the D.C. beer community he published on the brewery’s blog

Many have asked us if we were able to “save the beer.” We continue to monitor the beer very closely, and we test and taste it daily. Five of our six tanks appear to be just fine. The 6th tank is a 60-barrel batch of lager beer that fermented at a higher temperature than we intended.

There is a beer style that developed in San Francisco called steam beer, or California Common beer. It is a beer made with lager yeast and fermented at higher temperatures like an ale. This is exactly what happened to this 60-barrel tank of our beer.

As a result, this storm has given us Derecho Common beer.

We will release the limited Derecho Common beer in early August. It will be draft only, and will be limited to about 120 kegs, which will be sold only to bars and restaurants in the D.C. Metro area.

How to Help

Find out how you can support the Red Cross and their efforts to help those affected by the recent disasters and weather.

Learn more: Power Outages Affect Millions; Wildfires Rage in the West