By Steve Graham
Charlie Hoxmeier has something to teach other brewers about leprosy, and it may help them brew tastier and more consistent beers.
After earning his microbiology PhD at Colorado State University, Hoxmeier spent a few years working long hours in a research lab studying the mycobacteria that can cause leprosy, tuberculosis and other “neglected diseases.” On the side, he applied his interest in biology to the yeasts, bacteria and other organisms in his homebrewed beer.
This year, he switched those roles, cutting back to part-time lab work and working well more than full time to open a brewery. The Gilded Goat, which opened in February, was the 21st craft brewery in Fort Collins and the first with an elaborate research facility in the back of the shop.
“We are building a fairly large lab here in the brewery, which is one thing that is really going to set us apart from a lot of the other small brewers,” Hoxmeier said. “They don’t have the personnel and the expertise to be able to do some of the lab testing that we’ll be able to do just because of my background.”
He plans to open the lab to other brewers to help them improve quality control and incorporate new ingredients. He also wants to pay them back for their help and support for several years while he was working on his own brewery.
“The craft brewing industry, especially in Colorado, is incredibly open,” he said. “We have been really fortunate to get so much help from the other brewers in the area that we want to return the favor.”
He also said brewers associations and other groups have suggested small brewers need to focus more on quality control.
“I think one of the greatest critiques of the brewing industry recently is the number of breweries opening up and making poor quality beer,” he said.
“For the most part, everything is pretty good but it takes a couple of craft- beer novices to walk into a place that’s not serving very good beer, try it and associate that poor beer with the rest of the industry.”
To that end, he can help other brewers test their products and train them to set up quality-control programs. Hoxmeier said he is happy to share his knowledge with other brewers, and sees them as partners in a growing industry, rather than competitors.
“It’s definitely a thirsty town and there’s a lot of good beer,” he said. “If we’re all doing well, the rising tide can lift all boats. We can kind of help each other grow the area.”
He is also offering a variety of internships for fermentation science students at CSU, both in the business and science side. Hoxmeier looked farther afield for his core staff. Taproom manager Kyle Ocean moved from an Oregon winery. Assistant brewer Ben Peterson moved to Fort Collins from Peekskill Brewery in New York.
“What I really want out of our beers is a certain amount of drinkability and accessibility while still keeping things new and exciting,” Peterson said. When Charlie was 16, the Hoxmeier family caravanned around Europe and visited a variety of breweries.
“With our parents and a very liberal drinking culture over there, we got to try a lot,” he said.
He was enamored with the culture, history and traditions behind each style of European beer, but he was also a budding scientist.
“They have obviously brewed beer for thousands of years before we knew how to test pH and temperature, so there is obviously an art and a science to the process and we wanted to bridge that gap as much as we could a connect the two,” he said.
A few years later, he started homebrewing as a “reprieve” from his graduate studies at CSU.
“I was able to apply a lot of the things I was learning in grad school, even just the basic science of microbiology, to brewing,” he said. “It’s hard to change things if you don’t measure them, so I instituted a practice of measuring everything so I could go back and see how small changes could affect the eventual beer.”
The Hoxmeier business connections run deep in Fort Collins. Charlie’s brothers run a liquor store adjacent to the Gilded Goat. His father was the associate dean of college of business, and helped develop the Beverage Brewing Institute, a grain-to- glass brewery school. Both parents also help fund and operate the Gilded Goat.
His father came up with the name when he saw a goat with gold-painted horns in an antique store. A goat head with gilded horns is mounted on the brewery wall, and the brewery has two mascots. Kevin and Kolsch are Nigerian dwarf goats that show up outside the brewery for special events. The brewery is growing into its 16 taps of house-made beer. Hoxmeier said the most popular beers in the first couple of months were a dry-hopped sour ale and the Brettanomyces pale ale. Both incorporate the wild yeast and bacteria strains he is developing back in the lab. He still gets to work with active cultures, though he traded bacteria that cause infectious disease for those that add flavor.
“I still get my culturing fix,” he said.
This summer, he plans to release some barrel-aged treats and some crisp, fruity and light “lawnmower beers.”
Brand ambassador Chris Gallegos said drinkers should seek out the Belgian quad.
“It's a great beer and when barrel aged, it will really have people talking,” he said.
The brewery is next door to a Trader Joe’s and across the parking lot from the remodeled Foothills mall. “The midtown location was underserved but growing lots, so there was a need for something new here,” he said.