Long-time customers at Bristol Brewing Company in Colorado Springs, Colo., get a distant stare in their eyes when they speak of the beloved old tasting room they had been visiting since 1994. There they could huddle with fellow beer men in a dark, malty place to marvel at the fact that craft beers as good as Laughing Lab Scottish Ale or Red Rocket had come to their neighborhood.
All that changed about six months ago with Bristol’s move into a new eclectic, grand space carved out of the former Federal-style building of the Ivywild Elementary School. As one old timer marveled, “Now you see wives and college kids here.” He then ginned, “including my wife, she really loves the new space.”
With great tasting beer (the Compass IPA is pure seduction on the palate) the challenge in the move was to get a new, larger system featuring the latest computerized brewing assist system from the German company BrauKon. Brewer Chris Hastings found he had plenty of help on this count. “I listen to customers,” he said. “With their help, Owner Mike Bristol and I were able to get our five flagship beers tweaked to taste right really fast.”
The BrauKon system, which doubled Bristol’s capacity to 34 barrels while using 25 percent less grain, does a lot of the manual work with its rising columns of stainless steel towers and holding tanks, as well as a touchscreen monitoring and control system. But it does not remove the decision-making and control at the heart of being a craft beer brewer. “At the old operation, my body used to be tired every night, ” Hastings explained. “Now my brain is tired at the end of the day because of the possibilities that this system gives us in making great beer.”
Customers approve of what they taste. Beer sales in the tasting room, with table service from the adjoining Meat Locker Delicatessen at the end of the hall (which is supported by an in-house bakery and butcher), is running 20 percent ahead of projection.
Hasting’s journey to brewer was the typical, roundabout journey so commonly told by these tradesmen. A land surveyor who was laid off in the recession, he walked down the street from his former employer’s office to the Bristol Brewery where he was a regular. He was hired to work packaging beer for retail sale. From there, he advanced quickly to fourth brewer. When the planned change in venues created an opening for a head brewer, Hastings approached owner Mike Bristol to ask for the job.
“Mike put trust in me to give me this great opportunity,” Hastings said in his understated manner. He is a man clearly happy with his career choice. But owners Mike and Amanda Bristol have a tradition of believing in staff and community.
Three times a year Bristol brews three specialty beers and donates 100 percent of the profits. These beers include the Venetucci Pumpkin Ale (which sells out in two weeks) to benefit Venetucci Farms, a nonprofit that teaches kids about farming and food, Cheyenne Canon Pinon Nut Brown Ale to benefit the Friends of Cheyenne Canyon, and the Smokebrush Porter to benefit the Smokebrush Uncle Wilber Foundation.