By Jeffrey V. Smith
Nick Smith gets to do what he loves every day. Since opening Lumpy Ridge Brewing Company in July 2015, he’s brought together his talents and tastes to craft the best beer he can while working hard to make people happy and contribute to his community.
With the help of some investors and recent changes to laws in Estes Park, Smith opened the town’s first new brewery in more than 20 years and, according to town administrators, was its first official micro brewer. He’s poured his assorted passions into the business and has not only come up with a great assortment of tasty brews, but he’s reclaimed a vacant building, re-purposed a brewing system and created a unique, cozy setting to enjoy a beverage fresh from the tap, brewed just feet away.
Housed in a former gas station, Lumpy Ridge Brewing Company uses a 15-barrel system. There is a small, indoor tasting room featuring original art and good tunes as well as a newly constructed patio out front under the former pump canopy. Beautiful Estes Valley views can be enjoyed from both.
Working at the Terre Haute Brewing Company in Indiana taught him a lot about the industry and gave him the “ambition” to get into brewing himself. While at the brewery, he moved from the tap room to brewing operations and outside sales. He also spent time cleaning and assisting in the brew house and eventually moved into the head brewer position. When Smith moved away in 2006, he vowed he would work in the industry again. “Certainly there are stresses, but this is fun and generally makes folks happy. I like that. It makes me happy,” he said. “I love the business. I love the process… and, hopefully, the profit.”
Once in Estes Park, Smith befriended local helicopter pilot—and homebrewer—Nathan Weber, and the two began brewing together immediately. “He was interested in it and has a great water source at the base of Lumpy Ridge, so we set up shop in his basement,” Smith explained. “We brewed fairly regularly, plus had a lot of fun making our little kit better and more efficient.”
After being in Estes Park for six years, new laws opened the door to micro-breweries and small distilleries. He saw his chance to get back into the industry and began seeking a location to open a brewing business. When the former Murray & Sons Automotive building on S. St. Vrain Avenue became available, he knew he’d found his brewery’s home. “I sought a garage all along,” Smith said, “as they are already equipped with industrial elements such as floor drains, power, gas. Plus, they are open basic buildings. Much more easy to re fit than a strip mall.”
The building and brewery include several reused and re-purposed items. “A lot of our re-purposing was both artistically and financially inspired,” Smith explained. “The railing for the patio and fermentor all came out of ‘Steve the Welder’s’ yard. It had been there for 15 years, and we saw a use for it. Our retired ski fence and bar front came from being a cool, cheap material and we all like to ski.”
Smith uses a background in cooking to craft the flavor profiles of his brews. “I have always been interested in foods, flavor, cooking,” he said. “However, I don’t feel like it got real until I worked with trained chefs at a guest ranch near Saratoga, WY. I am a good cook. I enjoy it. I enjoy flavors and tasting and I think that I brew like I cook, by flavors and intuition.
During renovations of the gas station, business partner and artist Wade Johnson made it his canvas. “Wade gave this place a soul and style that is truly unique and truly ours,” Smith said. “There is art everywhere, and it is ever-stimulating and fun. Especially when I find new things I had no idea he added. Wade goes where the spirit takes him and allowing that to happen has given us a very cool little joint.”
Although Smith does much of the heavy lifting, figuratively and literally, he doesn’t do it alone. There’s Johnston, the artist and owner and “a few fantastic folks” like Weber who brews once a week, beertender Barbara McQuate and Jon Feder who is a beertender and works in the brewhouse. Zac Bunch does sales, is a beertender, brew assistant and “fast growing beer geek,” Smith said. Then there’s Todd Plummer who volunteers at the brewery. “He’s quiet a character, we have a beer named for him and everything [Oggs FM Altbier]. He’s a retired engineer and just a way cool figure.”
Smith says he’s “pretty hung up on the hoppy stuff” when he’s drinking a beer. “Loving flavors and tasting, I do love trying all kinds of beers, even ones I know I am not particularly fond of,” he said. “I enjoy tasting and sorting flavors and their complexities.”
When brewing, Smith likes to make nods to traditional European styles while embracing the American beer revolution. “I would say most of our beers are close to the styles they are identified by, but certainly rarely true to form,” he explained. “I like to create dry foundations as I believe one can better taste the ingredients. Otherwise, I am not interested in reinventing the wheel, just making distinctive quality beers.”
Lumpy Ridge beer is available at the brewery daily from 3-7 p.m. where there are normally a variety of eight beer styles on tap. Meditating Saaz Kolsch, Lumpy Ridge Stout, Ogg’s FM Altbier, Vinter Veiss Hefeweizen, The Porta Porter, N8’s Heli-Brown, Lumpy Ridge Red Ale and an IPA, or two.
Outside the brewery, it’s pouring at Ed’s Cantina, Wapiti Grill, Chipper’s Lanes, Claire’s, Waterfront Grille, Twin Owls Steak House, Smokn’ Dave’s BBQ and The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. It can also be found at Back Country Pizza in Nederland, The House of Q in Longmont, The Pour House in Loveland and Black Bottle Brewery in FoCo.
Since being in Estes Park, Smith has seen numerous improvements to the community and hopes he can contribute even more. “Estes Park is on its way to a cooler future,” he said. “There are many things in play that I think will help us shake this ‘Myrtle Beach of the Rockies’ stigma and I believe our initiative to expand and grow our craft beverage industry will be beneficial in that. We now have three breweries a winery and a distillery on the way. Things are happening.”
Originally published in the January 2016 issue of the MMAC Monthly