Scott Witsoe makes 31.5 gallons of beer at a time. That's such a tiny amount compared to the output at other breweries -- even other small breweries -- that is doesn't seem possible that Wit's End Brewing would be able to stay in business, let alone thrive.
But that's exactly what Witsoe has done since opening the doors of Wit's End in the fall of 2011, with what has been the smallest brewing system within Denver city limits for much of that time. And earlier this month, he celebrated his one-barrel brewhouse by winning a bronze medal at the World Beer Cup, one of the most prestigious beer competitions in the world.
"The fact that we won an award on a one-barrel system validates everything I have been doing for the last few years," says Witsoe. "This was our first foray into the big-boy world of beer medals. ...I can't even describe how it feels."
And the medal, for Jean Claude Van Blonde, a Belgian-style blonde, couldn't have come at a better time, since Wit's End will be replacing the one-barrel system in May with a seven-barrel brewhouse that will allow the brewery to significantly expand.
"We're ushering in a new chapter," Witsoe says. "But it feels nice to put closure on it."
The new system, along with four new seven-barrel fermenters, was manufactured by Bennett Forgeworks in Ridgway, and Witsoe, along with assistant brewer Pat McNerney and taproom manager Matt Boehm, are now working to get everything positioned and hooked up.
"We'll do our first batch and cross our fingers," he says.
Once Witsoe feels like he has been able to scale up his core recipes for the new system and is "confident that everything is doing what it is supposed to do," he plans to "open the floodgates and crank out as much beer as possible. That is the goal."
The upgrade will allow Wit's End to distribute kegs of beer to local bars and restaurants -- something Witsoe hasn't really been able to do for the past two and half years. If things go well, he will likely can or bottle limited amounts of his beer -- probably Jean Claude Van Blonde, for starters -- later this year.
To buy the equipment, Witsoe was able to get a small-business loan, which wasn't possible back in 2010 and 2011 when he was planning his operation.
"My goal when I started this whole thing was to open as big as I possibly could. But I realized immediately that the only system I could afford was a for nanobrewing. It was either that or don't open a brewery," he says. "Fortunately, I had a credit card with a nice big limit on it and that was my bank loan.
"The hope was always that we could get a nice following and have steady organic growth and stay in business long enough to get some financing for a bigger system. That's what happened, and I had a very different conversation with my bank this time."
Was his path the best way to go about opening a brewery? Witsoe says he warns other would-be brewers that it was very stressful, difficult and probably not for everyone: "But it worked for me."
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