The foundation for Medianoche was born in co-founder Neil Fisher's basement, after his wife bought him a barrel for Christmas prior to WeldWerks opening. The goal was to create a recipe for a beer where the barrel would be a primary ingredient. "Goose Island was a big influence in terms of the way they approached their barrel program," Fisher recalls. "Goose Island's Bourbon County Brand Stout was a new recipe from the ground up. There weren't a lot of people doing scratch recipes for stouts to put into barrels. Most breweries would take their regular imperial stout recipe and just put it in a barrel."
Fisher won a gold medal at a local home-brewing contest with that original beer, called Alexander the Blessed. It was only when he sat down to write the business plan for WeldWerks that the name became Medianoche, Spanish for "midnight." "I like the diversity in Greeley; the Hispanic community here is thriving and vibrant," Fisher notes. "I really saw a gap in how craft beer in particular was engaging the Hispanic community — not just in Greeley, but in Colorado as a whole and across the country. So I was looking at ways to bridge that gap. I wanted to celebrate what I think makes Greeley really special." WeldWerks also has a Vienna lager named Puesta del Sol, which means "sunset" in Spanish.
When the 2017 Great American Beer Festival got underway, WeldWerks had one of the longer lines. The brewery came prepared, with an assortment of beers — and plenty of Medianoche, which snagged the gold medal in the barrel-aged stout category. "After Saturday's awards, the line was nuts," Fisher remembers.
Following that GABF appearance, WeldWerks was invited to pour at the prestigious Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beers in Chicago, where a double-barrel rum variation of Medianoche won a silver medal. "[The awards]were a good point of reinforcing that, yes, the consumers love the beer, but it also had a position in the industry by getting some accolades from our peers," Fisher notes.
The core recipe for Medianoche has changed a bit over the years. The base beer used to be a little more roast-forward and bitter, a nod to some of the imperial stouts that were popular a decade ago. That's since been dialed back, with a shift in focus to more prominent chocolate flavors: The brewery now uses a combination of pale chocolate malt from the United Kingdom along with chocolate rye and debittered black malts from Germany.
In fact, the brewery pretty much scours the globe for the ingredients in its Medianoche beers. "Some of our favorite vanilla beans are from places like the Congo, Papua New Guinea, India and Sri Lanka," says head brewer Skip Schwartz. The brewery also uses cacao nibs from Belize, Ghana and Ecuador. The coffee varies: WeldWerks has used quite a few roasters over the years, but some of the brewery's favorites have been from Mostra, a San Diego-based coffee shop led by Nick Berardi, winner of the best roaster honors at the 2022 U.S. Coffee Championships.
Fisher, Schwartz and the rest of the team can pull from dozens of barrels at a time, searching for specific components from each barrel, in order to meet a desired flavor profile. "We're always looking around, fitting the pieces of the puzzle to the beer we're trying to make," Schwartz explains. "We have an image in mind. If we want to make a vanilla beer, we'll go find the most vanilla-forward barrels in the building. Some might be eighteen months old, some might be 24 months old."
Today the brewery supplies far more of the liquid behemoth. With the number of barrels in its on-site warehouse hovering around 500 at any given time, the brewery is focused on making sure there is enough to meet the heavy demand. "We try not to be short-supplied," Fisher notes. "Scarcity is not a goal of ours; we want to get the beer out there. It takes so long to age the beer, and we're never going to shorten the age to produce a faster beer."
Despite the brewery's best efforts to meet demand, one specific release caught fire early in the pandemic — to the point that individuals were reselling bottles for several hundred dollars nationally. The beer was Starry Noche, a Medianoche variant aged in bourbon barrels for 18 to 22 months, then finished with toasted coconut flakes, raw coconut chips and toasted hazelnut. The beer was released in early March 2020 to celebrate the brewery's fifth anniversary, just a few days before the pandemic began. "I'd say that the first Starry Noche is that unicorn — it hung on a world event," Fisher says.
"We definitely like feedback. We see Untappd check-ins and emails," Fisher adds. "But in terms of how a beer is trading or how the secondary market is impacted, we're not going to make decisions based on that."
With such a wide gap between brew day and bottling day, WeldWerks has to really keep its ear close to the ground in an ever-changing beer market. "We're catering more toward what the consumers are asking as their preferences are moving," says Fisher.
Schwartz is already planning some upcoming changes. "I think the sweetness-bomb trend is going to start going the other way," he predicts. "Some people will always prefer sweet beer, but hopefully we can tone some of it down as tastes change, [and] make some more drinkable varieties [of Medianoche]."
While WeldWerks may frequently get attention for some of the sweeter varieties that incorporate additions like vanilla, coconut and cacao nibs, the brewery showcases an ever-increasing amount of non-adjunct, or straight barrel-aged, beers with no flavors added. These barrel-only releases showcase a drier, more drinkable oak- and bourbon-forward imperial stout. It really shows the range of the Medianoche series, so much so that plenty of fans will opt to only purchase non-flavored versions of the series.
The entire Medianoche series is meant for drinking upon release. "We've aged them a long time so you don't have to," notes Schwartz.
"If it's not ready, then we don't pull it from the barrel," Fisher adds. The beer does have good stability, so it may still taste good in the bottle for several years, but it will rarely be better than the day it was released.
So what does the future hold for Medianoche? The team is open to new directions. "We meet every six months to talk about our plans," Schwartz explains. "We evaluate what the market wants, and then what we want to do."
Fisher points out that what may have worked six or seven years ago may not work today — and that what worked earlier in the pandemic may not work today, either. "I think for us, it's mostly trying to continue making the beers we love and finding the right audience," he says. "We're pretty much open to whatever we can pull off, culturally, strategy-wise and feasibility. It's impossible to say, 'This is the strategy forever,' because that's not what has gotten us to this point."
One thing is certain, though. "We'll never release a non-barrel-aged version of Medianoche," Fisher proclaims. "The recipe is designed for barrels, to be aged." And it's likely that most of the brewery's fans wouldn't have it any other way.
WeldWerks Brewing Company is located at 508 8th Avenue in Greeley and is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit weldwerks.com.