Chain Reaction Brewing, which will celebrate its one-year anniversary next month, gave itself an early present last week when it installed a seven-barrel system that it bought from friends at Lone Tree Brewing. The twenty-year-old system has no bells or whistles and has been used by at least three other breweries – two of them in Colorado – but it's still an upgrade for Chain Reaction owners and brewers Zack and Chad Christofferson, who will now be able to take an occasional breather from the two tiny systems – a one-barrel and a ten-gallon – with which they opened.
Lone Tree owners John Winter and Jason Wiedmaier “were great mentors to us when we decided to open,” says Zack Christofferson. “And they really understood how the one-barrel life was going to be crazy for us.” In fact, Winter and Wiedmaier offered to sell their system if they ever decided to expand themselves. That ended up happening this month, when Lone Tree Brewing acquired a new twenty-barrel brewing system.
Lone Tree's original equipment, which dates back to around 1994 or 1995, was first used by a brewery in Michigan before being sold to Aspen Brewing. From there, it went to Lone Tree, which opened in 2011 and has brewed 745 batches since then. "It is about the closest to the manual way to doing things as you can get,” Christofferson says of the system. “But we don't mind the hard work. We like it. We like the idea of using ingenuity to put new-school beers on an old-school system."
“As brewers, we are problem-solvers and engineers of our craft. Automation sometimes takes the fun out of brewing,” he adds.
Chain Reaction is waiting for a final piece of equipment in order to hook up the system, but once it is ready in late May or early June, the Christoffersons plan to use it to make their six flagship beers: Pink Peppercorn Saison, Orange Cream Ale, IPA, Pale Ale, Red Ale and Belgian Rye Stout. They have also purchased new kegs and fermentation tanks to help handle the increased production.
They will then shift all of their experimental beers – something that Chain Reaction prides itself on – to the one-barrel system. Since opening in June 2014, the cousins have brewed 125 different beers.
The change will allow Chain Reaction to fill growlers of all of its beers and to sell kegs of its flagships to outside accounts, like bars and restaurants. It will also give the brewery the ability to attend more summer festivals.
For the first official brew day, Chain Reaction plans to have the Lone Tree Brewing partners over to make a collaboration beer. "It's a personal friendship we have with those guys — and a deep love for that system," Christofferson says, adding that he isn't sure yet what the beer will be. "That's the proper way to restart her up and push off her new life."