Some months ago I decided to venture out to Lafayette, CO to check out a few breweries that had been on my bucket list for a while, among which was Liquid Mechanics Brewing.
The brewery has been around since August of 2014, and they’ve steadily growing ever since. As for many of their colleagues, Covid has put a slight damper on that and shifted the way they do business. During my visit, I thought they were truly on top of things and offered a great space despite the circumstances. Oh and also, and probably most importantly, their brews were killer!
I promptly contacted them to feature them on this blog after my visit in August of 2020, but their response somehow ended up in my spam folder. So I have to warn you, some of the Covid information and comments may be a bit outdated. Davin Helden, self-proclaimed Captain of the Ship and Head Paper Filer, was kind enough to take some time and introduce their hard work and dedication to me and my readers. Davin, you have the floor!
Tell us about the team. How did you guys get involved in craft beer?
Eric, Seth, and I are managing owners of Liquid Mechanics. We were all working in the pharmaceutical industry together. Seth had been homebrewing for 18 years, winning many local and national homebrew competitions along the way and constantly feeding us beer. I had graduated with an MBA a few years earlier. We all went to lunch one day after leaving a corporate meeting where nobody knew why they were there, and the only action item to come out of the meeting was to have another meeting to talk about the meeting we just had. At lunch, clearly frustrated with the corporate world, Eric asked Seth and I what it would take to start a brewery. I spent over a year writing a business plan, and we begged and borrowed money. In 2014 we threw our doors open to the public. For me personally, my craft beer adventure started at the same time I began writing our business plan. I needed to get on board with the craft beer scene. For many years my beer of choice was mass produced lagers. Before I agreed to start writing a business plan I needed to see what the product was all about. Seth bought us tickets to the Great American Beer Festival. When we arrived, he brought out a very detailed spreadsheet he had created with all the beers he wanted me to try. The festival was a game changer for me and when I got home after the festival I dumped all the beer in my refrigerator and started over with craft beer. I started writing our business plan the next day.
How do you go about creating recipes?
Our Head Brewer Josh Nard and Brewer Mike Beebe have a lot of freedom when it comes to recipe development. As a company, we all decide what styles of beers we would like to see and when. From there, we go around and drink beers from our brewery friends that we think have done a certain style well, and we simply try to make ours as good, or better than that. I’d say we are known for hoppy beers (both hazy and clear), dark beers, and German ales and lagers. So we usually have those on tap. But we also like to experiment with newer styles, bring back old styles, and adjunct the heck out of some beers. We don’t really specialize in any one thing, which makes what we do very difficult. We are trying to be the best at every beer style, and I think we do a pretty darn good job of that. In cans, hoppy beers sell the best for us. I think we are years into a phase where flagship beers have become irrelevant. Consumers are demanding the newest and flashiest beers all the time. It’s a constant evolution of tastes and preferences. So while I won’t say we have a flagship beer, our Lucid AF West Coast IPA continues to grow in sales every month. It’s a fantastic beer.
Any plans for the future at Liquid Mechanics?
Since we opened, we wanted to be on a very methodical and thoughtful growth curve. We’ve done small expansions in the past, but we refuse to expand ourselves into a ton of debt. Quite frankly, we are comfortable in a position where we are respected by other breweries and craft beer consumers without getting a ton of hype. As one customer put it to me, Liquid Mechanics is quietly one of the top 20 breweries in Colorado. I don’t know if I can agree with the exact “ranking”, but I know we are up there somewhere, and I’m super fine with that. We are also comfortable in a position where our supply can’t meet our demand. When we can a 20 bbl batch of beer, it’s often gone within a week, sometimes days. That means customers are getting the freshest beer and it isn’t sitting around on shelves. We also have been very focused on getting people into the tasting room. Pints over our bar have the highest profit margin and people get to experience what Liquid Mechanics is all about. They get to become part of our story. Getting cans out to accounts is good for spreading our name around, but it’s all in an effort to drive people to our tasting room because cans don’t pay our bills. In 2019 we sold almost 1700 bbls of beer. 1200 of that was out of our tasting room, one pint at a time. That’s where we want to be. So the future for Liquid Mechanics looks a lot more like having additional tasting room/breweries than it does opening a production facility.
What do you think of the craft beer scene in the area and its expansion over the past few years?
