Wooden barrels look pretty on the outside, but it’s on the inside where the action happens. And it’s those chemical reactions where Zach Nichols has found an attraction.
Nichols is in the process of creating Cellar West Artisan Ales, a Boulder brewery that will focus solely on oak barrel-fermented beers that are made with wild Brettanomyces yeast. He plans to open this fall, with weekend hours, in a small space at 1001 Lee Hill Road, suite 10.
“There are a lot of great breweries in Boulder, but no one who is specifically focused on barrel fermentation,” says Nichols. “I’m fascinated by what goes on inside those barrels. It’s very complex.”
Nichols first got into the Boulder brewery business in 2013 as the co-founder of Sanitas Brewing, but he sold his stake in Sanitas to the other owners last year in order to start this project.
To do it, Nichols will actually brew his beer at Wild Woods Brewing, where he and the owners share a Wisconsin heritage. From there, he will truck the wort (unfermented beer) to his own facility and inoculate it with a blend of Brettanomyces that he developed himself by “raising up” the dregs from bottles of beer from breweries that he loves from around the world. Brettanomyces is a more wild form of the yeast that brewers use to ferment beer. It can be found in natural settings and can create unpredictable results and unusual “barnyard”-like flavors.
This business model is one that has been used to great success already in Colorado by both Crooked Stave in Denver and Casey Brewing and Blending in Glenwood Springs. Crooked Stave now brews its own beer on site, but it previously made its wort at Epic Brewing.
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Unlike those two breweries, however, Nichols won’t add souring bacteria like lactobacillus and pediococcus to his beers, preferring to focus on Brett alone. He also plans to concentrate on making dry-hopped Brett beers rather than using fruit for added flavor, which is more common.
“There are a lot of fun hop varieties coming out now, and I’m really intrigued by them and their character. We are going to be using a lot of fun New World varieties,” Nichols says. “Vanilla, coconut flavors. It is pretty impressive what they are able to do these days.”
Nichols plans to package the majority of his beers in 750-ml bottles and sell them out of the taproom, which will be small but will include a patio. He isn’t sure yet about distribution since he will only be making a limited quantity of beer initially. Cellar West will start with twenty to thirty oak barrels — most of them former wine or spirits barrels — but hopes to add on quickly.