Beer Man

The Craftsman Expands Into a Vail Valley Brewery With Help From Outer Range

Chris Schmidt of the Craftsman.
Chris Schmidt of the Craftsman. Susi Thurman
When Chris Schmidt started thinking about leaving his job as head chef at Vail’s Sweet Basil in 2016, his first instinct was to open a brewery. A restaurant worker since the age of fifteen and a respected Colorado chef for the previous decade, he was a little burnt out on making food — but very focused on the half-barrel home-brewing system that he’d built in his garage.

“I love creating things with my hands, and the science behind it,” says Schmidt, who has spent time in the kitchens at the Squeaky Bean and Fruition in Denver and at Mountain Standard in Vail. “Because of that, I fell in love with the process of brewing before even beer itself.”

In the end, Schmidt and his wife, Janelle, got the blessing and backing of his former employer and opened the Craftsman, a transcendent sandwich shop in Edwards that has garnered a regional following since 2017 and the attention of food lovers and food critics all over the state.

click to enlarge The Craftsman is already very focused on beer. - THE CRAFTSMAN
The Craftsman is already very focused on beer.
The Craftsman
But he’s always kept his eye on beer, first with the carefully curated list of mostly local craft brews that he keeps on tap at the Craftsman, and then by opening a Thai-style chicken concept, Birdcraft, inside Outer Range Brewing in Frisco.

Next summer, he’ll get to follow both of his dreams when he moves the Craftsman across the street from its current location into the former Gore Range Brewery, which closed in late October after 24 years in Edwards (as first reported by Dining Out). The large space can seat twice as many people as the current Craftsman. It also comes with a seven-barrel brewing system, which will be staffed by a brewer from Outer Range, a brewery that has gained its own statewide following since opening in 2016.

“That place has taunted me over the years, thinking about its potential,” Schmidt says about the Gore Range Brewery space, which sits at the edge of the town’s commercial district. Although Gore Range had a dedicated local following, it was often light on customers.
click to enlarge Gore Range Brewery closed in October. - GORE RANGE BREWERY FACEBOOK PAGE
Gore Range Brewery closed in October.
Gore Range Brewery Facebook page
Schmidt says he will keep the majority of his current menu, which includes artisan sandwiches like the Green Chile Philly, Wild Mushroom Pastrami and Nashville Hot Chicken, while building on his small-plates menu and adding a wood-fired oven. “The menu will be varied...but still very familiar and very Craftsman. Sandwiches will still be the core.”

On the beer side, Schmidt is going to turn the controls over to Outer Range. “I trust them to brew great beer and put the right people in place and do what they do,” he notes.

But since Craftsman will regularly keep a few beers from Outer Range — which is known for its hazy New England-style IPAs — on tap and in cans, the brewers may lean toward other styles for the restaurant’s house beers, including lagers, stouts and more traditional American IPAs. “We want to have some fun, and we want to keep things fresh,” Schmidt says.
click to enlarge Emily and Lee Cleghorn of Outer Range Brewing. - OUTER RANGE BREWING
Emily and Lee Cleghorn of Outer Range Brewing.
Outer Range Brewing
“These won’t be Outer Range beers. It will be a different look, and that will be really fun for our team,” adds Lee Cleghorn, who owns the brewery  with his wife, Emily. Cleghorn wants to brew beers that support the food offerings in the same way that Outer Range made a beer in Frisco to pair with Schmidt’s Birdcraft menu.

The two met the first week that Outer Range opened, when Schmidt and some of his crew from Sweet Basil and Mountain Standard drove over Vail Pass to check it out. “He’s brilliant at what he does...and he loves to focus on pairing great food with great beer,” Cleghorn says.

In addition to the beers from Craftsman and from Outer Range, Schmidt plans to continue serving special beers from other Colorado breweries with whom he has developed relationships, including New Image Brewing, 4 Noses Brewing and Bierstadt Lagerhaus.

And once the move is complete — hopefully by early next summer — Schmidt is planning to open a new restaurant in the old space, an upscale pizza place called In Bloom. Severing specialty pizzas, along with oysters, small plates and a wine- and spritzer-driven bar program, it will be "bright and airy, less concrete and wood," Schmidt explains. "It will be edgy, sexy. The Vail Valley will be pumped."
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes