Upslope head brewer Alex Violette, who has been making beer for the Boulder brewery since early 2009, is leaving his post there to start his own place in Vietnam.
It's an unusual career choice to leave the center of this nation's brewing universe for a country where craft beer is virtually unheard of, but one Violette says he couldn't turn down. "They don't do craft beer in Vietnam...you literally can't find an IPA there," he explains. "Which is why I am going over there. It sound like a great challenge."
Violette started his Colorado brewing career in April 2009 when he got a job with Upslope, which had just opened about six months earlier. He became head brewer in 2011 and has helped oversee the company's growth into an award-winning brewery with two locations in Boulder that will crank out 15,000 barrels of beer this year.
Some of his best-known successes include Pumpkin Ale, which won gold at the Great American Beer Festival in 2011 and became the brewery's first seasonal release in a can; Brown Ale, another award-winner; and Thai Style White IPA, made with at least six Thai spices, which is just hitting the market now for the first time in cans.
Earlier this year, however, Violette met John Reid, who has worked in the hospitality industry in Vietnam for the past six years and was in Colorado looking for advice on how to start a craft brewery in Saigon (officially called Ho Chi Minh City). Reid asked Violette to be a consultant and to help him find a brewer, but after getting the details of the position, Violette decided he wanted to do the job himself.
He'll leave for Saigon in August and plans to get a feel for the country and the local ingredients by running a small pilot system. Violette and Reid will then commission a production-sized brewhouse for their tasting room, Pasteur Street Brewing, which will be located along one of the city's busiest strips for shops and restaurants.
While Reid will navigate the business issues, Violette will focus on finding ingredients, especially herbs and spices at local markets, as well as coffee and chocolate. But he also wants to make sour beers using the wide variety of fruits — including some like mangosteen that he has never even tasted before — that are available in Vietnam.
"Vietnam is one of the fastest growing beer markets in the world. There are multiple large brewhouses going up," he says. But it's all "macro-beer," which is why Violette thinks Saigon, a city of seven million people, will be ready for something different.
"We want to resonate with both the local Vietnamese and ex-pats," he adds.
Eventually, Reid and Violette hope to make enough beer to package and export to countries like Japan and Australia — and the United States. In fact, Violette says the Denver/Boulder area may be one of the first markets to see Pasteur Street's brews.
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Violette will be replaced at Upslope by Sam Scruby, who started there in 2010 on the canning line and has worked his way up doing a variety of jobs. In 2013, when Upslope opened its large production facility in Flatiron Park, Scruby took over as the head brewer at the original Lee Hill location, overseeing the small-batch and barrel-aged program.