Brewing for Ski Town, USA

Steamboat Springs, Colorado (trademarked Ski Town, U.S.A.) is known for many things, including its famous Champagne Powder® at its family-friendly ski resort, mountain biking trails, and natural hot springs. And being in Colorado, of course it has to be home to a few breweries, including a relatively young, but already classic locals’ spot, Storm Peak Brewing Company.
Growing up in Denver, brothers Wyatt, Tyler and Zach Patterson grew to love Steamboat through their family trips to the small town, just a three-hour drive through the mountains. That, combined with their love for beer, led the brothers and their father to co-found a microbrewery in Steamboat almost six years ago.
“We were terrible brewers when we first opened,” Wyatt Patterson said, after only having homebrewed for three to four years previously. When opening the brewery in the beginning, Wyatt Patterson split his time between Denver and Steamboat but eventually moved up to Steamboat full-time. The operation started as a seven-barrel brewhouse and produced 350 barrels in the first year.
After two and a half years, Storm Peak outgrew its original location and moved a mile down the road to open a 20-barrel brewhouse. In 2019, the brewery produced 2,200 barrels and is on pace to do even more in 2020.
Though Wyatt lives in Steamboat full-time, his brother Zach still bounces back and forth from Steamboat to Denver, working on sales distribution, while Wyatt focuses on community outreach.
“My brother is a talker. He’s a people person, a natural-born salesman, so that’s his strength. That’s what he needs to be doing,” Wyatt said. “I guess I’m more of a high-level, business-side-of-things thinker, so it just works out really well. Zach does a wonderful job of coming in here and keeping me grounded when I’m fired up about something or I need to be told to not stress about something.”
From the beginning, Patterson has felt challenged by growing at a pace the brewery wants to grow while maintaining family ownership. The family has been approached by people who want to buy in but they’ve always been adamant about being in control.
“We’d rather be in debt to a bank rather than have somebody with a ton of money telling us how to run the business. That’s been the biggest challenge, growing organically without having to bring on additional partners.”
When asked about being named one the top 50 fastest growing breweries in the US by the Brewers Association, Patterson said, “It’s not what we want to be known as. We don’t want to be the fastest growing brewery; we want to be the brewery that is growing organically, making the best beer that we can make, and contributing to the community and focusing on Steamboat.”
Though there is demand for Storm Peak’s beer elsewhere, the owners prioritize Steamboat first. They distribute minimally to Denver, but mostly it’s just in local bars and retail locations in the Yampa Valley.
“Most of it for us is just giving nonprofits, companies, and causes in the Valley a place to have their voices heard,” Patterson said. “And that’s always been our thing. We try to never say ‘no’ to anybody local who reaches out to us…we always try and make it work.”
The one thing they won’t do is close the brewery to the public for a private event.
“We started this place focused on the community and that’s why we had our tiny little seven-barrel brewhouse and our tiny little taproom down the street,” Patterson said.
Originally, he didn’t foresee the brewery outgrowing its old location, but the brewery’s loyal following made that happen.
“A lot of what we focus on is giving people a place to hang out after they’ve been out on the mountain, after they’ve been snowboarding, after they’ve been mountain biking, when they get off the river,” Patterson said.
“The one thing I don’t like about this location is that it’s far away from where all those events happen, especially in the winter time, so it’s hard to get that apres-ski crowd in here. The beauty of that at the same time is that we get a lot of the locals who are sick of what’s happening over on the mountain, apres-ski because it’s so busy and full of non-locals.”
As a ski town, Steamboat sees a lot of turnover in its younger residents. Young people come to work for a winter season and then they leave, because it’s too expensive for people to really settle down in, so a lot of businesses see that turnover in their employees. But Patterson believes that treating his employees right and paying them well helps keep them at the brewery.

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