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New Image Brewing: Young, Motivated, and With Purpose

by Tim Jerding

The beer shelves in Colorado are crowded; full of breweries new and old vying to establish themselves as a staple in the public’s consumption habits. Or conversely, trying to hang on to their loyal clientele by attempting to re-invent themselves as a means to keep their production numbers up and beers exciting in the eye of that same public.

Arvada’s New Image Brewing is among a new generation of Colorado breweries that have entered the market with control, innovation, passion, and as a result, success. Their beers are brewed in small batches, with new products showing up seemingly every time they deliver to our store. They were also listed in the top 10 best new breweries by USA today, which is cool. We’re pleased to be currently featuring them as our brewery of the month.  I exchanged a couple emails with Brandon Capps, part-owner and head brewer, to talk beer and business. Below is that exchange.

Where did you get your start in brewing and what were your early inspirations to make beer?

My first real job was while still in college, I started working for Anheuser Busch as an electrical engineering intern. At first I sort of hated everything about it and almost left, but then I got transferred over to the brewing department. I gained an incredible mentor and friend to this day who really took me under his wing and answered all my amateur ass questions. I started home brewing and bringing my beers in for flavor evaluation during daily QC checks. Over time I was able to really dial in some professional techniques and improve my processes. I started out really into malt driven beers and especially Belgians. I loved brewing super high alcohol beers for the challenge and also aging with a lot of adjuncts. At one point, I think I had up to 20 five gallon fermenters going at any given time.

How has the craft beer community in Colorado embraced you guys as one of the new companies that’s making a splash?

That’s an interesting question, and it’s not super straight forward to answer, but here are some thoughts: I was already pretty well entrenched in the hazy IPA scene in the northeast before I moved out here. I wasn’t necessarily trying to make it our number one thing, but I did really enjoy that type of IPA so I just kept brewing them here. That really took off because we were one of the first to bring that style to market here, especially at the liquor stores. From there it really transitioned into more about how we balanced quality with business practices. We decided to take an approach more geared at putting our IPAs on shelves at liquor stores and really establishing a strong core lineup. We leaned out a lot of our processes and started scaling up so that we could make what we were doing more affordable, and I think that’s driven a lot of growth at the commodity level. We’ve been able to use the resources gained from this growth to really focus more recently (and upcoming) on new and experimental ideas that will make another wave in the first movers market. We are always trying to experiment and develop new ideas, I would say that for the last couple years we’ve really been focusing a lot more on process than ingredients, but this year we can really apply a lot of what we’ve developed to a larger lineup of new ideas. In any case, I think our consumers recognize that we’ve made big commitments not only to innovation, but to QC and logistics that get the beer into more hands for a very reasonable cost.

Brandon (right) pictured with business partner, Sean Fisher.

Hazy IPAs, saisons, and stouts. You make them, and make them well. What’s your history with these styles and where do you see them going from here?

So, I’ll just go in chronological order. Like I mentioned before I really got into malt driven beers, like stouts, first and foremost. I’ve always loved to cook too, so making adjunct profiles was very akin to baking for me and I loved the hybridization. The IPAs next. The goal initially was never anything to do with being hazy, that was just an initial result. It was a slow progression that started with a distaste for dry and bitter IPAs and a loving for more balanced sweetness coupled with more significant yeast character. I started out brewing English/American IPA hybrids, but the malt character just took over after a couple weeks.

I had always used English {yeast} strains because I never saw the point in having a “super clean” yeast profile in a fruity beer, so I experimented with some strains that were known to be more estery {chemical compound that creates aromas in fruit and other good things}. I decided to up the sweetness with more residual sugar, so I looked for a strain that was less attenuative {i.e. yeast that when finished fermenting, leaves more sugar behind} and fruity. Slowly but surely, I started transitioning all of my hop additions to very late boil until we were doing almost entirely whirlpool additions {these late additions promote less bitterness and more hop flavor and aroma}. Also, slowly but surely started eliminating crystal malts {creates a sweet, malty character that tends to balance out and sometimes overtake hop flavor} to preserve freshness {of hop flavor}. Once it was all said and done, we had this hazy, pillowy, fruity and low bitterness IPA that seemed to be catching on around the northeast. I liked ’em, so I kept brewing them and learned from what others around me were trying as well. On the saisons, that really started when I was in the process of leaving Brew Gentlemen. I really wanted to take the IPA a step further and really find an incredible yeast profile that would compliment the hops. I also developed an obsession with kombucha {check out New Image’s Dyad–a kombucha saison} and wanted to see if it was possible to get the long aged sour characteristics associated with that product to develop at a similar rate in beer.

