From beer gardens to breweries to home brewing, the craft beer industry is getting some major buzz right now, and many beer connoisseurs are jumping on the bandwagon to start their own businesses. According to the Brewers Association, the number of breweries in 2016 grew 16.6 percent as 5,301 new breweries popped up around the U.S.

Did you know a brewery concept is opening early next year at our Quincy Place Shopping Center in Aurora, Colorado? We spoke with Jean Verrier, president of Pilothouse Brewing Company, to get the inside scoop and learn how Pilothouse is incorporating amateur brewing into its business model.

How did you get into the craft beer business?

Jean Verrier: I’ve been an avid home brewer for a little over 20 years. I started the way most home brewers do, from the very basic just extract brewing on my stovetop with plastic buckets. When we moved out here to Colorado in 1999, I stayed with the hobby and moved up to what you might call the intermediate level, which is where I started to steep my own specialty grains. I was still using extract for my base and started introducing liquid yeast over dry yeast, and also kegging rather than bottle conditioning like I was when I first started out. I did that for a number of years, until maybe 10 years ago, when I got into more advanced, all-grain brewing, and really haven’t looked back since.

Once I started getting serious in the hobby I realized I should probably get a better system. I got what was coming out on the market at that time, a three-vessel all stainless steel system. It’s actually plugged into my home’s natural gas line. It has digital controllers, the whole nine yards, and it really took my brewing to another level.

Founder and owner Jean Verrier (left) enjoys some of his brews on one of his sailboats

Can you give us an overview of Pilothouse Brewing?

Verrier: The craft beer scene has really exploded, at least in the last 10 years. When I thought about it, I wanted to come up with something different. I didn’t want it to just be another brewery. When we thought about Pilothouse, we were really thinking about a different concept and one that looked back to where I came from, and where a lot of people in the commercial craft brewing industry came from, which is amateur brewing.

We’re going to be inviting amateur brewers to come in and brew with us with revolving competition cycles throughout the year. At full capacity, we will have up to 26 competition cycles in any given year. We’ll have three different systems running from our pilot-stage, to our nano-stage to our micro-stage, so folks get to brew on our progressively larger systems depending on how well their beer does. The ultimate judge of their beer is the general public. We’re going to be offering cash prizes, discounts, cash rebates, branded merchandise, and more to the brewers that win. Participating brewers have to become a member of the brewery before they can brew with us.

Pilothouse Brewing offers up its facilities to members to try out their own recipes

How can brewers become a member of Pilothouse?

Verrier: People can sign up in the taproom directly. We’ll also have a sign-up on our website when it goes live. The membership is going to be $95 a year. Members will have a user name and password, and they’ll be able to log into a private portal area on our website where they will enter their recipe and schedule their brew day. A database will be working behind the scenes to tell the brewer if they’re within our ingredient budget threshold and if they meet all of the specs.

Will there be any memberships or discounts for consumers?

Verrier: We are planning to do some of that as well. The discounts that we give to our members will be greater than say the non-brewers, but yes, we will have a traditional club type offering as well.

How did you come up with the name?

Verrier: If you think about it, we are “piloting” new recipes all the time. Each competition cycle is going to pilot 16 new beers—that’s quite a bit of new recipes that we are unveiling throughout the year. So these pilot brews are kind of the inspiration for the name, Pilothouse. We’ll also offer around 11 “house” beers of our own on tap at any given time. It will depend on the season, but we’re going to always have an IPA, a lineup of German beers because our systems are German, and British ales because I happen to be a fan of both British and German beers. I also brew a very nice Irish strong ale and Vienna Apricot, which is kind of a British pale ale style with an apricot flavor at the end that we add in the secondary fermentation.

The other part of it is that my wife and I are avid sailors. Even though we live in Colorado we’re from the East Coast, and we have two sail boats and have been sailing for a long time. We really wanted something that blended our passions together, so the taproom is going to have a New England-style nautical theme.

The Verrier family incorporated their love for sailing into the company name

Why did you choose Quincy Place Shopping Center for your location?

Verrier: It’s funny because we have been going to that center for years. The fast casual restaurants there are kind of a staple in our household (Chipotle, Noodles & Company) and it’s a very busy plaza. It could be the middle of the day on a Monday and it’s very busy, the parking lot is never empty. That was a big driver for us. The fast casual restaurants that I mentioned are also very important to us because we’re not going to be serving food initially. We’re hoping that the existing tenants in the plaza, especially the fast casual restaurants, are really going to embrace us and want to work with us, because we see ourselves as very complementary to those businesses.

What are your plans for the space?

Verrier: We’re taking over a smaller space which used to be a comic book store, and combining it with a larger space that used to be a women’s clothing store, and doing a complete renovation of both. We also have access to a beautiful courtyard, which we plan on using and decorating. Our taproom is going have accommodations for up to 56 people, and then the patio area will accommodate another 46. We’re going to have really nice roll-up glass garage doors, so that we can open up the entire taproom to the patio area.

The Pilothouse Brewing team prepares barrels at Quincy Place for its grand opening

Who do you think your typical customer is going to be?

Verrier: Though a typical customer at a brewery taproom is someone in their mid-20s to maybe mid-30s, what we’re trying to do with our brewery is be very family-friendly. Our amateur brewers are going to be with us for five to six hours on their brew day, which will be a Saturday or Sunday, and we’re hoping that they bring their families. We’re going to have board games and a popcorn machine, and we will sell some limited food and nonalcoholic beverages in the taproom. All of our tables will also be normal height, as opposed to the high-tops you find at most breweries, to better accommodate children and strollers.

We’re really hoping that the amateur brewing community is going to embrace this concept, because this brewery is for them. It’s for them and their families and their friends, and so we’re looking forward to their help in making Pilothouse a very successful new venture.

A sampling of Pilothouse’s beers

How will you be promoting Pilothouse?

Verrier: We’ve got a pretty hefty marketing budget, so we’re going to do not just social media but also traditional advertising. Of course, part of our budget is going to be dedicated toward family friendly events as well.

What advice do you have for other small business owners getting ready to open their first storefront?

Verrier: An old friend of mine who was in the marines said they have a saying and it goes something like “proper planning prevents poor performance.” I think when you’re opening a brand new business, it’s all about the planning. I really can’t stress that enough. My wife and I have a leg up in this area because we’re both certified public accountants (CPAs), so we have a very robust financial model, probably more so than the typical small business owner. But you have to dot your i’s and cross your t’s and consider everything from the operational side, to marketing and advertising and getting the word out.

Interested in hearing more about Pilothouse Brewing Company? Check back in 2018 for more on the brewery’s grand opening!

This has been an installment of StoreFront, an interview series with leaders of successful retail businesses. For more interviews, visit the StoreFront page. To learn how you can be featured, email us. We’d love to hear from you.

  • CATEGORY: Storefront
  • DATE: Tuesday, November 14, 2017