Windsor family grows award-winning brewery inside greenhouse

Harvest of hops

By Steve Graham

Pick up spring gardening supplies in Windsor and you may notice a malty aroma among the typical damp, earthy nursery smells. That’s because the town’s largest greenhouse is also a brewery.

The west end of the Windsor Gardener houses High Hops Brewery and tasting room, and hops are growing amid the tree seedlings and vegetable starts out in the fields.

In 1991, Amanda and Pat Weakland opened this northern Colorado town’s first greenhouse, a small seasonal operation that grew into a large year-round gardening store within a decade.

The Weaklands started growing hops at the nursery in 2007 in response to both a global hop shortage and growing demand for local hops. They started selling the hops to local breweries and home brewers, and started selling brewing supplies at the Windsor Gardener.

Meanwhile, Pat Weakland was getting more serious about home brewing with his son Zach. They built the home brewing operation into a craft brewery in 2012. Two generations of Weaklands are very involved owners of both businesses.

“We make decisions about everything together,” said Zach Weakland, head brewer and production manager at High Hops.

He said family businesses come with benefits and challenges.

“The best part of a family business is the fact I get to spend everyday with my family,” he said. “The hardest part is that I get to spend everyday with my family. We argue, yeah, but usually a positive outcome is the result.”

Some of the positive outcomes are local and national awards for an ever-expanding brewery, which has outgrown the farm’s own hops supply.

“Now that we are a production brewery, we use all that we are growing and then some,” said Blake Johnson, who started working in the Windsor Gardener greenhouse and is now tasting room manager at High Hops. 
He said High Hops has cultivated up to 54 varieties of hop plants at one time, and occasionally ships individual starter plants to brewers and hop enthusiasts, but currently can’t even grow enough to brew all their own beer at this point.

The brewery is also outgrowing its original 10-barrel brewing system, and is building a new 30-barrel beer brewing system and a new distillery set to open later this year.

The larger brewery and the distillery will allow High Hops to continue expanding their creative and diverse offerings, which currently include a blackberry gose and an imperial peach blonde.

Johnson said the brewers are not afraid to experiment, and even to make mistakes, like unintentionally turning a porter into a sour.

“The bourbon-barrel aged pumpkin pie porter accidentally soured in the barrel, and became a lot of people’s favorite beer,” he admitted.

The adjacent greenhouse also allows for creative collaborations between the linked family-run businesses. Gardeners attending a recent rose-tending class at the Windsor Gardener were treated to a specialty rose-infused beer. And habaneros are grown on site for the Habanero Hunny, a spicy red ale.

Growing their own hops also leads to some interesting stories and creative labeling. Johnson said customers regularly ask why cans and bombers of the Power of Zeus feature a toad rather than a Green god.

“When we were planting the first Zeus hop plant, a toad hopped out of the ground,” he said.

Ever since, Zeus the toad has been the mascot for this malty and hoppy American pale ale, one of their flagship beers — and one of Johnson’s personal favorites.

“It was the first beer I fell in love with here,” Johnson said.

Others have also fallen in love with High Hops beers, which have won multiple local national awards, including the people’s choice award for three of the last four years at the Gnarly Barley Brew Festival at the Larimer County Fair.

Dr. Pat’s Double IPA has won the most awards, but Johnson worries that the brewery name implies he only serves extremely hoppy brews.

“Our motto is ‘all types of beer for all types of people,’” he said.

Upcoming taproom offerings include a barrel-aged blackstrap molasses porter and a blueberry wheat, Johnson said. Zach Weakland is also looking forward to shipping out cans of the new Pinkalicious raspberry lemon gose this month.