Outer Range Brew­ing

From their small outpost at 9,000 feet el­e­va­tion in the Colorado moun­tains, Outer Range Brew­ing Co. is in­tently fo­cused on a nar­row spec­trum of beers made with ex­pres­sive yeast. But the chal­lenge of launch­ing a brew­ery is noth­ing com­pared to the chal­lenge

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Contents - By Jamie Bogner

LEE CLEGHORN’S “AHA MO­MENT”

was a bit more se­vere than most. He was on an 8-month over­seas de­ploy­ment with the Spe­cial Forces while his wife and 7-month-old daugh­ter were back home en­dur­ing the nor­mal firsts (and fail­ures) that all first-time par­ents ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I was in Afghanistan look­ing out at the moun­tains and had this epiphany—what the hell am I do­ing, still do­ing this?” says Lee. “I’ve got to get on with my life.”

Wife and busi­ness part­ner Emily Cleghorn agrees. “He missed ev­ery­thing. First word, first steps, first birth­day. I was rais­ing her alone as a first-time par­ent and con­stantly wor­ried about Lee be­cause he was tak­ing some of the riski­est mis­sions out there. So af­ter he came back, the stress of be­ing apart and miss­ing out led us to say, ‘Why wait? If we’re go­ing to do this, let’s do it now.’ ”

Brew­ing had been a part of their re­la­tion­ship since day one (lit­er­ally—they first met when a mu­tual friend in­vited Emily to ac­com­pany him to brew with Lee), and it was Lee’s stress re­liever.

“Ev­ery week­end I was home, we were home­brew­ing in the back­yard, so it was a nat­u­ral con­tin­u­a­tion. We had been through so much shit, we asked our­selves, ‘What would we ac­tu­ally want to do? Let’s put the pin on the map and open a brew­ery where we’d love to be.’ ”

While some would have just jumped right in, Emily and Lee tack­led their new busi­ness with the pre­ci­sion you’d ex­pect from trained sol­diers. Emily earned a de­gree in mar­ket­ing, Lee a de­gree in busi­ness while also at­tend­ing the Amer­i­can Brew­ers Guild. Both did un­paid in­tern­ships to learn the ropes; Lee’s in­volved wash­ing kegs once a week in the early days at Brook­lyn’s Other Half Brew­ing Co. They knew they’d have to work their asses off to build a suc­cess­ful brew­ing busi­ness in a crowded beer mar­ket.

Their fo­cus from the start has been two styles they’re pas­sion­ate about—bel­gian-style beers and hazy IPAS. “The best brew­eries in the world some­times brew only a cou­ple of beers,” says Emily.

Rather than make ev­ery­thing for ev­ery­one, they in­stead fo­cused in­tently on de­vel­op­ing their base beers. In their first year, Lee brewed more than 100 pi­lot batches on their one-bar­rel pi­lot sys­tem, dial­ing in their recipes as he went.

“The first year,” says Lee, “was pure hell. But it forced us to be cre­ative, by set­ting those lim­i­ta­tions.”

Per­fect­ing the Hazy IPA

Lee was not a hop­head early on and came late to the IPA party. In fact, it was only the rise of hazy, yeast-for­ward, ex­pres­sive IPAS that changed his mind, and it’s that yeast char­ac­ter that re­mains the com­mon link be­tween the IPAS and Bel­gian-style beers they brew.

“IPAS are so sim­i­lar to the Bel­gians. Peo­ple don’t pay much at­ten­tion to the es­ters, but it’s the ester pro­files of these yeasts that are mak­ing these beers. You can’t make these [hazy IPAS] with Chico yeast. You can try, but it’s not go­ing to be the same.”

For Outer Range, one of the ap­peal­ing fac­tors of this style is not, as de­trac­tors might claim, the speed to mar­ket, but in­stead the 360-de­gree ap­proach to brew­ing that the beer style re­quires.

“It takes ev­ery­thing to make this beer well,” says Lee. “The right water chem­istry, the right malt bill, the right yeast, and the right hops. That’s why so many brew­ers are so in­ter­ested in it: To make a good New Eng­land–style or hazy IPA, you have to hit ev­ery com­po­nent of how to make a beer per­fectly.”

De­vel­op­ing Recipes

“The way I come up with a recipe is not by sit­ting down to come up with a recipe,” says Lee. “I come up with recipes by think­ing about fla­vors or hav­ing food some­where with a fla­vor idea I can trans­late into beer. My recipe devel­op­ment is more around two things: hops and malt— the yeast is a con­stant. We use some dif­fer­ent yeasts, but for most of our IPAS we use Lon­don Ale III.

“From the hops per­spec­tive, ev­ery recipe is not the same. We’ll brew In The Steep,

“Mo­saic is the hard­est ‘hot’ hops with which to make a beer. Some­times it’s blue­berry, some­times it’s dark fruit, and some­times it’s dank and herbal—even from the same farm.”

and we’ll taste it in the fer­men­tor. We have a set amount of dry hops to put in, but if it needs more, we’ll put more in it. That’s one of the nice things about be­ing as small as we are—the craft of it. We ad­just based on how it’s turn­ing out.”

While pro­duc­ers in Colorado each carve out their gen­eral niche in the hazy IPA cat­e­gory—weld­w­erks with sweeter cit­rus-for­ward beers and Cere­bral with slightly drier and less-tur­bid beers—outer Range leans to­ward a bit of bite and a touch of dank­ness in their hazy beers.

