Gold medals brighten Left Hand’s dark days
Then he stepped inside one of the capsules, removed his jacket and slipped a Left Hand Brewing Co. T-shirt over the one he was wearing. Had he been deprived of an elevator, Left Hand’s president might have floated to the 38th floor anyway.
When he stepped out, he was clearly in his element and primed to celebrate a 20th anniversary that had been overshadowed a few weeks earlier by some of the darkest days Left Hand’s hometown of Longmont ever had witnessed.
“Twenty’s just a number, but it’s an accomplishment,” Wallace said a while later in the calm before roughly 1,500 revelers piled into the event. “It definitely is an accomplishment.”
Two days later, Wallace and the rest of the Left Hand crew would receive a belated anniversary gift: three Great American Beer Festival gold medals. The triumphs gave Left Hand a fitting culmination to what had been a surreal month.
Left Hand’s Oktoberfest celebration at Roosevelt Park Sept. 20-21 was supposed to be highlighted by a toast by Wallace and Dick Doore, who co-founded the brewery with Wallace on Sept. 21, 1993. But after historic flooding began on Sept. 12 and devastated parts of Longmont and several other Front Range communities, the major focus of Oktoberfest shifted to raising money for flood victims.
Left Hand raised $64,000 in all for three different charities, including the brewery’s own foundation, which donated its portion of the money raised to flood relief. The Oktoberfest weekend proved a sort of release for many who had spent the week cleaning up after the floods.
“It was cathartic,” Wallace said. “We knew we were OK at that point. And we knew there were a lot of our neighbors who were totally hosed. And we were able to parlay that, and raised over $64,000 net just out of that event.”
Although the brewery at 1265 Boston Ave. sits just yards away from the St. Vrain River, Left Hand’s primary buildings were spared of any mud inside. The brewing facility was spared of the floodwaters by inches. The water came within feet of the taproom. A couple of outbuildings used for storage and supplies were trashed. Left Hand’s chem lab on Sunset Street had mud running through it and remains uninhabitable.
The damage, Wallace estimates, is about $50,000 in immediate repairs and up to $250,000 in long-term repairs and labor for cleanup.
Left Hand, though, sat on an island in the flood, with many of its nearby neighbors in the industrial Boston Avenue area faring far worse.
“It was total chaos all around,” Wallace said. “We were super lucky.
“Somebody came up to me and said, ‘You didn’t flood because you do so much good work in the community. Somebody’s watching out for you.’ I’d love to believe that’s true.”
Tasty suds aside, the community focus of the brewery is part of what’s made it so popular. Left Hand is about 50 percent employee owned. The rest is owned primarily by former employees, friends and family. Few outsiders get the chance to invest. There are only 132 shareholders in all.
Mike “Tiny” Peper, an engineer at Seagate who lives north of Longmont, has been a regular of the taproom for 15 years and was given the opportunity to buy in a few years back.
“I just respect the way they run their business,” Peper said at the 20th anniversary party in Denver. “They’re really good people. They care about the community. … And that’s what I want to be a part of. I love their beer. I always have. But I love the people even more.”
The party in Denver doubled as a launch for nitrogenated versions of Left Hand’s Sawtooth Ale and Wake Up Dead Stout in bottles. The brewery became the first in America to bottle a widgetless nitro beer in 2011 when it put its flagship Milk Stout in nitro bottles.
Wallace credits the smoother, creamier nitro style for introducing many people to dark beer. Bottling the nitros has proved that Left Hand continues to be an innovator in the industry even after enduring some tough times during its 20 years that included merging with Denver’s Tabernash Brewing Co., before closing that portion of the business altogether and starting a distributing company to help stay afloat before eventually selling that business to focus once again solely on brewing beer.
Left Hand, which brewed 1,418 barrels of beer in its first year, brewed 49,549 in 2012, placing it 43rd on the list of the top 50 craft brewers in the nation. The growth has been dramatic of late, continuing to increase from more than 36,833 barrels in 2011, which was up from 24,651 in 2010. Wallace is projecting 62,000 barrels this year, and said he sees 100,000 as a possibility in the next few years.
Left Hand’s campus, meanwhile, has grown from two acres to 7.5, and the company has grown to 84 employees.
The exponential growth was not envisioned 20 years ago by Wallace or Doore, Left Hand’s plant engineer. They have no ultimate goal in mind of a half million barrels or some other numerical measuring stick. The brewery will continue to grow, Wallace said, at a rate that can be supported without outside capital.
“Our main focus,” Wallace said, “is improving quality, doing some really fun beers, and really being part of the community and having a company where everyone knows each other, and it’s satisfying to go to work.”
More breaking news...
Wells Fargo exec talks rates, regs, home buying
Still, Steve Thweatt, CU's
Ball imager set to ride NASA weather satellite
Like Rubik's reinvented for Generation Y, the Futuro Cube uses 54 multi-color LEDs and 4-channel