By Preston Morse
How you react to adversity speaks volumes for your character. You can plop down on your pity pot and binge watch “NCIS” spinoffs until loved ones intervene. Or, you can pull yourself up, scrape together your last few bucks, grab a flight to Germany and rip the guts out of an 84-year-old brewhouse.
For most of us, hopping on a Europe-bound airliner and buying a WWII-era brewery isn’t a go-to funk remedy. Ashleigh Carter and Bill Eye said they had no other choice.
After a rocky breakup with their former bedfellows at Prost Brewing, Carter and Eye were left with limited options and dwindling resources.
“We couldn’t even pay our rent, we had no money,” said Carter. “But we knew we could do it. We had to go over there and find a brewhouse.”
In April 2014 the two set out on a weeklong campaign to Germany, determined to track down the piece that would become the cornerstone of Bierstadt Lagerhaus.
“It seems kind of stupid. We had no business going to Germany, but that’s the only way to do it. You gotta be all in,” said Carter. “It wasn’t an option. It’s what we wanted to do from the beginning.”
For Eye, the concept of owning a brewery was kindled two decades ago, after attending brewing trade school.
“From the moment I started, I knew I wanted to own a brewery,” said Eye. “I found these old copper kettles and just fell in love with the aesthetic of them.”
After an exhaustive week traveling the German countryside, scouting breweries and sampling exquisite lagers, the two set their sights on a 1932 brewhouse in the quaint Bavarian village of Ammerndorf.
Local legend has it that a Nazi soldier took his own life in the brewery during the war. Tales of ghostly hauntings aside, Carter and Eye now faced the daunting logistical nightmare of moving the old-world equipment from one continent to another.
The brewery was disassembled, packed and shipped to the U.S. by freighter in a 40-foot container. Although Carter returned to Ammerndorf to document the layout there was no existing spec sheet to reference for reassembly.
“It wasn’t simple, it came in pieces. There was no training,” said Carter. “I have a million pictures I took on the trip and we had to go from there.”
Now, after more than two years of creative engineering and back-breaking labor, the historic brewhouse, once nestled in the heart of a cozy German village, has become the centerpiece of Bierstadt Lagerhaus in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood.
Carter and Eye devote plenty of precision and detail to every aspect of the operation. From imported barley to the 35-barrel copper kettle, through the tip of the shimmering tap-rail and into a lustrous hand-painted pilsner glass, no expense has been spared and no corner cut.
“We get a lot of flak because people say we have to have all this fancy stuff, but for me, there’s no other way,” said Carter. “We spend a lot of time and effort on our beer and we want to follow through to the end. I mean, you wouldn’t serve a prime steak in a dog bowl, so why would you do that to a beer.”
This summer brought the release of their three flagship lagers: Dunkle, Helles and the standard-bearer Pils that shines as crisp and golden as the “Pulp Fiction” briefcase.
Fueled by hardship and grit, Carter and Eye have created something truly remarkable in Bierstadt Lagerhaus. The two radiate a warm charm when talking about their brewery that leaves their voices almost cracking.
“I look in that kettle and realize that 80 years of people have been brewing in it,” said Eye. “Nobody brews beer like this anymore, outside of Bavaria. I’m thrilled to death to have the opportunity to do it the way we wanted to.”
Bierstadt Lagerhaus shares a 21,000-square-foot facility with C Squared Ciders and the Rackhouse, which serves as a tasting room for both entities.