On December 23, 2016, Parts and Labor Brewing Company opened with 30 barrels of beer. Brewed on a five-barrel system from Portland's Stout Tank and Kettle Company, and fermented in five five-barrel fermenters within a newly renovated 6,000-square-foot building in downtown Sterling that had once been a Cadillac and Pontiac dealership, that beer didn't last long.
One might think that in a town of only 15,000 residents, many of whom Dylan Harford describes as "Big Three light pilsner drinkers," selling such a quantity of craft beer would be challenging. However, thirsty locals immediately flocked to the spacious taproom that easily seats 140. Within a few weeks, Parts and Labor had to double their production capacity with the addition of two more 10-barrel fermenters. And Harford still can't keep up with growing demand.
A former auto mechanic and homebrewer who grew up in Sterling but discovered his passion for craft while living in Fort Collins, he says, "We had six beers on tap when we opened. It didn't take but a couple of days and we were down to three. For the first two months, we were always on the verge of running out. I'd walk into the cooler and have a panic attack. We'd have a tasting room full of people and just a handful of kegs. We're still trying to catch up."
While there's plenty of room for 12 taps behind the brewery's spacious bar, Harford has yet to make it above eight. "I'd love to do some pilot beers and small-batch test beers," he explains. "But we got such a huge following so quickly, and everyone has their favorite beer, that I've been behind the eight ball trying to keep those in stock to keep our existing customers happy."
Current customer favorites include a vanilla coconut porter named Loose Lips Sink Ships in tribute to Harford's sailor grandfather as well as Haas Wheat (made with locally grown unmalted wheat), Camshaft Kölsch (brewed to "make the locals happy"), and My Soviet Friend, a Russian Imperial Stout. "We have guys come in who have only drank light beers their entire life and the Russian Imperial turns out to be their favorite," says Harford.
Nevertheless, he's managed to squeeze in a little bit of time for experimentation. Harford is currently working on a recipe based on tepache, a traditional drink from Central Mexico made from pineapple and naturally fermented from the yeast on the fruit's skin. "One of my staff gave me the idea," he recalls. "She made tepache for me and when I tasted it, I loved all the really wild yeast characters. I'm working on making a beer like that but it's a handful for me right now. We'll see how it turns out."
Favorite beers: "I'm a big Belgian fan," Harford says. "I'm really chasing those quads right now, even though it's warming up outside. I also enjoy sours, especially Roeselare-yeast styles. I've had one of those going continually for 10 years now and want to move it into production at the brewery. And while I'm not a super-big hop head, I do like the occasional IPA, too."
Challenges: Getting a good variety of beers on tap is Harford's biggest challenge. "We're struggling to keep seven or eight on there, but I was hoping to have 12 by now," he says. "I'd like for people to come in and have a choice of varieties even within several styles. For example, I'd like to have several different wheat beers on tap at a time so people could appreciate the differences. So far, that has been impossible due to the volume of taproom sales."
Opportunities: "Everybody in the area is really excited about us being here," says Harford. "There are a lot of local establishments that serve beer and want to get us on tap. It's exciting to know that there are people out there just waiting to have our beer in their restaurant or bar."
Needs: "A day off," Harford says with a chuckle. "I'm joking. Actually, it would be really nice to have a couple extra fermenters to play with and I'd love to get into some barrel aging." He plans to order two more 10-barrel fermenters in the next month and will nearly double capacity again, estimating that he'll brew around 600 barrels this year. "We have great people and a great customer base," he concludes, "but we don't want to get ahead of our ourselves."