WINTER PARK — When it comes to beer, Chris Kirk likes to keep things simple.
“I don’t like to order up some crazy cactus from the Sahara Desert and throw it in my beer just because it’s exotic,” he said. “I like to stick to pure and original styles.”
That philosophy has served Kirk well since he came to Moffat Station as the new brewmaster. His hoppy IPA and light Belgian whit sold out weeks after they came on tap last January. While his beers keep flying by the pint, getting them served up hasn’t exactly been a smooth process. Still, Kirk’s enthusiasm remains unquenched, and he appears to embrace the best advice he’s ever received in his brewmaking career with gusto: “Relax, don’t worry, have a beer.”
Kirk got into beer seven years ago through a job at the Great Divide Brewery in Denver. He was hired the day after interviewing, and quickly took to brewing. He worked to perfect his skills by brewing small batches at home.
Now 28, Kirk came to Moffat Station to take his career to the next level. He had a hand in developing recipes for new brews at Great Divide and watched the company grow from producing around 15,000 barrels to 70,000 barrels each year. But in Moffat Station, he saw the opportunity to build something uniquely his own.
“It’s your brewhouse, basically. There’s freedom to do almost anything you want with it,” he said.
Kirk’s brews, which also include an ESB and scotch ale, have been a welcome change to Moffat Station, and part of the major overhaul manager Geri Glenn has tried to bring to the entire Winter Park Lodge property since she took over last summer. She brought in a new staff and had a hand in extensive renovations. In particular, she’s working to make the brewery shine.
Before Moffat Station brought in Kirk, the pub hadn’t brewed anything for about a year.
“With our big ‘brewery’ sign hanging outside, it was embarrassing when people would walk in and we’d have to explain we had no brewery,” she said.
As she looked for someone to fire up the kettles and fermenters again, Glenn was impressed by Kirk’s background, coming from a brewery that had rapidly grown to become a national favorite.
“His personality is delightful,” she said. “He’s confident but not ego-driven.”
Glenn knew customers would also appreciate the fact Kirk was a Colorado native, who had grown up in Denver and received an all-Colorado brewing education.
Kirk was a welcome change to the pub when he started last October, but he and Glenn had more work ahead than they anticipated. Moffat Station’s last brewer had been fired, months before either came on board. They didn’t realize he’d left without cleaning out anything. The outfall of having spoiled beer sitting in the property’s tanks and pipes for eight months soon became apparent.
Moffat Station’s beer moves from hoppers and kettles above the bar to serving tanks three floors down via pipes along the building’s exterior. The old beer had frozen and the pipes burst. After a welder explained they couldn’t be repaired until the spring, Kirk got creative with the property’s maintenance crew and installed a brew hose to transport his beer for the time being. The tubing runs from the bottom of the tanks, out a window and down the building’s side into the cold room. Kirk can only run it at night to keep the sunlight from spoiling the beer. But before he could start pumping beer, Kirk took apart the entire brewing system to give it a thorough fine-tuning.
“It was ravaged,” Kirk said.
It took Kirk over a month to get the brew system up and running, but he’s now producing tasty beer and has taken all the start-up kinks in stride.
“There always are some in a brewing operation,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s all part of the experience.”
Moffat Station isn’t the only examples of downs and ups for beer-making in Grand County. The area’s most popular brewery, Grand Lake Brewing Co., shuttered its taphouse last fall, and the absentee owners are considering moving the entire operation to the Front Range. That would leave The Library Sports Grille in downtown Winter Park and Moffat Station as the only local breweries left standing. But Glenn sees rivalry as a good thing. She actively encourages visitors to head over to The Library and sample their brews and compare them with Kirk’s. She even provides a shuttle to the Library for guests.
“They’ve got a great brewmaster at The Library, and I think he likes the competition,” Glenn said. “Competition is really what’s needed in this valley … but especially after the economy took a downturn, we’ve just been sort of coexisting.”
Glenn and Kirk hope to ultimately have all six of the pub’s taps pouring unique beers. Three will likely be permanent, including Glenn’s favorite, the Belgian Whit. The other three will rotate different seasonal.
“We’ll be playing around with different styles, experimenting to see what people like, having fun with beer,” Kirk said.
For now, Kirk’s brews don’t have names. He and Glenn have toyed with the idea of naming them after Winter Park’s ski runs or after the trains that have run through the area during its long rail history. To bring in local support, Glenn is launching a contest to get the pub’s followers to name some of the beers, which they’ll officially announce on their Facebook page.
“I’m trying to get the locals to come back in and see that we’re brewing,” Glenn said.
Kirk has yet to convert to “local” status himself. He still lives in Denver, commuting to Moffat Station every week while he gets a feel for where the brewery is heading. He said his experience has so far been positive.
“If that continues, I’ll be moving up here for sure,” he said. “It’s a beautiful place with great tourism. I was very surprised where I learned it was just us and The Library.”
Kirk said he’s hopeful Moffat Station can become a real beer drinker’s destination, despite past hiccups.
“Brewing’s a fun job, but it’s a difficult job,” he said. “Basically, all it boils down to the desire, the passion and the heart.”
Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.