In his office, O'Connell's desk sits across from a large photo of a preacher in a river with a gun to the head of a would-be convert, the work of Fort Collins photographer Darren Mahuron. The piece, entitled Baptism by Fire, holds a special place in O'Connell's heart.
"I jumped into brewing without knowing much about running a brewery," he explains. "It reminds me of the early days."
It's been a big year for Renegade. "We're up 100 percent," says O'Connell.
Output doubled from 1,800 barrels in 2014 to a projected 3,600 barrels this year after the company moved production a mile south from the Art District on Santa Fe in January.
The new brewery is an anchor of The Yard, a mile to the south on Santa Fe Drive. The soon-to-be former home of Stark Lumber is transforming into a mixed-use hub melding light manufacturing with Renegade and furniture maker Fin Art, the only other current tenant, with a soon-to-open cafe, gym, and winery.
When Stark moves out entirely later in 2015, Renegade is expanding to a 30-barrel system that will put capacity at about 7,000 barrels a year and adding a silo and mill room. O'Connell forecasts hitting close to 6,000 barrels in 2016.
The homebrewer and CU Denver researcher "made the leap" and opened the taproom at 9th Avenue and Santa Fe Drive with his wife, Khara, in 2011, with a mindset reflected in the moniker. "Our philosophy is we take a classic style and put a twist on it," he says. "Everything is unique in its own way."
It follows that Renegade started canning with two year-round IPAs: Redacted, a rye, in 2012, and Endpoint, a triple, in 2013.
The IPAs were followed by Consilium Pale Ale, with orange peel, oats, and lactose. "It's a step down in hoppiness and alcohol," O'Connell says.
5:00 Afternoon Ale and Hiatus Coffee-Infused Oatmeal Ale round out the five year-round cans. "We brought out Hiatus [in late 2014] because it was a malty offering. It's our only malty beer."
Renegade's "100 percent Colorado canning line” is comprised of a Wild Goose 250 and a Ska Fabrication depalletizer. "It's awesome," says O'Connell.
O'Connell is planning to expand the barrel-aging program as well, but is quick to note that sours are not the next IPA, quoting a recent seminar where the speaker zinged that notion. "IPAs are the next IPAs," says O'Connell. "There's nothing that can touch that."
The trick is time-tested: Do it right. "There aren't a whole lot of innovations in brewing," he adds. "We have shinier steel but it's pretty much the same as it was hundreds of years ago."
Now available in Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska, Renegade is moving into Wisconsin in 2016. "They drink a lot of beer there," he says. "They're excited about new craft brewers."
Renegade has also brewed several quirky one-off batches in partnership with local restaurants, including Maple Porter with Denver's Asbury Provisions and Orange Cream Saltwater Taffy Gose with Right Coast Pizza in Wheat Ridge.
Favorite beers: "Of my own beers, Redacted is my favorite. It's definitely my go-to beer," says O'Connell. "I love Odell Brewing Company. Their IPA is my favorite IPA."
Challenges: Managing 100 percent growth in 2015. "That's caused a lot of changes in the business," says O'Connell, highlighting hiring, training, and scaling manufacturing as pain points. "Things are on a much larger scale now."
Opportunities: After Wisconsin, "We're trying not to grow too fast," says O'Connell. "We'll probably take on one more market in 2016 and that'll be it."
After pushing cans for the past couple of years, the focus is shifting to kegs, he adds. There is a lot of potential in draft.
Needs: "Right now, our biggest need it to get through the expansion process," O'Connell notes. Financed with private funds and an SBA loan, the expansion is slated to be finished in early 2016.