Beer

Westbound & Down to Host a Western Conference All-Stars Tap Takeover in Denver

Westbound & Down head production brewer Derek Goodman.
Westbound & Down head production brewer Derek Goodman. Eric Schmidt
Early in the pandemic, Idaho Springs-based Westbound & Down Brewing Company was brainstorming ways to connect with some of the leading breweries that inspired its own West Coast IPAs. Flights, festivals and brew days were out of the question, as travel was essentially at a standstill.

The team quickly put together a "dream team" list of West Coast IPA collaborators. Constant pushing from the originator of the idea, Westbound & Down creative director Eric Schmidt, was really the key in driving this series. "We took this as an opportunity to show our appreciation to these producers," says Schmidt.

The brewery then sent packages of its own West Coast-style IPAs to breweries it wasn't already close with. "At the very least, we'd show our love for the brewers and breweries that inspired us down the path of making hop-focused beers," Schmidt adds. 

All of the early invitees accepted the call, and the Western Conference All-Stars series kicked off with collaboration beers made with the likes of Melvin Brewing, Barley Brown's Brew Pub, La Cumbre Brewing, Pizza Port Brewing, Boneyard Beer and Firestone Walker Brewing. Later, Grains of Wrath Brewery, Fremont Brewing and Beachwood Brewing also collaborated on IPAs.
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Westbound & Down's head R&D brewer, Alex Baken.
Jordan Brooks

Westbound & Down specifically utilized some of the techniques of the collaborating breweries to drive these beers, giving each one a unique twist. "Some notable contributions from collaborating breweries that made the biggest impacts were: matching water profiles, sharing ingredients (including their selected hops), and timing and temperature techniques," says Alex Baken, head R&D brewer for Westbound & Down. The brewery often used social media and zoom calls to keep the spirit of the brew day alive, given the travel and distancing restrictions in place at the time.

The brewery also collaborated with some of its favorite local West Coast IPA producers. Cannonball Creek co-owner Brian Hutchinson was someone whom Westbound & Down's head brewer Jake Gardner had been familiar with for years. "I went to school at CU Boulder," says Gardner. "I was a big home brewer there. When Hutch was brewing at Mountain Sun, I was the annoying twenty-year-old trying to ask him for recipes. Hop Vivant [Imperial IPA] was hugely inspirational to the beginning of my career," he adds.
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The team had some fun, printing out a photo of Firestone Walker brewmaster Matt Brynildson, since the two teams couldn't brew together in person due to COVID restrictions.
Jordan Brooks

Gardner also became friends with Comrade Brewing's David Lin and Marks Lanham well before opening Westbound & Down. "[Comrade's] Superpower IPA was such a huge force when it came out in the Denver market," says Gardner. "Marks and David were regular customers when I brewed at Hogshead and fans of what I was doing there. I told them about my obsession with West Coast IPA and we connected over that. They would give me real-time feedback on my Hog Wild IPAs. The [English ale-focused] brewery didn't really want me making those, but I basically forced their hand because I was the head brewer."

The series went on to be a big success, with fans of the dry, hop-forward IPA style eagerly awaiting each new release. One notable feature of the first season of the series was that Westbound would release these beers in pairs, meaning customers could try two different beers at once.

After a little over a year hiatus, Western Conference All-Stars recently returned for another edition, releasing a collaboration with Portland's Breakside Brewery in the summer. Next up will be a late-October release for a beer made with Riip Beer, a Huntington Beach, California, brewery known for its excellent IPAs.

But IPA fans can get a taste of this series by trying beers from the collaborating breweries (though not the collaborations themselves) at Westbound & Down's Western Conference All-Star Tap Takeover, which takes place from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday, October 6, and Friday, October 7, at the brewery's newest outpost, 1801 Blake Street in Denver. (It also opened a second brewery location, dubbed Westbound & Down Mill, in Lafayette in late 2021.)

The event will feature beers from Beachwood Brewing, Boneyard Beer, Breakside Brewery, Cannonball Creek Brewing Company, Comrade Brewing, Fremont Brewing, Grains of Wrath Brewery, La Cumbre Brewing, Pizza Port Brewing and Riip Beer.
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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.

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