My palate first goes to a familiar, happy place: root beer floats as a kid. But this "beer float," a flavorful combination of Pikes Peak Brewing Company's SwitchBack Coffee Porter and Josh & John's oatmeal cookie ice cream, adds one more layer of taste, and another, until I'm blissfully in a brand-new moment — made possible by collaboration among local crafters.
Sitting with me at The Wild Goose Meeting House, Aly Hartwig looks on with obvious satisfaction. "That's the way it should be all the time," she insists.
Two years ago, Hartwig made a list of certain collaborative pieces she felt were missing in the area — synergy among local crafters being one. Working for Brewer's Republic at that point, she didn't see it developing naturally. And in the meantime, she saw consumers gravitating toward bigger brands instead of local labels.
"Colorado Springs has the potential to become a nexus for craft businesses," she says, "but it needs a dedicated consumer to help realize it."
Hartwig dove deeper into the area's beer culture. In early 2013 she formed Brewers Broads, a women's beer club of sorts — at educational meet-ups, local ladies might attend a brew lecture and socialize over drinks. Last July, she started as assistant brewer at Pikes Peak Brewing Company, where she has been a part of various collaborations— an Imperial Stout aged in Spring44 Spirits' whiskey barrels, a Christmas ale with Plan Bee honey and a pale ale with Twisted Bine's Cascade hops, to name a few. And for International Women's Collaboration Brew Day this spring, Hartwig organized a meeting of 10 local industry women to create Unite Pale Ale, poured at Denver's Collaboration Fest in March and select local bars.
They all represent steps toward deepening relationships among local craft breweries and taprooms. Colorado Springs Craft Week, meanwhile, is the 23-year-old's two-footed leap in that direction.
Starting Saturday, April 26 (with a few events scheduled for the 24th and 25th, too) and running through May 4, this inaugural installment is meant to promote crafter collaboration; encourage consumers to buy local; and highlight what's happening, or soon to happen, in the Pikes Peak region's food-and-drink community.
"The best place to root the local movement," she says, "is through things that people are already buying, such as craft beer and local coffee."
Though similar projects to raise awareness for local business or industry have popped up nationwide, Hartwig knows of no other collaborative effort of solely local businesses showcasing all local craft industries — especially with crafters uniting for a larger philanthropic purpose. Craft Week proceeds will benefit Colorado Springs Farm and Art Market, the Colorado Springs Public Market Project, Pikes Peak Urban Gardens, and Venetucci Farm. (Click here for more on each of those, and for a full schedule of events.)
"In newer craft industries, they're missing this collaborative spirit and it becomes overly competitive," Hartwig says. "In reality, we're fighting for the same cause, and we need to be working together to accomplish this."
She adds: "If Colorado Springs residents aren't supporting their crafters, we can't expect people in Denver, Pueblo or Boulder to support us."
Craft Week's schedule is full of keg tappings, dinners and other social events. But it also counts a good number of educational components. On Sunday, April 27, for instance, businesses across the region will open their doors for behind-the-scenes tours of their operations. There are coffee classes, beer-and-chocolate pairings, and presentations from experts including Mike Bristol of Bristol Brewing Company and Michael Myers of Distillery 291.
Hartwig hopes that via exposure to the businesses, and the people who run them, more crafters will be encouraged to launch businesses. The number of craft breweries, distilleries and coffee roasters in the region is growing at a faster rate than any other city in the state, she claims. The Independent's InSider guide, released earlier this month, counted more than 20 breweries alone.
Though spirits comprise a smaller component of the local scene, and of Craft Week, Hartwig is excited by that sector's growth. By building the support now, it opens the door for distillers (among others) to be successful, she says.
In collaboration with Myers at Distillery 291, mixologist/barista Eric Harry Nicol of the Principal's Office at Ivywild will be serving cocktails during the week's flagship event: the Crafter's Festival on Friday night, May 2 at Venue 515 in Manitou Springs. (A new distillery, set to open later this year, Axe and the Oak, will also host an information booth there.)
The festival will showcase other cross-industry efforts, too. For instance, soon-to-open Fossil Brewing Company has teamed up with newbie Lofty Brewing Company, and will unveil a blonde ale aged on cacao nibs from local chocolatier Radiantly Raw, plus a milk stout made with SwitchBack's coffee.
"We got involved to be a part of the community and to meet other crafters," says Josh Bye, co-founder and head brewer of Fossil. "After doing some networking for collaboration beers, I met a lot of local business owners who are just as passionate about their craft as we are about beer."
Bye says he hopes people will realize how many small craft businesses are right under their noses, and will demonstrate for them the "effort and passion that goes into their specific craft."
Beyond the beer and spirits there's the other buzz-granter, coffee. Wild Goose will be hugely busy, offering at least one event each day of Craft Week.
"We want to support each other because the better we do as a third-wave craft coffee movement, the better we all do," says Goose manager Alex Baum, referencing the current movement that factors bean sourcing, brewing methods and culture into the coffee equation. "We're taking business from the big guys and moving it to a more local environment."
Meanwhile, Nicol has organized barista competitions that will showcase knowledge of signature drinks, as well as a roast-off using direct-trade beans procured with the help of Yobel Market, a new collaborator on the coffee scene with useful international ties. (See "Farm to cup," for more.)
Coffee, beer and spirits make for probably the easiest, "sexiest" translators for people to grasp, when it comes to supporting the concept of buying local. But again thinking big, Hartwig says she hopes they'll also provide a foundation on which other businesses can expand.
"No one talks about the rhubarb grown here," she notes. "But if we make that step first with things that people already see a reason to support, and we unify that message with craft beer, then hopefully it will expand across the board."
One taste of Wild Goose's epic beer float, and you'll see why it's a worthy goal.