When Wright moved to Colorado 15 years ago, his wife bought him a beer-brewing lesson. He had never brewed before and he was hooked. "I just fell in love with it: the science aspect of it, the art aspect of it," he says.
After homebrewing for about eight years, he decided he wanted to open a brewery. "I always wanted to own my own business and run things for myself," he says. So he began to hone his craft in earnest. "I started with the same three recipes and brewed them over and over and over again," Wright says.
He spent five years working on his business plan and securing funding before opening Pikes Peak Brewing Company on May 28, 2011.
Four years later, it's a dream job. "Some of those dreams are great dreams and some are nightmares," jokes Wright.
Most of Pikes Peak's beers are named after local landmarks (i.e. Devils Head Red Ale, Elephant Rock IPA, and Kissing Camels Berliner Weiss).
Each August, the brewery does a wet-hopped beer using hops grown in Monument by Rick Squires at The Twisted Bine. "He brings the bines into the tasting room and we have our customers pick them. They get even more connected to the beer and it's a lot of fun," Wright says.
With a robust 35 percent growth year by year, Wright's management style has changed. "It's more reacting and less planning," he explains. After brewing about 2,000 barrels last year, Wright expects to hit 3,200 this year. "By the end of this year, we'll be maxed out as far as fermentation space so we'll have to expand," Wright says.
The brewery's motto, "Life is better when lived together," informs every aspect of the business, from the atmosphere of the taproom to the slogan on the back of every can produced: "5 ingredients to great beer: malt, water, hops, yeast, and friends."
The community has embraced the brewery. "It's been amazing," Wright says. "It's something that is local . . . people can see the tanks where the beer is made. People have a connection to the beer." Despite a capacity of over 100 people, it's often hard to find a seat in the tasting room. The comfortable outdoor patio is often packed as well and is dog and kid friendly.
Pikes Peak Brewing Company supports the community as well. Some of their seasonal beers support local causes, such as Local 5 pale ale, whose proceeds go to the Colorado Springs Professional Firefighters Association Local 5.
Wright also appreciates the community of craft brewers along the Front Range. "It's a great community of business owners and we all help each other out," he says.
Favorite beers: "Oh, geez," says Wright. "Well, I'm a hophead so I like the IPAs. Modus Hoperandi from Ska is my go-to right now, but I just like to try a lot of different beers."
Challenges: Wright has some concerns about a potential 2016 ballot initiative allowing full-strength beer and wine sales in grocery stores. "When Safeway can now sell that beer, probably the majority of those liquor stores are going to close. All that profit is going to leave the state. I want to keep that profit here in Colorado," he says.
Wright says another burden on the small brewer is that they could no longer drive to a local liquor store to negotiate sales. "For me to provide beer to Safeway or King Soopers, I'll have to fly out of state, meet with their beer buyer. They might say, 'We love your beer, we'll take 500 cases a month.' I'll say, 'I can't do 500 cases a month right now.' And they'll say, 'Thanks for talking to us, we'll go to someone who can.'"
"The people that are gonna hurt are all those mom-and-pop liquor stores and the small and medium-sized craft brewer won't have as many outlets for our products. We won't be able to grow as fast and we won't be able to employ as many people."
Opportunities: Future plans may include expanding into Colorado Springs. Wright cites a study that found Colorado Springs had the fourth-highest concentration of craft beer drinkers in the nation. "The Colorado Springs consumer is drinking good beer, but they're drinking non-local stuff," he says.
Another opportunity: on-premise sales of growler-sized cans sealed in the tasting room. During a visit to Oskar Blues, Wright saw that they were doing growlers in cans rather than bottles. "I was up at their tasting room and I saw that and says, 'I gotta have that.'"
Needs: "We're going to invest in more capacity and better quality," says Wright, noting that he's also talking to distributors to expand Pikes Peak's footprint.
And hops are harder to get, he adds. "The price of hops is going up so farmers are getting back into hops but that crop takes two years to really produce. There's a big lag."