Oskar Blues vet John Bryant returns to sell Washington's No-Li brews in Colorado
Yet another out-of-state brewery will test the Colorado waters in a few weeks, but this one has the backing of someone who knows how to run the rapids.
No-Li Brewhouse from Spokane, Washington, plans to sell four of its beers in bomber bottles and possibly on tap here starting in mid-September as part of an expansion into Colorado, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. -- markets that "have cultural ties to the spirit of No-Li and Spokane," according to No-Li co-owner John Bryant.
Founded in 1993 by Mark Irvin, No-Li -- which was formerly called Northern Lights Brewing -- recently partnered with Bryant, the president of Longmont's Oskar Blues from 2009 to 2011 and a top executive at Odell Brewing for five years prior to that.
Bryant, who also spent ten years developing Oregon's Deschutes Brewing into one of the best-recognized craft brewers in the nation, helped Oskar Blues grow into one of Colorado's top-producing breweries during that time, but left to return to his home state and hooked up with Irvin, who was trying to reinvigorate his longtime establishment.
"It's been a homecoming of sorts," says Bryant. "Whenever my family and I would return to Spokane, for Christmas or at other times of year, we would always go to the little brewery by the airport and buy some bombers there and have some fun."
Bryant's goal in moving home was to find a brewery where he could continue to work in the industry he loved but without the pressures of a quickly-growing larger company.
"We are not trying to be the next Oskar Blues or the next Odell," he explains. "It's not that one strategy is better than another. It's just that we all have a different plan and we are a different place in our lives. I'm excited beyond beer and monetary rewards.
"This isn't about volume and market share," he continues. "It's about doing something with beer in the community and in each community we go into."
But both of those things will certainly come into play at No-Li rolls out its beers in Denver, a town with a big thirst but a limited amount of shelf space.
Bryant says No-Li plans to ramp up production from 1,500 barrels a year to about 4,000, but warns that if Irvin isn't able to personally oversee production of each batch then the brewery will scale back. "I fundamentally believe that Mark Irvin is one of the best brewers in the United States, so if he isn't able to be a part of every beer, we will slow down. You are not going to see us in fifty states; we want to select a few states that we think are relevant," he explains.
Bryant, who sees Colorado as his second home, also plans to spend a lot of time here, personally talking to liquor store buyers and bars and hand-selling their beers. "We plan to have 10,000 conversations with Coloradans in liquor stores," he adds.
Getting into the Washington, D.C./Baltimore market has involved a even greater challenge, however. The Starr Hill Brewery in Virginia already owns the rights to a beer called Norther Lights. After failing to initiate any contact with the owner of that brewery, however, Bryant and Irvin decided to change their own name entirely from Northern Lights to No-Li and rebrand some of their beers as well. Silent Treatment Pale, for instance, is named for what they say they got from the owner of Starr Hill.
Silent Treatment Pale is one of the four beers that will be available in Colorado. The others are Born & Raised IPA, Crystal Bitter and the Jet Star Imperial IPA.
No-Li will host a tapping party at Falling Rock Taphouse on September 15.
Westword's Beer Man on Twitter at @ColoBeerMan and on Facebook at Colo BeerMan
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Denver dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.