By Chuck Slothower
Four Corners Business Journal
DURANGO After 17 years brewing for others, longtime Durango brewer Erik Maxson is taking a leap and starting his own brewery.
Maxson plans to open BREW Pub & Kitchen within weeks, although the exact opening date is uncertain. He has signed a lease at a downtown location at 117 W. College Dr., across the street from McDonald's and the General Palmer Hotel.
Maxson, 42, is well-known in the Durango brewing and restaurant scene. He served as head brewer at Carver Brewing Co. for 12 years, and was a partner in the business for the past seven years.
Maxson sold his shares in Carver's before starting his own place. Maxson and his wife, Lainie, traveled to breweries in the Pacific Northwest and the Colorado Front Range. They considered moving elsewhere before deciding to double down on Durango.
"I said, why not?" he said. "I didn't see why it couldn't be done."
BREW becomes Durango's sixth brewery, an impressive number for a city of only 17,069 residents.
In larger cities, such as Denver and Portland, Ore., microbreweries tend to spawn more microbreweries, creating their own market share. But it remains to be seen if that will hold true in Durango.
"I think we could support another brewpub, particularly Erik's pub because I think he has a great location and obviously is a good brewer," said Dave Thibodeau, president and co-founder of Ska Brewing Co., the largest of Durango's breweries.
"He's coming from Carver's, so he knows the Durango landscape he's got a following of his own already," Thibodeau said. "I wouldn't say that anybody could pull it off, but Erik could pull it off."
Maxson plans to offer four of his own beers, each centered on one of the beverage's four characteristic ingredients malt, hops, yeast and water.
A malty beer could be a dark ale such as a porter or stout, while a hop-focused beer is exemplified by the popular India Pale Ale style. The flavor of Belgian saisons is driven by yeast, while the "water" offering would be a low-alcohol beer.
"I want to focus on the ingredients that go in the beer," he said.
He also intends to showcase a half-dozen beers from other Colorado breweries such as Trinity Brewing of Colorado Springs or Denver's Prost Brewing Co. Maxson said he wants to "give people a chance to see what's really going on with the Colorado brewing scene."
BREW will also offer a food menu that includes local and regional ingredients. Maxson said he sees connections in brewing to the artisanal food movement.
"I saw brewing as a slow food in itself," he said.
Maxson said he was influenced by the "high-class pub food" at Phantom Canyon Brewing Co. in Colorado Springs, where he got his start. Maxson also helped put on an event in Durango with Linda Illsley of Linda's Local Food CafŽ in Durango.
BREW operates under a limited liability company, Black Sheep Endeavors. Maxson is seeking additional financing.
"We need a small amount of funding right now to carry us through," he said.
However, Maxson is reluctant to cede control to others.
"Our focus is to keep it as friends and family," he said. "This is my business. I don't want to give up control."
Maxson has hired about 20 full-time employees to staff the business.
The building is owned by Rio Grande Building, a limited liability company managed by a local couple. Before BREW, the location hosted a string of bars. While renovating, Maxson found three darts embedded deep within a wall.
Maxson has thoroughly remodeled the place to make it a more welcoming atmosphere. He intends to hit the ground running.
"I only have one opportunity to meet the expectations of the people that come in, or exceed the expectations of the people that come in," he said. "We're selling three things here: We're selling beer, food and atmosphere."