If you’ve driven to Greeley anytime in the past year, you may have noticed that the asphalt along I-76 is a little more rutted than it used to be, the potholes a little deeper. If you’ve headed north on a Friday, you may have wondered why there was so much more traffic on Highway 85, normally a rural route.
The culprit is WeldWerks Brewing, the immensely popular Greeley brewery that set a goal at the beginning of 2018 to brew and package at least 100 different kinds of beer before the year was out. Heading into this weekend, WeldWerks has made 97 of those. The 100 mark will come during the week of the Great American Beer Festival, September 17-22, and WeldWerks could hit 130 new beers by the end of December.
“It has been a year of uninhibited creativity, with no constraints,” says WeldWerks founder and head brewer Neil Fisher. “We aren’t going to do it again, but it was exactly what we needed to do to figure out what we are good at, what styles we love and what we want to focus on in the future.”
The beers have included a wide range of New England-style pales ales, IPAs, double IPAs and triple IPAs — some brewed with lactose and tropical fruit — as well as stouts made with everything from vanilla, maple syrup and peanut butter to brownie batter, coffee and Nutty Buddy bars. But there have also been Berliner weisses, sours, pilsners and even a gose brewed with uncooked spaghetti, tomatoes, basil and oregano.
Almost all of them were packaged at the brewery in sixteen-ounce cans and sold out of the Greeley taproom, while about half made it to liquor stores in Denver, Boulder and few other cities and towns.
“We know some styles won’t sell as well, but we don’t care. This way, people can see the depth of range we have,” Fisher says. “Some are really costly, so we make less. How much we make of each just depends. We know not everyone can make it to Greeley on a weekly basis, so we try to get the beers out there.”
Then again, on some weekends, everyone does show up. “It’s mindboggling to see how many people come.”
Founded in 2015, WeldWerks exploded onto the Colorado beer scene the next year with Juicy Bits, a luscious, orange juice-like beer whose debut coincided with the sudden rise in popularity across the country of similarly hazy and aromatic New England-style IPAs. The brewery also gained quick fame with its line of barrel-aged stouts and pastry stouts and by winning USA Today's Best New Brewery award in 2016.
After that, craft-beer lovers from Denver and across the Front Range began making regular treks to Greeley to gobble up WeldWerks’s latest offerings, which changed frequently but tended to focus on those two popular styles: New England-style IPAs and pastry stouts. Successful beer hunters would return with Crowlers full of these beers and post drool-worthy pictures of them across all of their social-media platforms.
It didn’t seem like things could get any crazier after that. But then came the Great American Beer Festival in 2017, where WeldWerks’s booth was overrun by the longest lines at the festival. On the final day, WeldWerks took home a gold medal for Medianoche in the Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout category.
After that, Fisher and his team realized that part of what had made the brewery so successful was the excitement it generated by pushing boundaries, innovating and being creative. “That’s what the people we are selling beer to get the most excited about,” he says.
Earlier in the year, WeldWerks had been trying to dial in a few standard offerings — including Alpha Bits and Coffee Coconut Stout — that it wanted to sell as its canned flagships, like most other breweries do. But after an initial sales rush, those beers began to sit on shelves. “We have a reputation for quality, so we didn’t want people buying four-month-old Alpha Bits. There are a lot of beers from Colorado that suffer on the shelves for too long. We didn’t want to be that brewery.”
So WeldWerks pulled the plug on those flagship beers. “It didn’t fit our identity anymore. We are brewery that pushes boundaries and innovates. We said, ‘Let’s go back to that and start over.’”
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Which is how WeldWerks decided to make 100 new beers and package them all. It’s a neat trick, and one that wouldn’t work for just any brewery — in part because WeldWerks self-distributes its beer to about 100 accounts around Colorado, rather than relying on a distribution company. But also because of the cachet that WeldWerks has built by constantly changing things up and by doing it really, really well.
“We know we are unique,” Fisher says, adding that there is a waiting list of about 120 liquor stores that want to sell his beer. “There aren’t a lot of breweries out there with 50 percent more demand than supply. We have new tanks coming in almost every quarter to try and keep up. We’ve grown by almost 100 percent each year.”
To help meet demand, the brewery has added nearly 5,000 square feet of space in the past few weeks, and will likely be able to brew 8,000 to 8,500 barrels of beer in 2019, up from 6,000 this year.
Will all of those barrels be different beers? No, Fisher says. WeldWerks will slow down and shift gears in 2019, remaking some of its favorites based on customer feedback. “We’ll make plenty of new ones as well, but a lot of these will be brought back.” To celebrate the 100 beers, though, the brewery will host a party on November 9.