What are some long-term goals for your beer and your company?

Long term, I want to double down on Colorado and really own this market. Not to say dominate it, but not pursue massive distribution beyond this state unless we expand production elsewhere. I really believe in this community and want to be entirely focused on it. I want to develop our brand more and more into our specialty areas and continue to push style creation forward. I’d also like to create a few side projects over the next few years. Long term, I see us opening more retail sites geared toward small scale research and development brewing and entertainment. For instance, an all spontaneous brewery in Salida with 20 acres of camping and outdoor music. Just a totally random example.

Salida is awesome! What is the time frame on the 20 acre/spontaneous project?

Right now there’s is zero timeline here, with all new sites in Colorado right now it’s really based on real estate opportunities. I’ve got my eyes on some properties, but I’ve got to get the production site a little more settled and fully built out before I feel comfortable taking on another project. I’ve hired another 6 full time production staff. So, I’ll have more time later this year to start working on these projects.

Will you brew in the traditional Lambic method–i.e. 30% raw wheat, aged hops, seasonally, etc?

Not entirely sure yet. If I do, it will be for practical reasons and not for branding purposes by any means. I’d like to use all Colorado and hyper local ingredients as an homage to the spirit of very traditional brewing, but as far as koelschip size, traditional methods and whatnot, I plan to learn from them but take as modern of an approach as I feel inclined at the same time.

Are you currently using a coolship? How’s the experimenting going?

We’ve done one koelschip batch thus far. It’s only about 8 months old, so very early to tell. We don’t have a traditional vessel by any means, but a mobile one that we drove out to the mountains to inoculate. The beer is coming along well though. I haven’t had the opportunity to try much young Lambic yet, but from what I’ve tried, it seems pretty on point.

Do you plan on having an extensive barrel program and at what stage is that program in now?

We do. We have about 80 wood casks filled right now and some are as much as 3 years old. We’ve always wanted to build that inventory so that once we opened the gate, we could keep it flowing. We have some crazy ideas to do all oak conditioned lagers as well, but that’s still a ways down the road.

80 barrels!? Awesome. What’s in them???

So many things. I’ve got spontaneous in wine; grisette in wine and tequila; mixed culture in wine, bourbon and rum; stout in rum, bourbon, rye and scotch; wheat wine in bourbon, scotch, scotch finished port and rye. Tons of projects and some as much as 3 years old. I’ve been really adamant about growing our barrel program to a size that once it’s launched it can be sustained and somewhat regular. We have more barrels coming and getting filled this summer too.

What are the benefits of self-distributing and do you all plan to stay that way? How far will your footprint reach in ten years?

I would like to stay this way as long as we possibly can, and it may end up limiting how big we really get, but that’s OK. The margins are great and all, but the real advantage is the control we have. So many of our friends are getting horsed around by their distributors, and it’s hurting their reputation. I don’t want that at all. Long term, I want to form strategic partnerships with other strong, self-distributing brands that hybridize well with New Image and create a more efficient and larger self distribution network with a similar level of control and customer care. I see us being throughout Colorado but really pushing for larger, multi-location accounts long term that self distribution is not necessarily known for being able to handle. At the end of the day, I’d like to see us land somewhere in the 10K {This number refers to amount of barrels produced and is a common term in brewing.  One “barrel” equals 31 gallons, or two kegs of beer.} range, at that point, I’d love to just focus entirely on concentrating the strength of our following and brand in CO.

The food coming out of your kitchen is delicious. How much collaboration goes on between you and your chef?

Well, it’s interesting, because we don’t really have a “chef” anymore… we tried that twice and got burned both times. Nowadays, our GM, who has an extensive background in fine dining, works closely with our kitchen team and vendors to develop our menus. I provide context and direction for the overall concepts and goals, but he really executes the menu. We really love making good food, and we have some really cool things coming in that department soon.

Thank you to Brandon for taking the time to talk New Image, beer, and business.

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