Brewing requires hard, physical labor, just the kind of exertion that Norton has never shied away from. A masonry trade school graduate, he spent most of his adult life working in construction before discovering the Colorado craft beer scene in 2007.
"When Flying Dog Brewery was still in Denver, they hired me to work on the bottling line," he recalls. "I fell in love with the craft beer industry but decided not to follow them to Maryland when they moved in 2008."
He networked his way into another brewing job -- this time at Brewery Rickoli -- a short time later. "I kept bugging Rick Abitbol, the owner and brewmaster, to teach me how to brew," Norton says. "He let me come in and I kept showing up, so eventually he started paying me."
After a subsequent stint at Ironworks Brewery and Pub, he found himself at Golden City Brewing. "Charlie Sturdavant was looking for brewers, and my boss at Ironworks recommended me," says Norton. He spent three years as an assistant before a promotion to head brewer in early 2016.
Founded in 1993 by Sturdavant and his wife, Janine, in their historic home four blocks from Coors Brewing Company, Golden's second-largest brewery is both a local favorite and popular summer tourist destination. "The beer garden is great," Norton notes. "We recently added a bunch of new tables and benches."
Norton spearheads the production of the brewery's five flagship beers -- including its bestseller and original offering, Legendary Red -- on a 10-barrel brew system. "I have one 10-barrel fermenter, two 30-barrel fermenters, one 40-barrel fermenter, and a 30-barrel and 40-barrel fermenter lager tank," Norton adds. "I have to brew either three or four times just to fill up those tanks."
He also has a small-batch, one-barrel system that he uses for seasonals and special one-off beers. "We have anywhere from three to six seasonals on tap at a time," he says. "And I also have a line of barrel aged beers that I've been working on." These include recipes aged in Deerhammer and Bear Creek Distillery whiskey barrels. "I have a gin barrel on the way," Norton adds. "I'm going to age a saison in it."
Though they're still self-distributed, Golden City Brewery plans to increase production from last year's 900 barrels to close to 1,200 in 2017. Consumers will find their sudsy wares in approximately 70 liquor stores, bars and restaurants in Golden, Littleton, Lakewood, Denver, Arvada, Boulder and Longmont as well as Evergreen and Conifer.
Those who enjoy frequenting Nepalese and Indian restaurants may find the brewery's popular Clear Creek Gold packaged as Khumbu Kölsch from Sherpa Brewery in Nepal. "Charlie and Janine helped start that brewery a few years ago. They are brewing the same recipe as our pale ale under another name," Norton explains. "We also brew it here and package it in those cans for the Sherpa House restaurant in Golden as well as other Nepalese and Himalayan restaurants in Grand Junction, Glenwood, Meeker, and Greeley."
Favorite beers: "In the last 10 years, my girlfriend and I have been to 485 breweries," Norton says. "That makes it really hard to say what my favorite beer is. I can say that I'm a hop head and IPAs are something I usually order. Some of the breweries making amazing IPAs include Locavore Beer Works in Littleton, Broken Compass Brewing up in Breckenridge, and Brewery Rickoli in Wheat Ridge."
Challenges: Because Golden City Brewery is located on property that is a designated historic site, physical expansion of the brewhouse is close to impossible according to Norton. While this has created a number of challenges, they have found a few effective work-arounds.
"We needed space for our canning line and couldn't build another building so Charlie and Janine bought a 20-by-8-foot shipping container and added a heat and AC unit," he explains. "We were able to put two stainless steel tables in there and can fit everything we need in it as far as cans and our two-head manual filler."
Opportunities: Norton identifies collaborations with other breweries as one of Golden City Brewery's biggest opportunities. "They help get our name out there," he says, "and it really shows how much camaraderie there is in this industry."
Needs: In short, the brewery could use new equipment. "With better, more modern equipment, we could crank out more beer," Norton muses. "More beer means more accounts, you know."