How Locals Help Drive a Brewery’s Growth

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The location of Grand Teton Brewing is what brought Max Shafer to the area. The beer has kept him there. A Chicago native, the 26-year-old Shafer was recently name Brewmaster of the Victor, Idaho brewery on the Wyoming/Idaho border.

Now he sees the success of the veteran brewery’s growth on what the consumers of the area want.

“Light, sessionable beers is what people want to drink around here, so we are trying to give that to people,” he said.

Appealing to the local market, both residents and tourists, has been a driver.

“We have millions of tourists come through the Tetons each summer, visiting Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone,” Shafer said. “Two of our beers, Teton Ale and Old Faithful Ale, are standards in the parks simply because of their names. They are also great, easy drinking beers that appeal to the masses — one is an Amber Ale and the other an American Blonde Ale both at 4.7 percent ABV.”

Taking what they learned from those beers, Grand Tetons released an ‘all-Idaho’ Session Ale, Ale 208, in the late summer of 2013.

“This beer has quickly become our best seller and makes up 35 percent of our production, and it is only sold in Idaho,” Shafer said.

Shafer believes that the drink local movement is the answer for his brewery’s growth.

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“We see that with our Ale 208. People want local beer,” he said. “It is fresh, they might have connections to the company or people who work there and supporting your local brewery (and businesses in general) is a great thing.

He added that the definition of a successful brewery has changed a lot in the past few years.

“Look at some of the biggest hyped breweries around,” he said. “Some of them release beers in cans or bottles once a week and are sold out in a matter of hours. A lot of those breweries produce under 10,000 barrels, some even less than 1,000 BBLS. Selling out of beer is in my mind is the defining moment of success.”

Even though he was raised in Illinois, Shafer his very fond of his new home.

“My grandparents were longtime residents of Wilson, Wyoming, where the brewery originally started as Otto Brothers Brewing,” Shafer said. “I remember my dad and grandfather drinking Teton Ale when we would come out and visit. The Tetons became a second home to me, and playing in the mountains and rivers have always been some of my favorite things.”

Shafer’s passion for fishing, the mountains, and the outdoors led him to major in Conservation Biology in college. At the same time, his interest in homebrewing was sparked and he began actively experimenting with new recipes. The summer after graduating, he met Rob Mullin, then Grand Teton’s Brewmaster. Shafer realized he could combine his two love of the outdoors and beer into one place and joined the Grand Teton production team in August, 2012.

He began the brewery’s barrel-aging program and quickly increased it from 12 to 200 barrels.

Shafer attended the Siebel Institute of Technology in early 2016 and has since served as Cellar Master before his latest promotion.

Being in the heart of barley country, malt is what excites Shafer. He said that selecting unique varieties is common, and he has enjoyed working with two-row types that have yet to see commercial production.

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