Colorado is so chock full of breweries that it seems like a beer drinker could head in any direction and find a few of them without even trying. Almost any direction, anyway. Head east out of Greeley or Aurora or the area around Colorado Springs, and you won’t find a brew kettle until you hit Kansas or Nebraska. The sparsely populated eastern plains make up one third of the state of Colorado from a geographical standpoint, but there isn't a single brewery to speak of. At least, not yet.
In December, Dylan and Kimberly Harford plan to open Parts & Labor Brewing in downtown Sterling. With about 15,000 residents, Sterling is one of the largest, most historic towns on the plains, and the Harfords, who both grew up there, believe it is ready for fresh, locally crafted beer. It will be the first brewery in eastern Colorado. (A second one, in La Junta, is also supposed to open soon.)
"I want to make a fresh, consumable product that people will enjoy... Craft beer sits on the shelf for a long time at liquor stores here, and in restaurants, and that bothers me," says Dylan Harford. "I usually check the expiration or born-on date before I even look at what the beer is." And although he acknowledges that he will "have some work to do" when it comes to convincing people to try new styles, Harford is "all about education," he says. "One of our slogans is that someone has to start to revolution. Why not us?"
Colorado Brewers Guild spokesman Steve Kurowski couldn't agree more. Just last month, during a presentation on the craft-brewing industry's $1.8 billion effect on the state's economy, he pointed out that there are no breweries on the eastern plains — and there should be. "It kind of surprises me," he told Westword. "It really surprises me that there hasn't been something to pop up in one of those eastern towns yet. Why not Holyoke or Burlington? They deserve them, too."
Breweries are known for taking old buildings and turning them into something useful, he added, and there are plenty of empty old buildings in plains towns . "Those town are built on small business, on knowing who stocks the shelves in grocery store and who cuts your hair," Kurowski said. "Why not know who makes your beer? I think they would respond to it very well."
The easternmost breweries in Colorado right now are in Greeley, Aurora/Parker, Falcon (just east of Colorado Springs) and Trinidad.
Harford says the lack of breweries in the area may be a result of people being "unsure whether the market was there, so no one was willing to take a leap." Now that he is working on the brewery building every day, though, he's found that people keep dropping by to tell them how excited they are about it.
He thinks the brewery's size and location will also help grow the business. "We are right downtown on Main Street, across from the courthouse," Harford notes, and in between two restaurants, Old Town Bistro and Santiago's. The 6,000-square-foot building itself is a renovated 1925 Cadillac and Pontiac dealership once called Bill's Motor Co. That fact, along with Harford's occupation as an auto mechanic, gave the brewery its auto-themed name.
In fact, Harford got his start in brewing twelve years ago while working as a mechanic in Fort Collins. "My wife went to CSU to be a landscape architect, and so I got a job as a technician at a Nissan dealership," he says. There he met another technician who was into home brewing and they began making beer together.
After Kimberly graduated, the couple stayed in Fort Collins and Harford got into the active, growing brewery scene. When they moved back to Sterling In 2008, he decided he wanted to open a brewery one day. "At the time, there weren't a lot of craft beer drinkers here," Harford says. So he waited. Eventually he connected with the owner of the Bill's Motor building, who was also a craft beer lover, and decided to get serious.
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Parts & Labor will have seating for 120 people, a five-barrel brewing system and twelve beers on tap — five flagships and list of rotating experimental or seasonal beers. They will include a pilsner, a vanilla coconut porter and some Belgian-style beers, like an amber and a dubbel.
But Harford is also working closely with the Haas family, who own a wheat farm nearby, to make a series of beers using their wheat. "The wheat beers will be the gateway for people," says Harford, who has already purchased 1,400 pounds of wheat. The decor will have an industrial feel with a few references to cars, like a lift from the old dealership that he has turned into a table.
"Brewing has been my passion for a long time — my calling," Harford says. "I'm putting all my heart and soul into it. I think people will respond to that."
Parts & Labor Brewing could open as soon as December 1.