An Elegy for an Up-and-Coming Brewery
Today is a sad day. Even as I sit at my computer typing this, John Dunfee may be pouring the final beer at Arctic Craft Brewery
The up-and-coming Colorado Springs brewery, which opened quietly in an industrial area east of downtown about seven years ago, mixed up a wicked Belgian sour ale, operated out of a former garage and leaped over bottling to begin canning its beers last year. But in the end, what felled it was not its wildly independent streak so much as the same disease that has taken down too many businesses lately: Bad financing.
Earlier this week, I spoke to John, who had closed his insulation business at the end of 2007 to give it a full-time go at the brewery, for an article I was writing on the increasing number of Colorado microbreweries canning their beers. As optimistic as always, he told me right away that the canning of his On-On Ale was going great, then added that business wasn't so good.
The details of Arctic's demise are probably better suited for the pages of the Wall Street Journal than a simple beer blog. Besides, once he started telling me about what was happening, I was too shocked to write down the intricate details.
But the end should never overshadow the great run the little brewery on East Platte Place had.
Walking in there, you might not have known what kind of brewing talent was at work. There were about eight stools at the bar, an occasional game of beer pong going on in the back and a few regulars smoking by the plastic curtains near the open garage door. But after just a couple sips of the beer, you realized John had both a special drive and a special creativity.
Most people will tell you his best work was done in his Milk Stout, a dark, almost chewy production that popped your eyes open with its late-hitting creamy sweet punch. It once won a mock Springs beer bracket at The Gazette
, felling even the great Bristol beers.
But that spark of life popped up in a number of other original creations as well. There was the Peach Lager, an admittedly shocking combination that was more flavorful and more refreshing than 95 percent of lagers on the market. There was an experimental Oktoberfest he let me try last summer that actually had strains of sour waking up its slumbering formula. And of course there was the Patientia, a stunning Belgian-style sour ale that jolted your taste buds from apple to sweetbread to dill pickle, never letting you stop thinking about the gift in your mouth.
John had plans for Arctic beyond canning the On-On Ale, wanting to introduce the Milk Stout to a greater audience and eventually, he told me, move to a bigger and more prominent location. Rarely did a friend try one of Arctic's beers and come away unimpressed; I always felt it was just a matter of getting more exposure before the brewery took off.
Instead, John's cleaning out the brewery tonight and then starting a job doing grounds maintenance for a local school district. When I asked him if he was planning to start another brewery or at least keep his professional hand in the game, he replied with a note of exasperation: "I think I'll get out of brewing for a while."
It's a shame. Good brewers do come along, but many of them are by the book, keeping to the tried and true styles and not wandering outside that wall. John saw those styles and then decided to have fun with them, adding tastes and ingredients you don't find in a lot of beers - and succeeding wildly.
Thanks for what you've given the Colorado beer community, John. Here's hoping that we'll see you pouring again some day in the future.