By Gregory Daurer | May 02, 2022
Stengl notes his brewery's winning streak at the Great American Beer Festival: "We've gotten a medal every year we've been open and entered that competition."
Since 2013, Cannonball Creek Brewing Company has taken home 14 medals from the GABF for its beers. Six of those have been gold medals; and, it's worth noting, they were secured in six completely different categories, ranging from American-Style Black Ale to Belgian-Style Blonde Ale or Pale Ale to German-Style Pilsener to American-Style Pale Ale.
Although the brewery's reputation reaches far and wide among beer drinkers and fellow brewers, Stengl says, "We literally sell 99 percent of our product onsite," practically necessitating a trek to Golden to sample its available suds. "It's kind of a different model that we're able to pull off, [compared with] other places that have a distribution model."
The most beer brewed in a single year has been about 950 barrels, says Stengl, with annual output now totaling 700. A decrease in the production volume can be attributed to offering more lagers, which spend a longer amount of time aging in the available tank space.
The beers are made by Head Brewer and co-founder Brian Hutchinson, as well as fellow brewer Jonathan Lee. Stengl, Hutchinson, and Lee all met while working for Mountain Sun in Boulder. In fact, Stengl was part of the brewing team that hired Hutchinson. "He's fantastic," Stengl says of Hutchinson's brewing skills. "He's really in tune with his palate to be able to make the beers that people really like to drink."
Inside their brewhouse, Stengl says, "We have a seven-barrel Premier stainless system that we bought as a package: We bought all the equipment from a brewery in California that was changing their business model. So, we bought the brewhouse and four fermenters, eight serving tanks, and that silo out front."
Regulars and tourists alike stop by to hoist a pint in the brewery's interior, tucked up against a rolling hill just off Colorado State Highway 93. Or outdoors on the business' patio, where Cannonball Creek's silo, painted with colorful fish, rises up nearby, holding the brewery's base malt. On premises, patrons can imbibe a Featherweight Pale Ale or Mindbender IPA or Olivia Bruton-John (a gold medal-winning Brut IPA previously known as Vladamir Brutin, before the invasion of Ukraine took place, this year, instigating the renaming of it).
And then there's their gold-medal winning Session IPA -- weighing in at 4.6 percent ABV -- called Trump Hands. Stengl insists it wasn't a "political statement" that led to the low-alcohol beer's moniker, which some people find off-putting, based upon their respective positions on the ideological spectrum. "We just find things ironic and funny!" he adds about how beer names get adopted by the brewery.
Fellow beer makers find Cannonball Creek's offerings more-than-agreeable. Representatives of three different breweries have cited Cannonball Creek as one of their favorites in previous CompanyWeek profiles: Mountain Sun, Telluride Brewing Company, and Bull & Bush Brewery.
"That's what we've always been most proud of, as much as anything," Stengl says about the industry recognition. "We've got a very good reputation with our peers."
Favorite beers: Stengl returns the compliment to those other breweries just cited above: "I would say all three of those places are awesome."
And the kudos continues: "Comrade -- that's definitely one of my favorite places to go have a beer; those guys make fantastic beer. Bierstadt Lagerhaus -- that's a place I love going, drinking a pils or a helles. Call to Arms on Tennyson, I really enjoy. Hogshead is one of my favorites, for sure."
And then there are the two California breweries that Cannonball Creek has made collaboration beers with: Pizza Port (the Carlsbad location) and Riip Beer Co. of Huntington Beach. Stengl recalls how the Pizza Port chain "opened my eyes" around 20 years ago and later served as an inspiration for Cannonball Creek.
Challenges: "Our main thing is people coming back to us, because we don't sell beer anywhere else," says Stengl. "People have to seek us out and come to our location." He notes how weather affects whether people even go out for beers at all -- and when they do, parking can get tight at the brewery.
And then there are those challenges which are industry-wide: costs of supplies going up, leading to increased prices for everything from hops to Crowlers to cleaning chemicals.
Opportunities: "To continue to stay busy for a long time," says Stengl. "I feel like we provide a community place for people to get, really, some of the best beer available to them. I do feel like our record shows it: Brian and Jonathan really do an amazing job making the product that we make."
Needs: "We need customers," reaffirms Stengl. "We can make the best beer in the world, but if we don't have people come to our place, our business model would have to change quite a bit."