We are big fans of Colorado's Odell Brewing Company. We especially love their creamy, resiny IPA, their malty Isolation Ale, and their Bourbon Barrel Stout. And we love the story of founder Doug Odell and his wife Wynne following their dream to own their own business and make terrific beer. Cheers!
Name: Doug Odell
Location: Fort Collins, Colorado
Occupation: Brewmaster/Founder, Odell Brewing Company
How did you get into brewing? When did you realize you wanted to brew professionally? I started homebrewing with my boyhood buddy in 1975 after I graduated from college. We thought it sounded like an interesting thing to do but our initial results were far from stellar. From the time I started drinking beer, I was interested in beer, breweries, and American brewing history.
In 1978, while going to school in San Francisco, I saw a job listed in the placement office. It read something like, "Local brewery needs brewing cleanup help." I knew that the only brewery left in San Francisco at the time was Anchor Brewing. My interview consisted of walking around the brewery with the head brewer, talking about beer and brewing philosophy. I guess he liked what he heard, so I got the job. After 6 months, I left San Francisco to go to school in Sonoma County, but I had become fascinated by the concept of a very small brewing operation brewing beer that actually tasted like something, and getting a lot of local respect for doing so.
After getting my second bachelor's degree, I moved to Seattle, where I tried over and over to get a job at Redhook (which was a startup microbrewery at the time). I never got the job—which is good because [if I had,] I probably wouldn't be where I am now. When I got married in 1986, my wife Wynne and I decided we wanted to be self-employed. She has an MBA and is a CPA, and by then I knew how to brew, so we started Odell Brewing in 1989. We both still work at the brewery on a daily basis.
What is the most important lesson you've learned over the course of your brewing career? Brewing is cleaning. There is no substitute for a strict cleaning and sanitation program. Many early Craft Brewers are gone today because they didn't take this part seriously.
How would you describe your brewing style—is there something that ties all Odell beers together? I would say that my brewing style is all about flavor balance. There is an incredible variety of beer styles out there. An English Brown Ale should be sweet and malty, but still needs balancing hops so it is not too much so. An American IPA should have aggressive bitterness, hop flavor, and hop aroma but it still needs a substantial malt base so the bitterness adds to the complexity of the beer, rather than dominating it. A Belgian style sour beer should showcase sourness, but still needs a proper malt sweetness to balance and enhance the sour character.
What beers are you experimenting with now? I recently was able to procure some Irish Whisky barrels and I spent part of today filling some with an Irish Red I brewed on our Pilot System. Irish in Irish. I have a German style Rauch beer in another Pilot fermentor and I really want to develop a beer that has good flavor complexity, a satisfying malt and hop presence, and comes in about 3.5% ABV. I am also researching various ingredient possibilities in order to brew a gluten free beer that actually tastes good rather than tasting like sorghum syrup.
Can you tell us a little about your Woodcut Series and Single Serve Series? So far, Woodcut 1-4 have been various beer styles with the common thread of being aged in virgin American oak barrels, bottle conditioned, and presented in a cork and cage finished 750 ml bottle. Woodcut 5 will be an Imperial Porter also aged in virgin oak barrels. We may approach Woodcut 6 differently. We are still weighing possibilities. The Single Serve Series is also presented in corked 750 ml bottles but we take a much broader brewing approach than with the Woodcut. So far, we have produced a Bourbon Barrel Stout, an India Barleywine, a black IPA featuring Colorado grown hops, and Saboteur, which is a double brown ale aged in used Woodcut barrels and dosed with Brettanomyces for secondary fermentation. In process right now is Deconstruction, a Belgian style sour Golden Ale, aged in used Woodcut barrels, red wine barrels and bourbon barrels. We also have a Belgian style Kriek that we hope is ready by the end of the year. It takes a long time for the bugs to work.
What sort of efforts is your company making toward sustainability? Do you think breweries in general are making moves towards more environmentally conscious business practices? In our recent expansion we installed 76 kWs of solar photovoltaics. We have a daylighting system in our new warehouse which turns off the lights and illuminates the space entirely by natural light when it is bright outside. We are currently diverting about 98 percent of our solid waste from the landfill through recycling, reusing, and composting. We have been able to get below four gallons of water used for every gallon of beer sold.
Craft breweries are in a unique position to promote sustainability because of the large amount of attention and publicity we receive relative to the size of our industry. Craft brewers are also very community-minded as a whole. Promoting sustainability is just a part of that.
How has the Colorado beer scene changed since you opened the brewery in 1989? How does Colorado fit into the larger craft brewing scene in the US? We were the sixth craft brewery and second packaging brewery to open in Colorado. By the beginning of 1996, there were 76 craft breweries in Colorado. I have a list of the 76 operating craft breweries in January 1996, and there are only 28 that are in business today. However, there are now about 110 craft breweries in Colorado which means about 80 new ones since 1996. Interest in craft breweries in Colorado has never been stronger, and Colorado breweries attract a lot of national attention.
Will Odell be increasing its distribution? Will we see your beers on the East coast? In our business model, we call ourselves a Rocky Mountain and Western Plains Regional Brewery. We sell our beer in Colorado and eight other states, all of which border or are geographically close to Colorado. We don't anticipate crossing the Mississippi River anytime in the foreseeable future. I really like the idea of regional consumable products in the United States. When I travel, I like finding things I can't get in Colorado.
If you could only have five beers with you on a desert island, which would they be? That is always a tough one. If I go into a package store to buy something other than our beer, I virtually never know what I am going to buy when I walk in the door. I'll take a stab at choosing 5 but in no particular order.
- Odell St Lupulin: Refreshing with fresh bright and satisfying hop flavor and aroma.
- Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: I can't imagine not having this one around.
- Original Coors: I imagine desert islands are hot and dry and would induce a powerful thirst. Original Coors offers just the right crisp refreshment for such conditions.
- Anchor Steam: Anchor Brewing is where I got my start in 1978 so this beer holds a special place in my heart.
- I would have a rotating tap for everything else I enjoy.
What's your favorite Odell beer and food pairing? Odell IPA and Thai curry. I also like porters and stouts with chocolate desserts.
More Pints with Beer Folks
Tomme Arthur, Port Brewing/Lost Abbey »
Greg Hall, Goose Island Beer Company »
Scott Vaccaro, Captain Lawrence Brewing Company »
Dan Carey, New Glarus »
Vinnie Cilurzo, Russian River »
Garrett Oliver, Brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery »