Q&A: Jagged Mountain Head Brewer Alyssa Thorpe on Being the Boss and Looking Forward

Thorpe brewing up a new beer.
Thorpe brewing up a new beer. Alyssa Thorpe
Alyssa Thorpe is the head brewer at Jagged Mountain Brewing. She came on in 2019 and immediately made a name for herself by brewing drinkable, approachable beers. Thorpe also operates a popular Instagram account, @southernbeergirl, where she provides a window into the life of a professional brewer and advocates for diversity in the industry.

We spoke with her about her background, the challenges of COVID and her plans for the future.

How did you get started in the brewing industry?

I started at a little craft brewery called Mu back in the day, in the same building that Lady Justice is in today. I worked there for six or seven months. I was a home brewer before that, and I was super interested in brewing and wanted to cross over to the professional side. I volunteered at Mu a lot and eventually got hired on as their brewer. It kind of went wily in the end, and I left on not so great terms.
[Mu brewery closed in early 2017.]

I also went to Regis University at that time, in their craft brewery program. After graduating, I couldn't find a job, and I was starting to get discouraged, and then I landed a job at Lone Tree. I pretty much learned everything I know at Lone Tree. I was there for three years before coming to Jagged Mountain.

What position did you get hired on for at Lone Tree Brewing?

I actually got hired on as brewer. The head brewer posted on Facebook looking for a brewer, and like twenty people tagged me in the comments section. When I went in for the interview, he said, "I kind of feel like I have to hire you, since twenty people said I should." So I started out as brewer then, even though I didn't really have the skills at the time, but I worked under some great people. It was a shift brewing position. We all worked together; we all did everything.

How did you end up getting the head brewer job at Jagged Mountain? Did you get recruited, or was it a posting?

It was a posting. I was getting a little tired at Lone Tree, brewing the same thing over and over again, since they are a packaging brewery. I've always been more of a creative person, so I was wanting to go into something a little smaller, where I could be more creative. I saw the posting for Jagged Mountain, and I had been in a few times and seen the system. I ended up interviewing and getting the job.

What was Jagged Mountain looking for in a brewer? Did you pitch them on a specific theme or brewing lineup?

I got the sense that they were looking [to give a brewer a lot of creative control]. There were some beers that they wanted to keep. They also kind of said during the interview that the creativity is all up to the brewer.
Alyssa Thorpe is the head brewer at Jagged Mountain Brewing.
Alyssa Thorpe

What kind of goals did you have coming into Jagged Mountain?

During my interview, I remember pitching that Jagged Mountain is so close to the baseball stadium and, knowing the high-ABV beers that were on tap at the time, I kind of pitched my background from Lone Tree, a lot of sessionable beers, a lot of drinkable beers, lager. I thought that it would fit in really well at Jagged, and having that versatility. I definitely had that goal.

And I assume they liked that?

[Laughs] Yeah.

What kind of reception have you had since taking over? Do people miss some of the old beers?

There are some beers that have gone away that I refuse to bring back that they miss, like the old IPA that we had on tap that I completely did away with. But mostly I feel like we've gotten really good feedback from the change.

What's the most challenging part of being a head brewer?

Not having that experience and kind of being thrown into it. I started in 2019, and that was our biggest barrelage year ever [with roughly 800 barrels], so it was learning how to schedule things out and do the things that I didn't have experience with. I had to get confidence in being the boss. It was totally worth it, because I was doing the stuff that I wanted instead of [the same beer] every day.

Did you have an assistant brewer to start out?

I had an assistant back then [Nathan Watt]. Now he has his own brewery up in Fraser called Vicious Cycle Brewing. We started together, and it was a bit of a weird power dynamic, because I was still trying to figure out everything, and he'd been working here a while already — but we're good friends, now so it's all good [laughs]. After he left, our GM, Chad, and I, we interviewed a few people and landed on a guy who actually just left for Oregon after two and a half years, unfortunately. So now I'm training one of our bartenders to be my assistant.

You've done a lot of collaborations at Jagged. What drives you to do these collabs?

I've always felt like I've been big on networking, especially within the brewing industry. My friends in the industry got me the job at Lone Tree, so I've always wanted to keep that friendship and attitude about brewing beer; it brings people together. It's one of those industries that isn't competitive at all, especially in Denver. Being able to be creative with my friends and learning things from other people, too. Even though I've been the head brewer here for three years, I'm never above learning something new from somebody else. It's always a really great thing when two brewers come together and you can teach each other.

What do you like to drink at Jagged Mountain, and where do you drink in the Denver area?

I drink all of our beers, but the Four Pass Pilsner is the number-one thing I drink, because it's easy and super clean. As far as where I drink, I live in RiNo, and I like to go to Bierstadt and Our Mutual Friend. I also like to go down to Baere and TRVE. I don't get out so much anymore, though.

What do you have coming out over the next few months?

We just had a collaboration with Lady Justice and Laws Whiskey that we're planning on canning in the next couple of months. It's a bock with Laws barrel-aged honey, and then we also aged some honey malt in one of the barrels, which gave it an interesting character. Then we put black peach tea and peaches in it. It sounds like a lot is going on, but it's very drinkable. The honey malt goes into the mash unmilled, so it adds a lot of [aromatic components] to the beer.

How challenging was COVID for you and the brewery?

It was pretty challenging. It was super scary after working such a busy year [in 2019] and finally feeling like I was getting in the groove of things. One, being unsure if I was even going to have a job anymore. And two, figuring out ways for the brewery that we can sell beer. And then going back to packaging, which I said I would never do [laughs]. We actually started mobile canning, and I complain about it, but Craft Canning is amazing. We still do it a little bit here and there for a to-go option on top of Crowlers. I think COVID made me a more resourceful and well-balanced person, being able to figure major issues out in the brewery.

How has the slower recovery of downtown impacted things?

We used to have daily parties here; multiple tables booked any day of the week. We definitely don't have that traffic anymore, and honestly, I don't know if we ever will again. We've been figuring out [different ideas] and ways to deal with that. The packaging has definitely helped.

Where do you see yourself in five to ten years?

Honestly, I would love to travel more. I've been trying to think of ideas that involve brewing and traveling. I don't think owning my own brewery is in my immediate future — maybe down the road, if I find the right partner I could do it, but I really want to think of something different and outside of the box that fulfills me in different ways.
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Ryan Pachmayer is a beer writer living in Arvada. He has written for publications such as Craft Beer & Brewing, Zymurgy, Porch Drinking, Homebrewing DIY and Punch. He is also the head brewer at Yak & Yeti Brewpub, marketing director at New Image Brewing and a BJCP Certified Judge.