By Eric Peterson | Oct 19, 2014
The son-and-father team of Mason and Tom Hembree is converting the masses in Denver's south suburbs to craft beer. Salvation has rarely been so hoppy.
Mason Hembree, now 27, had something of an epiphany driving back from Crested Butte in 2009.
He stopped and spoke with a bicyclist who was riding cross-country on two wheels, with passages from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass inscribed on his bike's frame. "It's a crazy piece of poetry that grabbed me," says Mason.
He never got the cyclist's full name, but he learned a lot from his story about changing one's direction in life. The "phantom" had sold his tech business and embarked on his journey, foregoing material things in favor of spreading Whitman's words.
Mason subsequently shuttered his Internet company and launched a nanobrewery/pizzeria with his dad, Tom. "I was a homebrewer and my dad was born to cook," says Mason. "He always wanted to have a restaurant, but never had a chance to."
As for Mason, he says he needed a career change as well. "I felt like I was slowly losing my soul, and I needed to do something to right that," he says of his former career in lending lead generation. "I wanted to do something drastic with the whole family."
So Dad & Dude -- along with mom and sis -- opened their establishment's doors in 2010, billing itself as "Colorado's smallest brewpub” with a half-barrel system brewing "a keg at a time," says Mason. They've since expanded to 1.5 barrels in house.
But it's Dad & Dude's alternating proprietorship with Rockyard Brewing Company in Castle Rock that has allowed the duo to brew significantly more beer. Mason and Tom began canning Dank IPA in 2012.
"It's a term in my lexicon," says Mason of his IPA's name. "I use it to describe something that is exceptional." And Dank is definitely that, with four pounds of hops -- half of them dry -- in each barrel.
Dad & Dude's canned lineup recently expanded to three beers by adding Leaves of Lemongrass Witbier -- a nod to the aforementioned "phantom" who helped inspire Mason's career change -- and Riot Rye Ale. In the latter, 16 percent of the grist is rye; 10 percent is considered high. "We wanted not to hide it under the hops," explains.
The alternating proprietorship with Rockyard has allowed Dad & Dude's to double production this year (from 700 to 1,400 barrels), and Mason expects to hit 2,500 in 2015. While Mason says a standalone Dad & Dude's brewery is also in the works for 2015, for the time being, the arrangement is beneficial to both businesses. "They call it carpooling," says Mason. "They have a little extra capacity. It benefits them to not let that stainless go to waste."
In the brewpub, the small production setup allows for a lot of experimentation, and the spent grain from brewing is used in the pizza dough. The menu also encompasses sandwiches, calzones, and other Italian fare.
While Dad oversees the kitchen, Dude spearheads most everything that is beer-related, from brewing to can design.
"I'm a perfectionist," says Mason. "It took seven months to come up with those can designs. There's a subliminal message on each one."
Challenges: "We're having a real challenge meeting demand," says Mason. With 350 retail accounts, it's hard to spread the suds. To rectify this, another alternating proprietorship is in the works that could increase capacity to 20,000 barrels a year, he says.
Opportunities: A largely untapped craft-beer market outside Denver city limits. "We want to rock the suburbs," says Mason, anticipating a second brewpub along the C-470 corridor in 2015. "A lot of people in the suburbs are still on the Budweiser and Coors kick. It's a little more satisfying to win over a new craft beer customer -- it's not fun taking a customer from another craft brewer."
Needs: Finding sites for the second brewpub and the brewery. Mason says site selection is currently in progress. He recently raised $1 million from his customers -- a.k.a "Brewligans" -- to finance the coming expansion.