New breweries in Denver face a lot of peaks and valleys. But for 14er Brewing, which only began brewing and canning in July, it’s been mostly peaks: On Saturday, the brewery, which is still searching for a taproom location, won a gold medal for its chile beer at the Great American Beer Festival.
“I took my mom to the award ceremony, with the rest of our team,” recalls Andrew Kaczmarek, who started 14er with former Wheat Ridge High School classmate Nato Francescato. "We were standing outside the amphitheatre, because we didn’t think we had a shot of winning…and then my phone started buzzing like crazy with Twitter mentions and Facebook. We were kind of in shock all day.”
To top it off, a picture of the brewers accepting their award — one of 286 medals that were handed out at the Bellco Theatre on October 8 — appears front and center on the GABF home page.
Beginner’s luck? Maybe. But Kaczmarek and Francescato have been home-brewing since those high-school days, and Kaczmarek says they’ve returned to their chile recipe hundreds of times, tweaking the ingredients in an effort to perfect the beer.
Called Rocky Mountain Saison, 14ers' victor in the Chile Beer category is made with fresh lime, fresh cilantro and fresh jalapeños. But the key is the saison yeast, which gives the beer its name and character. “Through all that testing, we felt like the saison yeast really balanced out the cilantro, lime and spice additions," Kaczmarek says. "It really dries out the finish and adds drinkability to the beer.”
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Now if only they had their own space where they could serve it. 14er began making beer at Crazy Mountain Brewing’s Edwards location over the summer and started selling it in six-packs of twelve-ounce cans in July. It now has about 25 accounts offering the saison, along with Mt. Massive IPA and Maroon Bells Guava Ale.
The two brewers are actively looking at spots to lease, and although they didn’t want to give specifics, they plan to open next year sometime within Denver’s city limit.
And they plan to tie their “Colorado lifestyle” into the taproom, Kaczmarek says: “We launched with this cool Colorado brand. The cans look good and the flavor profiles are a little different. We really want to create a Colorado lifestyle brand. The beers are absolutely important to us. Winning a gold at GABF speaks to that. But lifestyle is going to be a huge play for us.”
The medal will help, too, he acknowledges, noting that liquor stores and bars are already asking how they can get the beer — as opposed to before the festival, when the brewery was fighting to land new accounts in Denver’s competitive market.