New ownership confident Aspen and Basalt brewers will mix well
Capitol Creek being acquired by group who owns Aspen Brewing Co.
The owner of Aspen Brewing Co. is now wading into Willits Town Center in Basalt, where it plans to finalize its purchase of Capitol Creek Brewing Co. later this month.
High Country Brewing LLC is the name of the newly formed ownership group that’s an offshoot of Legacy Breweries, which in the fall acquired Aspen Brewing Co. after having reached a purchase agreement nearly one year earlier in October 2019.
Both acquisitions, for undisclosed amounts, include the breweries’ commercial leases, inventory, brand and label, equipment and other assets.
High Country Brewing CEO Don Bryant, who lives in Evergreen and was visiting the Capitol Creek Brewing site on Tuesday, said the breweries in Aspen and Willits will continue to produce beer under the same labels. Aspen makes about 6,000 barrels a year and Castle Creek roughly 500 to 600, Bryant said.
“Capitol Creek has a meaning in terms of the name itself and our intention is to keep these two facilities distinctly their own,” he said. “So we’ll keep the Capitol Creek name but we want to be completely transparent that we are the same ownership.”
Duncan Clauss launched Aspen Brewing in 2008; Bill Johnson opened Capitol Creek Brewing in 2017.
Bryant said the focus will be on selling beer on-site from the taprooms of Aspen Brewing and Capitol Creek, as well as on the dining experiences at both gastro pubs. To-go purchases of beer, popularized by growlers and now crowlers, also have shown to be popular during the pandemic in states where they are legal. Wide distribution is not being considered, he said.
More than 30 microbreweries in Colorado closed in 2020 with the pandemic’s impacts playing a major factor, but Capitol Creek Brewing was not suffering financially or otherwise, both the buyer and seller said.
“I feel good about passing the baton,” Johnson said Tuesday. “And I feel ultimately I built something to be proud of and I believe Jerod (Day, brewmaster) is one of the best out there.”
Day, in fact, will stay on as brewmaster and James Hauser will keep on as general manager. Staffing levels will remain level at 16 to 18 full-time employees at Capitol Creek, Bryant said.
Johnson noted he has enough on his plate as the owner of Aspen Public House downtown at the Wheeler Opera House. The restaurant is temporarily closed because outdoor dining is precluded by the current renovation of the Wheeler Opera House and it’s the height of the slow season, Johnson said, noting he hopes to reopened the Public House by the end of May.
Selling Capitol Creek Brewery, Johnson said, “will give me more time to focus on a single location, and I think the new owners will potentially have the resources to take Capitol Creek to a new level.”
That’s how Bryant also views it.
“We think Capitol Creek is a diamond in the rough that has an opportunity to make a name for itself,” he said.
The restaurant sides of each business also will run independent of each other, but the brewing facilities will make both beers under their own labels, Bryant said. The number of taps at each restaurant also will be doubled, he said.
“We want to turn Capitol Creek and Aspen into places that whenever someone comes to this area to drink beer, they know these are the places that make the best beer,” said Bryant, whose time in the beverage industry includes nearly a decade as CEO of Pacific Northwest brewery suppliers Hopunion and Yakima Chief.
Aspen Brewing Co. runs the Aspen Tap craft brewery and restaurant downtown, and it also has a brewery at Aspen Airport Business Center, where a future tasting room will be located.
“Basalt is very, very different from the Aspen Tap location,” Bryant said. “They won’t have the same food and the communities are completely different. Our clientele at Aspen Tap is about 85% tourism, depending on the time of the year, and year-round about 60% local at Capitol Creek.”
Both establishments also have outdoor dining; Aspen Tap has been getting full crowds on its patio in the advent of looser pandemic restrictions, and Bryant said Castle Creek has the potential to seat up to 200 people al fresco.
High Country Brewing doesn’t plan to limit its operations to the upper Roaring Fork Valley, said Bryant.
“This acquisition is another step toward building the platform we came to Colorado to support,” he said. “Aspen and Capitol Creek both have fantastic traditions of great food, great beer and supporting the local community that makes Aspen unique.”
Personnel changes at Aspen Brewing Co. have included making Erin McLeod general manager at Aspen Tap and Robert Regan as head chef in 2020. Company executive moves have included making Scott Kimball coordinator of all brewing operations, hiring Michael Bennett as chief financial officer, and Ryan Williams as head of marketing and event planning.
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