Checking into the hotel is a restful end to a stressful travel experience—or, at least, it should be. But rarely is it the highlight of the trip. That could change with a new project by New Belgium brewery, makers of the beloved Fat Tire and other delectable brews.
New Belgium just opened up the Pilot Brewery at the Source Hotel in Denver. When guests check in, they’ll get tasters of experimental New Belgium beer brewed at Pilot, which just so happens to be located on the other side of the hotel lobby’s glass wall. But building a brewery in a hotel creates its own challenges that you might not consider as you bury your nose in some sweet aromatic foam.
New Belgium wanted a way to stand out, especially in a crowded beer market like Denver, which is how the idea of a hotel brewery was born. Josh Nabours, New Belgium senior plant engineer, dealt with many of the odd issues that arose from this unusual project.
“The Fire Department was concerned about dust caused by milling making a dangerous environment,” he said, and indeed, a fire hazard in a hotel is a recipe for a Netflix tragedy documentary. “To respond to this we upgraded the mill to a dust-proof mill and added a dust collection system.” The sewer department was also concerned with the amount of wastewater coming out of the facility, so New Belgium created dedicated sewage equipment underground.
And then there was the process of getting the brewing equipment into the space without disrupting the hotel operations, “We kept communication channels open to coordinate any heavy equipment or loud construction’s impact to a minimum, either working off hours or having the hotel book rooms that weren’t near the area,” Nabours says.
On the day of the installation, the team set up three semi trucks’ worth of equipment across the street from the brewery and started at 6 a.m. They shut down the sidewalk and part of the street, then used a fork truck to navigate the equipment through the garage door walls of the brewery. Every piece of equipment was in the space by 2 p.m. that afternoon. With the space set, New Belgium Pilot Brewery’s Head Brewer, Geoff Wenzel was free to go wild.
Working in this space makes Wenzel feel like he’s working in a bit of a fishbowl. Guests and others who walk past the brewery can watch the process from every side. “It’s a little cumbersome having people stare at you but that’s something you get used to pretty quickly.”
To improve the experience for curious onlookers, the brewers brew on weekends to fill the hotel and its attached marketplace with the smells of brewing when the area is busiest. The brewery is like a test kitchen, giving brewers the ability to experiment and produce beers on a production schedule that the full-scale facility in Fort Collins couldn’t keep up with. That means leaning into any trend, like rye barrel ageing and wild yeast fermentation, that strikes the brewers’ fancy. And they now have the flexibility to go from idea to beer glass in just a few weeks.
So while guests may tap on the windows, Wenzel is happy to make whatever beer he thinks of. “From a brewing perspective, it’s amazing. It is a really good outlet for us to try new crazy things. I can do whatever I want—within reason.” For Wenzel, that means dipping his toe into experimental beers to attract the adventurous beer drinker, as well as those more accustomed to wine and cocktails. The freedom is fun, and lets Wenzel push the limits of what beer can be, “Its like mom and dad are away.”
In addition to tasters at check-in, the brewery’s beer is available at the hotel’s rooftop restaurant, in hotel room minibars, and at other restaurants in the marketplace attached to the hotel. The facility doesn’t do any bottling or canning currently, so you’ll need to head there if you want a taste. But it’ll be worth it, it was just voted best new brewery in Denver.
Originally published on Popular Mechanics