“We use a lot of Mo­saic with our Ci­tra,” says Lee. “Hav­ing a strong malt bill be­hind the hops cre­ates a dif­fer­ent fla­vor, so we in­vest a lot in the malt and fo­cus on that in­ter­play. Ci­tra is easy—it’s go­ing to make ev­ery­thing great. Mo­saic is the hard­est ‘hot’ hops with which to make a beer. Some­times it’s blue­berry, some­times it’s dark fruit, and some­times it’s dank and herbal—even from the same farm. And it can re­ally change the per­cep­tion of the beer, how it hits in the dry hop.

“An all-mo­saic IPA is the hard­est beer to make. You can do an all-ci­tra beer all day, or an all-sim­coe. The grow­ers have fig­ured out Sim­coe so the catty thing has dropped off a lot, and now it’s just beau­ti­ful fruity, piney notes. But Mo­saic is just elu­sive. If you can make a beau­ti­ful all-mo­saic beer, I don’t think there’s any­thing bet­ter. We have one, Pil­low Stacks, and that’s the same recipe ev­ery time, but some­times it comes out very herbal, and some­times it comes out tast­ing like dark fruit, even though we’re buy­ing from the same farm. From a brewer’s per­spec­tive, I think about that beer all the time. I’m re­luc­tant to brew it be­cause I want it to be per­fect, so I only brew it ev­ery once in a while.”

While for larger brew­eries, that vari­abil­ity might be a bug in the sys­tem, Outer Range sees it as a fea­ture.

“It’s a real ter­roir for beer. Hops fla­vor changes through­out the year in beer. When you get a pack­age of hops and how you use it—those re­sults are so am­pli­fied when you’re us­ing six– eight pounds per bar­rel in the whirpool and dry hop.”

There is a nat­u­ral limit to how much hops can add to the char­ac­ter of their beer be­fore they see di­min­ish­ing re­turns or worse—nega­tive re­sults from too much hops.

“Our con­straint right now is how to get more hops in the beer with­out adding more bit­ter­ness, even though it’s all whirpool and dry hop, be­cause you’re still adding acids through the dry hop, and it’s con­tribut­ing to bit­ter­ness,” says Lee. “So for us, we’ve reached the max­i­mum amount of hops we can add to beer. Now, it’s pick­ing those hops and se­lect­ing them for the in­di­vid­ual beer. That’s a lux­ury we have by be­ing small be­cause we can taste ev­ery batch and ad­just. But we can’t just do twelve pounds per bar­rel—the beer is worse.”

Process Chal­lenges

Their process is an ad­mit­tedly costly one for a com­mer­cial brew­ery, and they don’t apol­o­gize for the ex­pense or work that it re­quires. While they’ve tried var­i­ous cost-sav­ing mea­sures, such as dry hop­ping later in fer­men­ta­tion, they

still find that some of the more in­ef­fi­cient mea­sures pro­duce beer that tastes bet­ter, so they’re in­sis­tent on pro­cesses that ul­ti­mately im­prove the beer, even if those are costly.

“We dry hop re­ally early. Some­times we pitch and dry hop. Our dry hops are all done by day ten, for sure, or be­fore, if we can do it. With these beers, we try to have all our dry hop­ping done be­fore halfway to ter­mi­nal. Bio­trans­for­ma­tion is a real thing, and the hops fla­vors stay in a beer if you dry hop early. The haze and hops go hand in hand. It’s im­pos­si­ble to make a good hazy IPA with­out mas­sive dry hop­ping. That’s why you can take Lon­don Ale III and not dry hop it, and it’s clear.”

Their deca­dent ap­proach to yeast man­age­ment is one that’s hard for bud­get-minded brew­eries to repli­cate.

“We use a fresh pitch for ev­ery hazy IPA. It’s ex­pen­sive, but we have to,” says Lee. “We ex­per­i­mented with it—we tried to har­vest. I’m not alone in this and haven’t been able to steal any­one’s se­crets in how to do this dif­fer­ently. Har­vest­ing yeast with old hops mixed in and pitch­ing into a new beer—it’s aw­ful. It doesn’t work. But that’s one of the chal­lenges when you dry hop at high krausen.”

De­spite their am­bi­tion to be one of the best brew­eries in their home state of Colorado, they in­sist on main­tain­ing a smaller pro­duc­tion num­ber that ul­ti­mately serves their vi­sion of de­liv­er­ing qual­ity and re­main­ing in touch with their prod­uct and con­sumers.

“Our team moved up here for a cer­tain kind of lifestyle, and we want to be a ve­hi­cle for that lifestyle, so they can en­joy that lifestyle. There are brew­ers out there who will chase 20,000 bar­rels, but we’re not them,” says Lee.

“We don’t want to grow out of rel­e­vance,” says Emily. “We’re not do­ing a vol­ume play here. There’s a spot we want to hit where we’re prof­itable and com­fort­able but not so big where the qual­ity con­trol could be­come an is­sue. We know what we don’t want to do—we don’t want to get to 10,000 bar­rels.”

While some con­tem­po­raries brew for fi­nan­cial suc­cess and oth­ers brew for the ac­co­lades and fame, Emily and Lee Cleghorn have ex­pe­ri­enced the chal­lenge of ad­ver­sity in their first ca­reers and have fo­cused their sec­ond ca­reers—this brew­ery—on what they view as a big­ger idea.

“Outer Range comes from a Ki­pling poem called ‘The Ex­plorer,’ and there is a line in the poem that reads ‘Some­thing lost be­hind the Ranges. Over yon­der! Go you there!’” says Emily. “This brew­ery is us find­ing it, and we want this beer to speak to the peo­ple who are striv­ing for the same thing.”

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