The craft beer scene in Colorado is super rad. There seems to be a brewery doing awesome things in almost every neighborhood. More importantly for us, the vibe in the industry is fun, welcoming, and helpful. Breweries help each other out a ton because we realize that our goal is trying to chip away at the sales of the big beer conglomerates, not each other. With that said, the vast majority of Colorado is oversaturated with breweries, and it’s been that way for awhile. I’ll just take our town of Lafayette as an example. When I was writing our business plan, we would have been brewery number 3 in the town. By the time we opened we were number 4. Now there are 5. All in a town of only 29,000 people. If I were writing a business plan now, I’d probably look for a less brewery dense area, or a town with a greater population. I know Lafayette is saturated because we can see it. After we opened, U-Turn BBQ and Brewery opened, Fate Alehouse opened, and Endo Brewing opened.. Unfortunately, all three are now out of business. There’s only so many craft beer drinkers in the town and surrounding areas. There are currently two additional breweries planning to come into Lafayette, making a total of 7. We wish them the best of luck, we are excited for them, and we will help in any way we can. But it’s a super saturated town and we are a bit worried for both the existing breweries and the new breweries. Hopefully, the addition of two more breweries will drive people from further away into Lafayette for delicious beers. That would be awesome. Time will tell.
Why Liquid Mechanics?
Liquid Mechanics is actually our 3rdname. We wanted a name that had an old-timey and nostalgic feel, maybe a little gritty sounding. We also wanted a name that illuminated hard work, craftiness, and Americana. Our first name was Boneshaker Brewhouse. A Boneshaker is a Victorian-era slang term for a bicycle. Because at the time, bicycles had metal wheels and when you rode them on the cobblestone streets, they shook your bones. Unfortunately, that name was taken by a pub in CA that was planning on opening a brewery as well. We called them to see if they would be OK with us using the name in Colorado and they said no in a very colorful way. So the next name we chose was Barking Iron. A barking iron is a term from the Bowery of New York and is slang for a pistol. It’s make of iron and barks when you fire it. So we applied for a trademark. During the trademark process a high-end clothing company (Nicholas Cage wears their shirts) sent us a cease and desist letter. While they didn’t have the trademark classification for beer, our lawyer suggested that we just move on, because while we would likely win, it would cost us a ton of money that we didn’t have. By the time we had gone through both names, we kind of knew what we wanted the name to feel like. But we were also halfway through construction. So we used our branding person to help. Josh Emrich is a rockstar among craft brewery branding and design. Josh has worked with Copper Kettle, Grimm Brothers, Copper Muse Distillery, Uinta, Speakeasy, Bottle Logic, Pale Fire, and created the Colorado Native brand for Coors. I’m probably forgetting a few there, my apologies. Josh took the previous two names we chose, put together some name concepts for us, and showed us his three best. Liquid Mechanics was a unanimous decision. It was old-timey, gritty sounding, and spoke of hard work and craftiness. Our full logo is distressed with oil smudges making it look old, and the red, white, and blue ribbon signify both the hard-working spirit of America and the hot and cold water that we use to mash in.
How have you been coping with Covid-19?
2020 has been a furious hell storm so far. We had just come off our best January and February ever as a tasting room and brewery. In March we had to change our business model to basically become a liquor store that happened to sell our own beer. In May we had to re-invent ourselves again and become a restaurant complete with food partners and host/hostess seating. It’s super stressful to customers and our employees alike. We want it all to go away, but our primary focus is on the safety of our community. At Liquid Mechanics we got approval to rope off a good portion of our north parking lot for additional outdoor seating. All of our tables inside and outside are spaced at least 9 feet away from each other. If a person refuses to wear a mask or accept one of our accommodations (face shield or beer delivered to their vehicle) we make them leave. Our staff take their temperature before every shift. Every table is sanitized between parties, we wear gloves and sanitize them with isopropyl alcohol before and after every beer poured and payment taken. It’s a ton of damn work, but I think we are doing it right and are going above and beyond the current guidelines. I think our community recognizes that and appreciates it. Unfortunately, 80% of our seating is outdoors right now. That doesn’t really help for the cold/inclement days that are upon us. We investigated enclosing our patio, renting wedding festival tents, outdoor heaters, etc. But the best solution came from our landlord, who very much wants us to stay in business. There is a 2500 square foot space next to our brewery and he is letting us use that throughout the winter for additional seating. We’ve got a ton of work to do, and a ton of money to spend to get it up to code and have it represent our brand the best we can, but we are happy to have something that should be useable for our customers in the coming weeks (It should be open by the time you are reading this). As far as sales to liquor stores, right now the problem is the can shortage. It’s a real and deep problem. Once the pandemic hit, a lot of breweries pivoted to cans, and now there is a backlog in production. Our backlog is on the order of months right now, at a time where tasting room sales are plummeting because of the cold and our indoor capacity restrictions. It’s the perfect storm of crappiness. But our finances are in order, we’ve got the best customers and staff in the world, and we will continue to adapt to whatever is thrown at us.