Brewer Magazine Q&A: Andy Jessen, Bonfire Brewing

This is a part of a continuing series of Q&As with members of the brewing community from across the U.S.
Brewer Magazine will share business and personal insights from Brewmasters, Head Brewers, Brewing Managers, Sales Directors, QCQA Managers and others each weekend to help you get to know each other better in the industry and learn more to better develop your own brand.


Andy Jessen, ​c​o-founder​, Bonfire Brewing — ​Eagle, Colorado

​BREWER: How do you feel your job has had to adapt in the beer market compared to a few years ago?

​JESSEN: ​In the early years of the company, much of my job was simply bootstrapping and taking care of whatever was needed on a given day (packaging, delivering, bartending, etc.). As the business has matured, my focus has shifted to bigger picture priorities including projections, portfolio management, capital budgeting, human resources, community/relationship development, and growth planning. Jumping into the fray is still a regular occurrence, but we’ve learned that we need to spend much more time working on the business than in it for success to continue.

​BREWER: Who is your mentor in the industry and why? What have you learned from them?
JESSEN: We’ve relied on many breweries/brewers/owners over the years for advice and guidance. When looking for information on developing some of our company policies and planning for our team makeup as we grew, Kevin Delange from Dry Dock was open and helpful. Being in the mountains, far removed from most larger breweries physically, I’ve personally relied more on other entrepreneurs and business owners in our valley for sounding boards and support. Two that come to mind are Kevin Brubeck of Edwards Jones, and Shane Dickman of Rocky Mountain Cultures. Kevin has been particularly helpful when I’m seeking guidance on finances and leadership. He’s exceptionally unselfish with his time and has invaluable experience in banking and small business. Rocky Mountain Cultures, led by Shane, is one of the largest producers of Kombucha tea in the world. Having a friend/resource in a complementary industry has proven helpful as we scale up our operations and manage distributor/retailer relationships. Shane is also very active in acquiring used equipment at auction, and loops us in when there is relevant equipment for us. We’ve acquired several important pieces of equipment at well below market value through the relationship.
​BREWER: Can you share a success story that you are proud of in your job or maybe a story of how you learned from a situation that has altered your thoughts on how you do your job now?

JESSEN: We’re most proud of our vision and execution of the Bonfire Block Party, a music festival and street party we started in 2013 with a makeshift stage in front of our taproom, that has grown into a multi-day event attracting thousands of attendees and world class musical acts, along with unprecedented community engagement. It’s a situation where we had the vision to grow a piece of our business to a certain scale, made a plan to get there, and executed it very well. On a more micro-scale, I’ve learned that you can’t sweat losing business from time-to-time. Sometimes the “best” customers are actually your least profitable ones. And, if you aren’t making a customer/account happy, they deserve the opportunity to try someone else out. More often than not, if you remain disciplined in providing the best product with the best service, the customer will return, and stay indefinitely.

​BREWER: Can you touch on something your brewery has added lately that’s unique or making your business more successful (it could be equipment, technology or people)?

JESSEN: One of the most common pieces of feedback we receive regarding our taproom/retail space is that there isn’t enough of it. We have what we have to work with in terms of square footage there, so needed to get creative to provide more customer area. Through some creative architecture, a partnership with the Town of Eagle to gain access to some right-of-way for outdoor licensed space, and some sweat equity, we were able to cash-flow a patio expansion that adds over 700 square feet to our customer area. Since the new space was unveiled around two months ago, revenue has increased by 25%.

​BREWER: If you had one business strategy that you could implement to better the brewing industry, what would it be?
JESSEN: Enhanced local and regional educational opportunities for future brewery employees. There are simply aren’t many qualified individuals out there and we sorely need a pipeline of new talent to keep the industry moving forward.