Beer

Tommyknocker Brewery Introduces a Host of Changes, Including New Beers and a New Look

Tommyknocker Brewery in Idaho Springs is getting a facelift.
Tommyknocker Brewery in Idaho Springs is getting a facelift. Tommyknocker Brewery
Iconic mountain-town brewery Tommyknocker is moving into its 28th year with a host of changes. From new recipes, ingredients and techniques to a taproom expansion and rebrand, the Idaho Springs brewery hopes to connect with new customers without sacrificing the nostalgia of yesteryear.

Former head brewer Steve Indrehus took over as president in 2018 after an ownership consolidation. Indrehus has been with the company since 1995, one year after Tommyknocker opened. He's worked to get back to those early days, when Tommyknocker fully embraced innovation. "My thing used to be creativity, trying new things in the brewhouse," says Indrehus. "We were a test house for a lot of products. With being short-staffed, I had to jump back into the brewhouse. There's all these new products and techniques that all these smaller breweries have innovated with. There's a lot of smart people out there, so we've embraced everything."

Tommyknocker hired Colorado-based companies Ahead of the Curve Strategy and Ember Design for the rebrand. Its new labels and beer styles reflect the desire to land a younger beer drinker while still maintaining ties to its longtime loyal following. The company is using phrases like "rock solid" and "mountain fun" to describe the brand.
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Brand-new label designs from Ember Design.
Tommyknocker Brewery
For the beers themselves, Indrehus is experimenting with ingredients that are new to Tommyknocker, such as cryo hops, a concentrated hop product. Tommyknocker also acquired a Shockwave Xtractor, a piece of equipment that utilizes hops more efficiently and can help produce a more consistent flavor batch to batch. America's first craft brewery, Anchor Brewing, was an early purchaser of the same model. These new ingredients and equipment have the commonality in using less vegetal hop matter, thereby creating beers bursting with hop flavor, but without the grassiness that is sometimes associated with heavily hopped beers.

The new Mountain West Modern West Coast IPA is a classic West Coast IPA, but with a softer, rounder edge. The smooth bitterness, persistent but moderate malt backbone and abundance of flavorful hops makes this a beer that Tommyknocker hopes pushes the boundaries of current styles. "While it meets the specs of an IPA, it drinks to me like a pale ale," says Indrehus. "You have East Coast, you have West Coast. I'm hoping to stimulate the region and have something like a modern mountain IPA style."

Other new beers include the Crispy Colorado Lager, a fairly light hopped beer at 20 IBUs, but one that gets classic flavors from two different German hops. Tommyknocker is using local Loveland maltster Root Shoot Malting for its base pilsner malt. Peach Dream Fruited Sour is made with the brand-new Philly Sour, a yeast selected from nature by University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, the first dry-format sour yeast to hit the market. Off Leash Juicy IPA and Mother Lode Juicy Double IPA are a pair of hazy IPAs that round out the new releases.
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Tommyknocker has new beers in its lineup as well as old mainstays.
Tommyknocker Brewery
Indrehus hopes that the rebrand will help Tommyknocker reach new consumers. The brewery has consolidated to roughly 5,000 barrels produced in 2021, down from about 15,000 barrels several years back. Tommyknocker was in 22 states at that time, but the brewery has refocused its efforts to seven states. "We were the house beer for Twin Peaks Restaurant for years," says Indrehus. Eventually, Twin Peaks built its own house brewery. With the recent changes and doubling down of its focus on fewer markets, Indrehus says Tommyknocker is on track for about 7,000 barrels in 2022 and has the capacity to increase further if customers embrace the new beers and branding.

Indrehus immediately made his mark as president of Tommyknocker by planning a taproom expansion, one that was successfully executed during the early days of COVID. The brewery is now planning an additional taproom expansion, further increasing the bar area into the current fermentation space, while also knocking down the large wall behind the taps, which will increase ambient lighting in the immediate dining area and join the bar space with the dining space. The taproom is a major focus for the brewery, with roughly 60 percent of its revenue coming from in-house sales. Patrons can expect to see those taproom changes this fall.

Tommyknocker continues to invest in the local Idaho Springs community as well. Both the brewery and Indrehus are personally invested in the new gondola project, which has been pushed back due to issues with a contractor. The brewery has also been a big proponent of keeping the walkable main street car-free throughout the summer months. Tommyknocker hosts family fun days, which include burro rides and a bouncy house; there is regular music on a stage outdoors, as well.

The brewery also continues to pursue non-alcoholic beer options. Indrehus is an avid burro-racer, and found that he really enjoyed a non-alcoholic beer after a race. "Two winters ago, we were doing training runs in Denver, and all my millennial friends would bust out the seltzers," he recalls. "I can't do alcohol after an endurance activity, so I was drinking a test N/A beer from our brewery. It took a couple runs, and people started bringing their own N/A beers from all different companies. I started to realize on the drive back up the mountain that I would feel better from one 12-ounce can of N/A beer than I would from any of the recovery drinks."

With all of the changes comes a consistent focus on the beer portion of Tommyknocker's business, which Indrehus hopes will take the company through the next five years and beyond.
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Ryan Pachmayer is a beer writer living in Arvada. He has written for publications such as Craft Beer & Brewing, Zymurgy, Porch Drinking, Homebrewing DIY and Punch. He is also the head brewer at Yak & Yeti Brewpub, marketing director at New Image Brewing and a BJCP Certified Judge.