Taylor Donner, off to adventure abroad.
Local wunderkind Taylor Donner, who holds a rare advanced-level Cicerone certification and has held the assistant brewer position at Cerberus Brewing Company since its launch a few years ago, departs for Belgium next week for at least three months of personal study abroad.
The bad news for the Springs: He may stay gone much longer in the pursuit of more hands-on education and experience, depending on where his travel and connections take him.
Donner, who's also been the beer buyer for Brewer's Republic, probably knows more about beer (at least on paper, to be fair) than anyone in the city — at age 26. "Getting out of the Springs and Colorado is the next biggest step for me," he says, noting "...Cerberus laid the groundwork for who I am now and who I'll be moving forward."
The young brewer has his sights set on three breweries in particular in Belgium, places that have produced "beers that mean a lot to me." They are: De Struise Brouwers
(both confirmed), and Cantillon
(if he's lucky). The goal is to volunteer and do work apprenticeships at each: "I want to see how [their brewers] approach the creative process, and how I can bring that forward as a brewer."
De Struise is known for high-gravity beers, he says, "big and strong with a lot of character but also nuanced and subtle." They do a lot of blending and barrel aging he hopes to study in particular. While Fantôme is "a really solid example of what a farmhouse brewery is ... wild and funky saisons... more consideration of artistry and flavor ... they don't worry about what the market demands because they're so small." And Cantillon leads with widely celebrated lambics.
Donner adding his magic touch.
The three-month plan relates to a 90-day visa, unless he can find a way to get sponsored to stay longer, he says. He'll bring his chef knives with him — he's a trained cook as well — and do some restaurant stages by evenings if that helps open any doors. If he can't stay in Belgium longer, he says he can land with some family in Vienna and possibly glean some valuable brewing experience there as well. "My family is in the Springs, so I'll always come back," he says, but he's also clearly focusing on his growth as a brewer, which will likely lead him to larger markets, and possibly larger brewhouses if opportunities present, though he'd prefer to stay in smaller operations on the scale of Cerberus or a little larger.
"So much goes into being a brewer even at this small scale," he says. "Everything I know as far as professional brewing is built around what I learned here."
Stylistically, he says Cerberus is obviously hop-forward, and that he and head head brewer Josh Adamski built their portfolio of beers around styles they cared about that, that perhaps many customers hadn't tried. They sought to spin things, often using Belgian beers as a base from which to play with other flavors (for example a golden strong brewed with honey and apples and spiced with cardamom and pink peppercorns).
He believes they were the first locally to brew now-super-popular New England-style IPAs and hazy IPAs. "When we had free space, we wanted to push the envelope as much as we could."
Adamski (left) and Donner bringing home a bronze award in 2018 from the World Beer cup for their NBD Kolsch.
Adamski credits Donner for a big part of Cerberus' direction and success (they won 12 Indy
Best Of awards in 2017, including Best New Brewery), saying the two "complemented each others' styles."
"I was the brewer who knew the ins and outs of hops and grains and how they worked and basic styles," explains Adamski. "He had the experimental thing going, playing with Brett beers and lactose and stuff, doing things I hadn't been as involved in, that was starting to blow up." The two brewers would play together on Adamski's small homebrew system and Adamski says "he had ideas I'd never thought about ... it's his out-of-bounds thinking I enjoyed the most, that kept us going, when we were [otherwise] brewing the same beers week after week, it gets monotonous ... we'd talk, about 'let's do this or change that' ... it was fun to BS about beer, that relationship was the best part of being in the brewhouse."
Adamski (covering his face) credits Donner with much of Cerberus' style and success, as a co-conspirator.
Donner will be replaced at Cerberus by André Blyth, formerly of Triple S and JAKs, and both brewers will continue to get support from cellarman Matt Driscoll. Despite the mixed emotions around seeing Donner leave, there's so much excitement around Cerberus' expansion plans.
On July 29, new equipment arrives that will effectively double the outfit's brewing capacity. They're going from a 7-barrel to 15-barrel brewhouse, to include a canning line and new production facility across the street (east) in the Colorado Springs Bike Shop space, eventually. "We'll be able to brew some fun stuff we haven't had time to do," says Adamski. In the existing space, he says he'll likely place a small one-barrel system for experimentation as well as place a lot of barrels up for aging, for "sours and off-the-wall" beers.
Who knows ... maybe all the fun will lure Donner back around again in the future. For now, beer fans in the Springs wish him a fond farewell as he sets off for far horizons.
Go get knowledge. Bring us back some beer, of course.