Longtime head brewer and partner Kelissa Hieber took over as sole owner of Goldspot Brewing, 4970 Lowell Boulevard, in February 2021. Despite many challenges, she's expanded revenue, staffing and events (including co-running two successful Big Queer Beerfests with Lady Justice Brewing) while raising money for over fifty organizations in the process.
We sat down with Hieber to talk about her life as a brewery owner, the obstacles she faces and her plans for the future.
Westword: How have things gone since you took over the brewery? Has it gone as expected?
Kelissa Hieber: I wasn't expecting to take over the brewery when I did. It was a little bit of a surprise. We didn't have any money in the bank when I took over; we've always kind of been running really low margins. I knew immediately that if I want this to be any of the things that I want it to be, I'd have to hire some people. Our payroll tripled, but we're able to do a lot more events and other things. We probably added $100,000 in sales compared to the previous year, but our costs increased a lot.
We had some massive boons from doing the [Big Queer] Beerfest [in June 2021]. But fall was an unexpected lull, and winter was bad across the board. So you have like seven years of predictable sales, and then you have this happen, and you ask yourself, what are you going to do?
And the cost of brewing has gone up since January by almost 40 percent. We're talking cans, we're talking ingredients, we're talking labor. It's also proven to be more difficult than I anticipated to run a business in the way that I want to — which is full health care, totally paid by me, for every employee; unlimited PTO; doing fun beers; doing distribution; and doing a minimum of six charity beers at all times.
We raised almost $15,000 for charity.
Over twice as much as last year?
Last year was $6,800, so we did beat the goal [to double that]. A huge part was that most breweries donated their beer — and there's no expectation for that; I totally understand how everyone is doing in this environment. I don't think Lady J or I actually made any money off of it; that's not really the goal. But taking it off site [to Town Hall Collaborative], how many more expenses are involved was mind-boggling. If it wasn't for my bar manager, Lanie, it would've never happened, but it was nice to really support another female-owned business.
It was so much work, but to see everyone have the best vibes was pretty fucking awesome. We're definitely going to do it there again next year. To raise that amount of money for that many different organizations, it was a very satisfying day when Lanie and I were writing those checks.
Are you currently the only brewer at Goldspot?
I'm the only brewer here right now. I've been the only brewer since January. I'm hiring Ali Benetka on September 1. She was the brewer at Ratio, the head brewer at Renegade — total badass.
When did you have an idea that you could take over the brewery?
Honestly, I kind of saw it from the beginning. My original goal was to be part owner — buy my way in, do some expansion. It seemed very clear that they needed some help, and this was a place where I could really do the things that I wanted to do. I took a pay cut to come here from TRVE because I knew I would have creative control here. I'm in a lot of debt, but I'd be in a lot more debt if I started a brewery from scratch.
I've been doing service since I was fifteen, and every single person that works their ass off here deserves to be paid well and treated well. And the service industry as a whole has done a bad job at that. So I'd rather kill myself to make those standards happen than to change any of that.
Are you brewing different beers than you would if you didn't have to worry about finances?
No, I'm such a picky-ass person. The only thing that has really changed in my brewing is that we're having to do more of the core beers on the distribution level in order to maintain those accounts. So my Persian Lime Mexican Lager has quickly become my top-selling beer; I can't make it enough.
I'll still do [expensive and crazy] beers, because I still want to have fun; otherwise, it's just a fucking job. It's a job where I sometimes work 100 hours in a week, so I need to make some cool, fun shit.
We're completely maxed out on space here. The fact that I ever got a canning line, the two [horizontal] lager tanks and the foeder in here is pretty impressive.
You have some toys.
Yes. And my ceilings are really short, so I can't even expand the brewhouse here, either.
So...second location. First, I want to do a lot of big concepts. I'm a big dreamer, but I've also been in the service industry for almost two decades, so I don't have a lot of money [laughs]. But I want to do something in the mountains for the second location. It's an immediate goal. I want to do it right; I want to have the space that I don't have here. It's going to be a longer process that's going to cost a lot of money.
What type of mountain locale?
Summit County area. There are some fantastic breweries there, but there is also space for more. There's also space for breweries that are trying to be more creative and inclusive. Not to knock any of those breweries, but most of the times I've gone to them, I'm one of the only women there, let alone a queer person. I think there's a lot to be done there.
I'd love to start a farm brewery in Palisade, too, but that's even more money. So I've got to have one and then do the other. And I'm from Cincinnati; I definitely want to have a taproom there. It'd probably be more of a bar concept. Yeah, I have big dreams.
Who is your brewery for?
People ask me all the time, 'Would you consider this a gay bar?' Absolutely not. I don't want to put anything in those boxes. We're a place for everyone, as long as you're not a piece of shit. And we need more places like that. A lot of gay bars have closed, and sometimes they were racist or sexist. Craft beer should make me feel better. This is a great place to raise some money and make some change.
How do you reach people in different demographics? How do people find out that this is a different kind of space?
People will always tell other people about their good experiences, so first you make a space for that. Early on, when I was bartending five days a week, any time a new female drinker would come in, I would have them try three different beers so that they could experience how dynamic our tap list was. And they would come back and tell their friends.
Also, doing different events and partnerships with organizations and high-profile food trucks.
Are there any breweries or organizations in general that inspire you, particularly when you're looking toward a second location?
There are so many. I really respect what Outer Range is doing. They have fantastic branding, and they're really nice people. They did such a nice design inside their space, too.
What's your upcoming rebrand going to look like?
We're not going to change the name. It wasn't my favorite name to begin with, but we've kind of re-appropriated it. We're doing a totally new logo. It's still in the very early stages, but we've hired local designer YAMZ — just a true badass. It's going to be more colorful. It's kind of got a nice stained glass-like look to it, too.
Goldspot Brewing is located at 4970 Lowell Boulevard and is open from 2 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit goldspotbrewing.com.