Aragon and Horton, lifelong friends as well as brothers-in-law, began talking about opening a Colorado brewery while living in northern New Mexico in the 1990s. Since then, they've amassed decades of professional brewing experience and focused in on their artisanal passion: barrel-aged, wild, and sour beers.
"It's our swan song -- our end game -- really," says Horton. "A brewery like this was our eventual goal throughout our days working on other projects."
While others questioned the wisdom of their plan at times, they were confident they were on the right path. "Some people were concerned that we wanted to do something so new and unproven," says Aragon. "But we told them that these types of beers have been made for centuries. In the process, we coined the phrase, 'What's old is new again.' That's a paradox, and it became the name for our brewery."
The pair started out small, renting time in the brewhouse at Pikes Peak Brewing Company in Monument. "We had a couple of 10-barrel tote tanks and a dozen or so wine barrels," Aragon recalls. "We'd brew at Pikes Peak and then haul it up to our location in Woodland Park where we'd do all the fermenting, aging, blending, and bottling."
Times have certainly changed.
In the summer of 2015, Paradox Beer Company moved into a new three-acre, 100 percent wind-powered facility in Divide with an in-house water treatment system, 10 barrel brewhouse, 10- and 20-barrel fermentation vessels, and a custom-built spontaneous fermentation coolship. They will soon be adding a couple 60-barrel blending tanks and 60 barrel foeders as well -- all of which has enabled them to broaden their fermentation capabilities and expand production of the unique and diverse beers their customers -- or the "one percent of the 10 percent of beer drinkers who enjoy craft beer" as Horton regularly describes them -- have come to expect.
"Variety is one of the things that have really set us apart," he says. "From the beginning, we've shunned flagship beers in favor of the one-offs we've always enjoyed -- the beers where we can really stretch our creativity. We now produce three to four new beers every six to nine weeks."
"Our customers like to have something new to explore," Horton continues. "So we have this great synergy going where we are being as creative as we possibly can be and our customers are being continually challenged -- which is what they like. There are plenty of breweries serving the guys who want the same beer all of the time. Those aren't the guys flocking to Paradox."
Paradox brewed 1,500 barrels in 2015 and expects to potentially double that in the coming year. A new Martin Robotics bottling line installed in late 2015 will make packaging their product much easier on the team. "The bottleneck in our production process was our bottling setup," says Aragon. "We were using a wine bottler, and it took seven guys. The man hours added up to about 20 days. Our new setup will allow us to package the same amount of beer in two days with three guys."
Their beers are distributed in Colorado as well as California, Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Massachusetts, primarily in bottles. "Our customers often have very large beer cellars," says Horton. "They like to age beers and appreciate the flavor changes as they evolve. We bottle condition our product so it has a longer shelf life, and that's why don't do any appreciable keg business."
Paradox's Scully line is by far their most popular. "It's a sour line mostly aged in wine barrels," says Aragon. "But we also have a line that's aged in spirit barrels. When those come out they are super special. We have three or four spirit barrel releases planned for 2016." Recent releases have included Scully Barrel No. 36, a sour ale brewed with coconut, and Scully Barrel No. 35, a sour ale brewed with plums and sea salt.
Favorite beers: "Of our beers, I've most enjoyed the ones that are multi-year blends. The End of the Beginning Volume II was a favorite," says Aragon. "It was a great expression of what we do with mixed fermentations as well as the influence the barrel can have on a beer."
"With so many breweries embracing wilds and sours, it's fun to try all the different variations available," adds Horton. "There's a lot of crossover between what we're doing and what some of these other guys are doing. We enjoy comparing and contrasting them with our team at the end of the day or over lunch."
Challenges: Consumer education is a major challenge for the Paradox team. "American wilds and sours and barrel-aged beers are on the cutting edge right now," says Horton. "There's a huge interest in these types of beers. We're finding that while we have a lot of customers who are familiar with them -- and understand the fact that they are living beers that evolve over time -- there's a new set that is just discovering them. These are the customers who are sometimes surprised by what they find in our bottles."
Adds Aragon, "Our challenge is to get more information out to these people about what to expect and what makes these beers special as they are."
Opportunities: "We conceived our idea for Paradox at the perfect time," says Horton. "We don't have to hunt down states for distribution; they're actually coming to us. We even have international interest. So our opportunities for expansion are wide open right now."
Needs: Despite the recent move, space is again an issue. "When we came into this building, we thought we'd never be able to fill it up," Horton laughs. "And here we are four months later and we're just packed full. By 2017 we want to double the size of our building on this property. Along the way, we need to increase capacity in terms of storage and barrel aging as well."