Beer Man

Jagged Mountain Brewery Sets New Course After Exit of Co-Owner/Head Brewer Wayne Burns

If you haven't been to Jagged Mountain Craft Brewery for a while, you may notice some changes the next time you order a pint. Over the past few months, the brewery has completely replaced its old lineup with brand-new beers and a new approach. The overhaul is a result of the exit of head brewer Wayne Burns, who took a job at Wynkoop Brewing after a falling-out with his fellow owners at Jagged Mountain.

That's an unusual thing to happen to a new brewery — Jagged Mountain opened in late 2013 — but it's the result of an unusual situation.
“I had a personal disagreement with them and they had a personal disagreement with me, but we all want the company to be successful,” says Burns, who owns an equal part of the brewery along with RJ Banat and Randy Stinson; all three are extreme outdoor sports enthusiasts who had been friends for years before starting the company.

“It's been a huge switch for us... We have gone through a pretty significant change. That being said, we unfortunately can't say anything about Wayne's departure other than we decided to part ways,” Banat adds via e-mail.

Burns, an award-winning brewer who has worked for Boulder's Mountain Sun as well as Bell's Brewery and Kuhnhenn Brewing, both in Michigan, says he isn't sure exactly where things went wrong. It's possible that his partners didn't appreciate it when he trained his wife to be his back-up brewer in case of emergency, or maybe it was something else. But he does know that his relationship with Banat and Stinson became increasingly strained. “I don't feel especially well-treated,” says Burns.

It's also possible that Banat and Stinson wanted to take the brewery in a new direction when it came to the beers they were making and serving. Jagged Mountain — with the tagline of “Adventurous People, Adventurous Beers” — was initially founded on the idea of brewing almost entirely high-gravity, high-alcohol beers – and it made a name for itself with some of these, including Vallecito, an 11 percent ABV Belgian dark strong ale, and the 15.5 percent ABV barrel-aged First Descent Old Ale.

When Burns left in December, though, Jagged announced that it would begin brewing a series of very lower-alcohol beers. These included Walk Off, a 4.8 percent Belgian wit and Sky Pond, a 4.8 percent pale ale.

A few months later, the company committed to temporary fill-in Adam Glaser, formerly of the Fort Collins Brewery, who officially took the top brewer job; neither Banat nor Stinson have professional brewing experience.

Together, the two active owners and Glaser completely overhauled the menu so that nothing from Jagged Mountain's first year remains.
“We're staying true to our theme of adventurous beers, so it's been really, really fun exploring some angles on beers that we didn't do before,” Banat says. “You wouldn't have seen a barrel-aged session porter (3.8 percent ABV) with cacao nibs from us before. Or any of the beers we now have with fruit notes in them.

“Wayne was more of a purist from that standpoint — which is totally fine. But it's also fine to be open to all the possibilities that are out there,” he adds.

“As far as the recipes go, we've never been of the mindset that we'd have a static menu," Banat explains. "So when Adam — a pretty creative guy in his own right – thought it would be fun for us to develop a new menu, it gave us the opportunity to put some new ideas out there and to also incorporate some customer feedback. For instance, a lot of our customers previously asked us to have more sessionable, easier drinking beers on the menu to counter all the relatively big beers we had. We wanted to go in that direction anyway, so now we have several beers in that category.” (Jagged hasn't entirely abandoned high-gravity beers, he points out: On Friday, it will tap Triple Bypass IPA, an enormous 14.8 percent ABV beer from Glaser.)

But Burns says the other two owners didn't discuss the high-gravity beer issue with him. “I never heard that feedback from customers or from them while I was directly involved in the company," he says, "but if they heard that feedback and felt that was the best choice for the company to do well, that is their right and discernment to do that, whether I entirely agree with it or not.”

Burns says he offered to let Banat and Stinson continue to use his recipes, but that they chose not to. He also says he wishes them well. “Randy and RJ and I trusted each other with our lives, on ropes, on cliffs," he remembers. "A dozen years of close friendship and bonding all over the world doesn't just evaporate because someone does nasty stuff to you. I had a really big part in making the business happen. I'm disappointed, but I'm excited about what I am working on now at the Wynkoop.”

As the director of brewery operations at the Wynkoop, Burns won't be brewing on a day-to-day basis; rather, he'll oversee the packaging, scheduling and production of the brewery's beers, both at the Wynkoop and at the new Breckenridge Brewery facility, where the majority of the Wynkoop's flagship beers, like Railyard Ale, are brewed and canned. He'll also implement new quality-control standards and create a lab to help with quality and consistency. 

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes