By Gregory Daurer | Jul 25, 2022
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Baldwin began his brewery humbly in size and scope, immediately making a name for Red Leg Brewing Company as a veteran-owned and -operated business. The moniker "Red Leg" comes from the stripes on the pant legs of Civil War artillery men, so they could be easily identified through the smoke of a battlefield when tactical orders needed to be relayed to them.
Baldwin could relate to the military history: He had been an artillery officer in the army, himself. But once he got out of the service, Baldwin decided to go into business on his own, following an office job. "I just didn't want to work for anybody else ever again," he says.
He opened Red Leg in 2013, serving one flagship beer that has the artillery-minded name Howitzer Amber Ale. He also co-founded the Veterans Beer Alliance, in order to offer assistance to other veteran-owned breweries with, for instance, bulk ingredient purchases and shared distribution.
When Baldwin decided around 2017 that he needed to expand his brewery's capacity and host additional customers, he set out to find a new building in Colorado Springs. But there was limited availability in terms of an existing spot that would do the trick. Baldwin says, "It's really hard to find a structure that supports the power, the water, and the gas requirements."
During one frustrating outing with the architect he was partnering with, Baldwin was filling up on gas at a Loaf N' Jug on Arrowswest Drive in Colorado Springs. Suddenly hit with inspiration, the architect pointed to the nearby land abutting Garden of the Gods Road: What about doing something with that? "I'd never put my head around the idea of developing a piece of property," says Baldwin.
But that's exactly what Baldwin did. He announced the project in 2019 and it had its official opening last year. Leaving his previous 4,000-square-foot structure about three quarters of a mile away, Red Leg Brewing now occupies 24,000 square feet of brand-new brewing and tasting-room space. Whereas the brewery previously had a capacity of 2,000 barrels per year, it now it can "easily go up to about 12,000." (It produced about 2,600 last year.) Baldwin says, "We went from a two-vessel, 10-barrel brewhouse to a four-vessel, 20-barrel brewhouse. And then we also added a two-vessel, seven-barrel pilot system [to brew special beers]."
But that's not all there will be on the 2.5 acres. "We have 11 shipping containers that are about 200 square feet that are able to house a tenant in them," says Baldwin. Seven are already rented, although they haven't officially opened yet, to businesses like Sasquatch Cookies, Oliver's Deli, Chef Bob's Lobstah Trap, and High Rise Pizza Kitchen. Criterium Bicycles will be doing repairs and rentals onsite as well. Presently, regular events take place on the property, as well, like trivia nights and yoga. "You don't have to come here [just] for beer, like a lot of breweries," he says.
So far, the entire venture has cost $10 million, including $1 million for the land, $6.4 million for the buildout, and $1.5 million for equipment. Baldwin and his wife, who co-own the business, funded the project themselves through loans.
About 70 percent of the beer produced by Red Leg is sold on the premises. Some outside distribution has taken place through military bases in Oklahoma and Texas. And that flagship beer Howitzer Amber Ale? It won a silver medal in 2019 and a gold medal in 2020 at the Great American Beer Festival in the "German-Style Altbier" category.
Baldwin notes how things have changed since first opening in 2013: There are more breweries in Colorado Springs – and in other states. There's less room for brands within coolers and on store shelves. Baldwin had to ask himself, "What's next for Red Leg?" The answer was to plan for more on-premise sales while simultaneously providing a space for community gatherings, where the beer wasn't the sole draw. The view of Garden of the Gods adds to the site's overall appeal, he notes.
"We have done a phenomenal job as a business, diversifying our business," says Baldwin, in addition to serving as a "catalyst" for the city's revitalization on its west side. "I really think we've [hit] a homerun for all of Colorado Springs – and maybe even Southern Colorado," Baldwin adds.
Favorite beers: Baldwin recently had his first Dale's Pale Ale in quite a while, right at Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons. "I forgot about how delicious that thing was!" he says. He also gives a shout-out to his friends at Goat Patch Brewing Co. and their World Beer Cup-winning It Takes a Tribe Red Ale. And in terms of initial inspiration and help for his brewery venture, he points to Chris Wright at Pikes Peak Brewing Company. "He answered a lot of my questions," says Baldwin.
Challenges: Baldwin says it's continuing to set course after the big changes that have taken place: "We grew. And now I think it's just scaling our business: To really understand the processes of how to go from a business that was in a, you know, 4,000-square-foot warehouse, to understanding the processes and procedures of a 2.5-acre community and cultural facility."
Opportunities: Deciding on the best distribution opportunities, says Baldwin. "Where do we want to go within Colorado? Is it staying in Southern Colorado? Or do we start looking now towards crossing the Front Range to the west? Do we go towards Denver? We're getting a lot of requests now out of Denver." He attributes the latter to day trippers who have sampled Red Leg's beers at its new destination facility. Folks are visiting from throughout the country, as well, leaving pins on a map within the brewery of where they're from.
Needs: Baldwin says there needs to be "as much support as humanly possible" from the public. He notes, "That $10 million in debt is not going to go anywhere, it's going to sit there. And we're responsible for ensuring it's paid off. And I'm responsible for it. And I'm responsible for ensuring my employees have the benefits we promised them with the pay we promised them. And the only way I could do that is if people come out and support us."