Beer

Brewing Up a Legend: How WeldWerks' Medianoche Became an Iconic Colorado Beer

The Medianoche series beers generally range from 13-16 percent ABV.
The Medianoche series beers generally range from 13-16 percent ABV. WeldWerks Brewing Company
On Father's Day 2016, hundreds of beer fans lined up in Greeley for a chance to score bottles of a fairly new but already notorious beer. It was the first bottle release of Medianoche by WeldWerks Brewing Company, which had opened a little over a year earlier. There were two variants of the barrel-aged imperial stout available that day: vanilla and coconut. (Up until then, Medianoche had only been available at select events.) Fast-forward to today: Nearly 40,000 gallons of the beer have been produced, and it's more popular than ever, with fans coming from all over the country to score bottles of the thick, decadent brew.

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.
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The barrel room at WeldWerks.
WeldWerks Brewing Company
A combination of events helped Medianoche rise to prominence. In March 2016, WeldWerks won the USA Today 10Best award for Best New Brewery, which in turn drew even more attention to the brewery later that month at Avery's popular Strong Ales Festival, where it poured the coconut version of Medianoche. Those two events helped inspire hundreds of people to make the drive up to Greeley on Father's Day that year for the inaugural bottle release.

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.
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A mural by Mexican born, Greeley-residing artist Armando Silva in the WeldWerks barrel room.
WeldWerks Brewing Company
But while there is a focus on ingredients, the barrel is the most important part of Medianoche. WeldWerks has a dedicated barrel house, modeled after Kentucky bourbon warehouses, also known as rickhouses, to age its hundreds of barrels for anywhere from 17 to 36 months. Throughout the warehouse are barrels from local spirits providers such as Laws Whiskey House and Fort Collins-based Old Elk Distillery. It also sources from places farther away; for instance, the barrel house holds just about every type of Pappy Van Winkle barrel imaginable.

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."

Owing to a mix of antiquated, patchwork liquor laws across the country and heavy enthusiasm from the beer-drinking community, a vibrant secondary market developed online in the late ’90s for sought-after beers. In the brewery's early days, driven by a lower supply, select bottles of Medianoche could fetch several hundred dollars on the secondary market, with a couple batches even crossing the $500 line. Jeff Erwin is an administrator of the popular WeldWerks Trading Forum, an unofficial online fan group for beer traders specific to WeldWerks beer. "It didn't take long for ’noches to become Colorado's most sought-after trade target," Erwin says. "The thirst was insatiable, and demand far outstripped their relatively small barrel program."

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.
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Barrel leaks are plugged naturally by the thick Medianoche liquid.
Ryan Pachmayer
Unpredictable events, rather than quality, are just one major reason the brewery doesn't pay all that much attention to the secondary trading markets. The second batch of Starry Noche, released in 2021, had plenty of excellent feedback from fans, but it was far easier for customers to get ahold of, and it didn't resell for the same high prices. Yet Fisher and Schwartz agree that it was a superior beer. "We've drank them side by side. Batch two is empirically better," declares Schwartz.

"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.
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The Vanilla Moonlight beer, a release in the Medianoche Series.
WeldWerks Brewing Company
One exception might come down to personal preferences of the adjunct flavors. "If you drink the beer and say that it has too much coconut flavor, then maybe it'll be better for you in a year," Schwartz says. "But if you drink it and you like the flavor, it's not going to get any better."

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.
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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.