Jon Taylor wasn’t much of a craft-beer guy.
A Colorado Springs native, he’d worked as a line cook at a few restaurants after graduating from Palmer High School, then moved to California’s Bay Area in 2009 for a change of pace. After bouncing around between Oakland and San Francisco, he eventually took a job as a line cook at the famed Magnolia Brewing, a neighborhood pub that opened in 1997 in the Haight-Ashbury district. Known for its English-style ales, Magnolia also brewed other traditional offerings, including a German lager called Kalifornia Kolsch.
“My first sip of their beer, specifically their Kalifornia Kolsch, I said, ‘You really make this here?’ It was the best beer I’d ever had,” he remembers.
These days, Taylor, who eventually landed a job as the brewer at Magnolia, is very much a craft-beer guy, and earlier this fall, he moved back to Colorado Springs with his family and took the top job at Trinity Brewing, an eleven-year-old pub near Garden of the Gods, where he plans to change things up...slowly.
“I’m introducing my style of beers, but I’m also still making people’s favorites,” he explains. For instance, although he will continue to brew Hype Forager, a hazy IPA and a taproom favorite, he also cooked up New Guy IPA, a “nice, clean” West Coast-style IPA (which will be in cans soon). In addition, he's added a hoppy pilsner, a malty red ale, an all-Citra hopped IPA on nitro, and two different pumpkin beers — a pumpkin porter and a pumpkin pale — that can be combined for a pumpkin “black and tan.”
It’s a 180-degree turn from the kinds of beers that Trinity’s founder, Jason Yester, made before he sold the brewery in July to Matthew Dettmann, a Colorado Springs restaurateur. Yester was a Belgian-style saison specialist who broke new ground with his use of “wild” Brettanomyces yeast and inspired a new generation of brewers who began experimenting with wild yeast strains, too.
And while Taylor will continue to make some of Yester’s saisons (he's even called on Yester to help him learn Trinity’s brewing system), he's decided to get rid of the tanks that were used for fermenting wild ales and focus almost entirely on “clean” beers. (Wild yeast can carry earthy or sour flavors that can infect other beers brewed with the same equipment.)
It’s a decision that comes from experience: After trying his first sip of Kalifornia Kolsch years ago, Taylor began helping out in the brewery at Magnolia. “One guy asked me to help him haul some grain...another to help add fresh hops to a beer. I got a full introduction,” he says.
Taylor eventually left Magnolia to take a beer-packaging job at nearby Speakeasy Ales. But when that brewery closed, he returned to Magnolia, this time as an assistant brewer.
Shortly thereafter, Magnolia was purchased by Colorado’s own New Belgium Brewing, with a minority investment from craft-beer pioneer and Elysian Brewery co-founder Dick Cantwell, who took Taylor under his wing. (Cantwell and New Belgium co-founder Kim Jordan are often referred to as one of the industry’s power couples.) “I basically got a huge master class from Dick Cantwell,” Taylor explains, and when Magnolia’s head brewer left, he took over as the primary beer brewer.
But as the coronavirus pandemic swept through the Bay Area last spring, Taylor, who'd had a daughter the previous December, decided he needed to get out of the city. “I could just see the ocean from the bedroom window of my apartment,” he says, and the sight of the ill-fated, virus-ridden Grand Princess cruise ship docked there was more than he could bear.
Cantwell offered to help Taylor get a job at New Belgium in Fort Collins (New Belgium and Magnolia are now both owned by Japanese beer giant Kirin), but Taylor wanted to work at a small brewery like Magnolia, and began looking in Denver and Colorado Springs — eventually getting an offer from Trinity and settling in there.
Taylor’s hiring comes at a turning point, not just for Trinity, but for Colorado’s entire brewing scene. In May and June, as the Black Lives Matter protests turned the country on its head, many business owners across the country began looking at themselves in the mirror and wondering what they could do to help foster change and encourage diversity.
Breweries were no different. Dozens publicly stood behind Black Lives Matter, brewing beers to raise money for groups fighting racism and vowing to overhaul hiring policies in an industry that, with only a few exceptions, is very white. In fact, of Colorado’s 420 or so breweries, fewer than twenty are owned by people of color — and only three or four have Black ownership. Those same numbers hold true for the top jobs inside those breweries.
For Taylor, the lopsided situation is nothing new. He hopes it will change, but in the meantime, he says that brewing knowledge has been a way to cross racial boundaries.
“It comes down to your knowledge,” he says. “A couple of brewers [from other breweries in Colorado Springs] have come out of their way to stop in and introduce themselves. So I don’t really feel any different from any other brewer out there.”
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