Cheers could be heard up and down Lawson Hill’s Society Drive Friday around 5:30 p.m. as Telluride Brewing Co. employees watched their iconic Face Down Brown brew take bronze at the Great American Beer Festival.
The festival “invites industry professionals to sit together in small groups and, without knowing the brand or brewery name, evaluate beers in defined style categories. The ultimate goal of the Judge Panel is to identify up to three world-class beers that best represent each beer style category,” according to the Great American Beer Festival website.
“I was so excited to hear the name called. Knowing how much time, energy and love that goes into that beer, and all the beers the come out of here, it was a great sense of accomplishment,” Telluride Brewing president and cofounder of Tommy Thacher said.
Telluride Brewing and the Face Down Brown are no strangers to awards. The Face Down Brown, a hybrid American- and English-style brown with roasted caramel malts that create flavors of toffee, has previously won awards at the World Beer Cup in 2012, as well as the Great American Beer Festival in 2012, 2014 and 2016.
When cofounders Thacher and Chris Fish first started the brewery in 2011, they did not expect the Face Down Brown to be the success it is today. The beer did not even have its own can yet and was packaged in a Bridal Veil Pale Ale can when it took its first trip to the World Beer Cup.
“It started as one batch of brown ale. The very first batch we brewed went to that World Beer Cup and won first place. I just wanted to make a brown ale that I liked and wanted to drink. We didn’t even have a plan for it to be a standard at all, and then it won. The second beer for a brewery is typically an IPA, but after it won, I decided that would be our second beer,” said Fish, who is also the brewmaster.
Since that first batch of Face Down Brown, the recipe for the beer has remained untouched. On the Telluride Brewing website, the beer is described as “a beautiful hybrid of an English and American Brown Ale that explodes with aromas of toffee, chocolate, and nut balanced hop forward with German Noble and big American aroma hops.”
Thanks to Face Down Brown’s accolades and recognitions, the beer put Telluride Brewing “on the beer map quick,” said Fish. “The cool thing about this beer is that when they train judges at beer contests, or when they look up the style guidelines for an American-Style Brown, the Face Down shows up as an example.”
Out of the 15 barrels in the brewery warehouse, the largest tank, aptly named “Bertha,” brews the Face Down Brown during the fall and winter, when the beer is most popular. Bertha takes seven brews to fill, as compared to a typical barrel that takes three brews. The process of filling Bertha takes two full days.
Despite the Face Down Brown’s success at contests, the beer is only the second most popular beer at the brewery. The most popular beer at the Brewery is the Tempter IPA, which is an India Pale Ale. This discrepancy does not alarm Fish. “It’s pretty rare for a brewery to have one of their best-selling beers even be an American-style brown,’’ he said.
The brewery, which celebrates its 10th anniversary in October, owes part of its success to Telluride.
“We’ve joked that Telluride is our secret ingredient,” Fish said. “Beer is mostly water, and we have the headwaters of the San Miguel, so we’ve got amazing water.”
Fish, who has brewed beer for almost 19 years, began crafting his own beers in high school. He would go to the homebrew store and buy supplies to make beer for himself and his friends.
“At the time, you could go to the homebrew store and buy ingredients because it wasn’t alcohol yet,” Fish said.
When he turned 21, Fish volunteered at the Great American Beer Festival, the same festival and contest his creations are now winning. After volunteering, he took a job at Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery in Boulder.
Fish first moved to Telluride after attending the Telluride Brews and Blues Festival. Shortly after the festival, he took a job at the Smuggler-Union Brewery & Restaurant in town.
In fact, Smugglers is where Fish and Thacher initially met.
“When I first moved to Telluride in 2004, the first day I was here, I sat next to him at the bar at Smugglers. We’ve been best friends ever since,” Thacher said.
From best friends to business partners, what inspired Fish and Thacher to start a brewery in Telluride was the community.
“It’s been all about this town and the support we get,” Fish said. “When you walk in and see locals and tourists enjoying their beers … that’s what it is all about.”