When Lee and Emily Cleghorn opened Outer Range Brewing in Frisco in December 2016, they wanted it to work not just as a brewery, but also as a community space, a hangout where people could meet up and recount their mountain adventures over a beer, or plan new ones. The idea worked a little too well. Not only did Outer Range become a go-to spot in Summit County, it became a destination for IPA lovers across the state.
That's because its luscious, cloudy IPAs and double IPAs, like Blocks of Light and In the Deep Steep, vaulted to the top of the must-have list for lovers of hazy, New England-style IPAs, and the brewery joined the ranks of WeldWerks, Cerebral and Odd13 as one of the best producers of that very trendy style.
“It gets so crowded now — especially in the winter, when we can’t use the patio — that it just doesn’t fit the vision anymore,” Emily says. Not only is the tiny taproom almost always jammed with customers, but the brewing space is hard to move around in, as well. That makes things difficult, as Lee and his staff are already coming in to work at 4 a.m. most mornings to start their brew days in order to keep up with demand.
But those “pain points,” as Emily calls them, should be smoothed over soon. The spacious Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant, which is located adjacent to the brewery in the same building, is closing, and Outer Range is moving in. The change will allow the brewery to more than triple its size and to bring in two other businesses — a Thai fried-chicken concept and a coffee shop — under the same peaked roof.
“We had always hoped that we could one day take it over,” Lee says about the Rio, so when the restaurant's owners approached the Cleghorns about assuming the lease, it seemed like it was meant to be. “We really love our spot, and we didn’t want to leave Frisco. We didn’t want to be one of those breweries that has to have a separate production space, either. So when they said they were closing, it seemed like a win-win."
When renovation and construction is complete, possibly by the end of February, Outer Range will look very different. The brewhouse, brite tanks and the rest of the production space will take over the majority of the existing bar. The taproom, meanwhile, will be moved to the current Rio space, with a seating area extending along the windows where some of the tables in Outer Range are now. The yurt outside will hopefully stay.
As for the beer, Lee says, Outer Range will be able to grow its production from 3,000 barrels of beer annually to about 5,000, but that most of it will continue to be kegged and canned for taproom sales, with just a portion being sold to bars and restaurants (including a few in Denver). “That is about the size we wanted to be as a brewery," he adds. "We really don’t want to be any bigger.”
The majority of that will be hazy IPAs, though Lee would like to get back into making the Belgian styles that he had originally planned as part of the lineup. He also wants to experiment with other beers, such as barrel-fermented saisons.
The Thai chicken concept, called Bird Craft, will be run by Summit County chef Chris Schmidt, a friend of the Cleghorns' who has elevated sandwiches to an art form at his Edwards restaurant, Craftsman. The coffee shop will be an outpost of Mountain Dweller, a small-batch roaster in Breckenridge. The second floor will be used for private events and outdoor-oriented classes.
"We have this huge space, so to be able to bring in these other two local craftsmen — it's more than we could have ever imagined that Outer Range would be," Emily says.
That dream began in 2009, when Lee and Emily met at home-brewing party in Manitou Springs; both were in the U.S. Army at the time. About five years later, after getting married and retiring from the military, Lee enrolled in the American Brewers Guild in Vermont and completed an unpaid internship at Other Half Brewery in Brooklyn, another hazy IPA specialist. Then the couple returned to Colorado and got to work opening Outer Range.
Success came quickly. Outer Range was named as one of the best new breweries in the country by Craft Beer and Brewing magazine, and as the second-best new brewery in the country by USA Today. Outer Range also found enormous word-of-mouth popularity among beer drinkers on the Internet.
To celebrate the expansion, Outer Range will make the announcement during its annual Snow Stoke party on Saturday in Frisco. The brewery will release two beers in cans, and both Craftsman and Mountain Dweller will be on hand. The party welcomes the return of ski and snowboard season.
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