Brewer Q&A: Jon Cross, Call to Arms Brewing

This is a part of a continuing series of Q&As with brewers from across the U.S.
Brewer Magazine will share business and personal insights from Brewmasters, Head Brewers, Brewing Managers and others each weekend to help you, a fellow brewer, Brewmaster or brewing manager get to know each other better in the industry and learn more to better develop your own brand.
Jon Cross​, Co-Owner/Head Brewer​, Call to Arms Brewing — Denver​

​BREWER: What is a lesson learned within your position that sticks with you to this day?

CROSS: Brew what you’re passionate about, not what rates highest on Untappd. In this constantly evolving industry, new styles and trends are moving into the limelight with increasing frequency. Some are good, and some … maybe not so good. Rather than furiously chase the new “it” beer because somebody told you to, it pays off in the long run to brew from the heart and stick to your guns. If you’re not personally excited about a beer style — don’t brew it. Being true to yourself makes the entire process more enjoyable.

 

BREWER: Who is your mentor in the industry and why? What have you learned from them?

CROSS: Brian Hutchinson, Owner/Head Brewer from Cannonball Creek Brewing in Golden, Colorado.  Brian (and his business partner Jason Stengl) have been our friends and comrades in the industry for years prior to Call to Arms opening. Brian is an excellent brewer with a wildly proven track record — medals … think LOTS of medals. Willing to experiment but also meticulous in his research/planning, he is someone I go to with some of our most intricate questions and thoughts. He is someone I respect greatly and has given us excellent advice throughout the last 3 1/2 years at CTA.

​BREWER: ​What have you added to your brewery lately (concepts, equipment or technology) that’s unique or making your business more successful?

​CROSS: We are in the early planning stages of expanding our barrel-aging program. This is something we’ve wanted to do for a number of years and 2019 presents an opportunity to make it a reality. Not only are we extremely passionate about barrel projects, but they also provide numerous avenues for experimentation and brewing artistry.

 

BREWER: In today’s business climate for craft beer, how do you feel your brewery will grow?

CROSS: Craft beer is experiencing an unusual shift currently.  As many large, regional craft breweries are experiencing slowed or flat growth, the emergence of local taprooms has seen an uptick. We set out to keep 90 percent of our sales in-house and sold over the bar. What this means for our growth is finding new ways to expand our customer base and keep the pints moving. In essence, we strive to keep the list constantly rotating and produce all different styles of beer to appeal to the masses.

 

BREWER: What sort of innovations in craft beer excite you?

CROSS: ​The re-emmergence of many classic or “forgotten” styles. It’s exciting to see small craft breweries try their hand at beers of yesteryear. It can be as simple as a German Lager or as obscure as a Zoiglbeer. I think there is a growing appreciation for beers that shaped the industry 100 plus years ago and we now see that reflected on tap walls.

 

BREWER: If you had one strategy that you could implement to better the craft beer business as a whole, what would it be?

CROSS: Stick to organic growth. It’s tempting to push your brewery to the limit right out of the gates — be it large scale packaging or aggressive off-prem sales. However, we’ve seen many breweries over-extend themselves early on and fall into a retractive state. Like I mentioned earlier, brew what you want and take the time to calculate every move for the company. You’ll thank yourself in the end.

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