A Small-town Paradox
Divide brewery makes classic beers with new technology
By R. Scott Rappold
Divide, with a population of just 127, is more of a stoplight than a town. This rural outpost in the shadow of Pikes Peak west of Colorado Springs used to be known as the place your cell service kicked back in after a weekend of fun in the mountains.
But big things are happening in this mountain hamlet these days. And by that, we mean big beers, courtesy of Paradox Beer Co., once a regional niche brewery known for experimental, exclusively barrel-aged sour and wild beers.
The niche hasn’t changed, but their reach has grown. You can find their beers in 18 states as well as their mountain taproom. They produce beers that connoisseurs age in their basements for years to refine the strong and complex taste. And that’s not all. They will launch a line of canned beers this fall, bringing their unconventional approach to more conventional beers.
For brewers Brian Horton, Jeff Aragon and Jeff Airman, it’s the next logical step in a journey that began in 2012 in a tiny space in Woodland Park and led them to an 8,000-square-foot former ice factory in the middle of nowhere.
The brewery’s name comes from their paradoxical approach to brewing.
“The concept from the start was old-style beers made with new technology, and kind of mashing those things together,” says Airman. “Let’s go back to what beer used to be, because before they understood microbes and yeast, all beers were sour. The concept was, ‘How can we kind of revisit that idea with modern technology and modern thinking on beer and make something that is brand new and American, and not try to do what the Belgians have been doing for 300 years?’”
Aragon and Horton previously brewed for Woodland Park’s Bierwerks and before that the now-defunct Trinidad Brewing Co. In 2012 they launched Paradox and brought in Airman, a homebrewer. They soon outgrew their small space in Woodland Park, and when they learned of the building in Divide, nine miles to the west, they relocated in 2015.
“It was like, ‘Do we want to go be in a city and be a taproom that’s two blocks from another taproom, or do we want to create a destination and have a space where we can do our own thing and not be influenced by the brewery across the street?’” asks Airman. “I really think it’s been good for us as brewers and the company to be doing things our way and blazing our own path.”
New altitude, old ways
Brewing at 9,165 feet above sea level is not without its challenges. The temperature at which water boils is different. There’s less oxygen in the air, which factors into aging.
But Airman says that just helps them make unique beers, which has always been priority number one at Paradox. From the outset, they didn’t make “batches.” They made “projects,” mixtures of several batches created to age in a certain kind of barrel, such as wine or scotch.
And everything went in the barrels for months or even a year, the way beer used to be made before the era of sterile stainless steel. The result was often unique and always strong, 7 percent ABV or above. They only made 1,200 bottles of each new beer, numbering each individually sold bottle.
Says Airman, “We stopped numbering the bottles because we were making so much.”
Indeed, the Divide location holds massive European barrels known as foeders for aging, a nod to the Old World style of brewing. Another old method of brewing they’ve incorporated is the coolship, an open-air vessel mostly used in Europe to allow local microbes to become a part of the fermentation process.
Airman believes theirs is the highest coolship in the world, though in a state like Colorado with 300-plus breweries, he can’t be sure. But he is certain that every beer is unique. Though they’ve made the Salted Watermelon Sour many times, each version is slightly different, due to differences in the salt, watermelons, barrels and unseen environmental factors. Hence their slogan: “Wayward beers, barrel bound.”
And, it turns out, there’s another benefit to being in the mountains: tourism. Being located on the main route between Colorado Springs and the central Rockies, they do a big chunk of their taproom business in summer, when hordes of travelers stop to enjoy a beer on a patio with great views of Pikes Peak or have a lunch of panini or flatbread pizza.
An uncanny resemblance
When Paradox begins canning, the beer will be the first not aged in barrels.
Airman says they will still “do things that are in the Paradox motif and ethos.” Expect sours, IPAs and other “funky” selections sold in four-packs of 16-ounce cans. They won’t necessarily be as strong as their typical concoctions.
“What the new line is really supposed to do is still ring true to those people who like our interesting, salty, multi-microbial beers but also want something they can maybe grab a four-pack of and go fishing with, something they can grab fresh ... more of a crushable beer than something you sit down and savor slowly in a bottle,” says Airman.
And don’t even think canning means Paradox is switching over to a lineup of steady, staple beers. Where would be the fun in that?
“Part of the plan early on, because this was the third project for Jeff and Brian, was to build fun into it, to build constantly changing beers, constantly challenging experimental concepts and things like that so we’re all engaged instead of going on autopilot, and that plan has worked,” Airman says.
“There’s no one on autopilot here and if they think they can do that usually they’re marched straight out of here.”
Visit Paradoxbeercompany.com or call 719-686-8081 to find out what’s on tap. Tasting room hours vary seasonally so check before heading out.
R. Scott Rappold is the former outdoor recreation reporter for The Colorado Springs Gazette and a full-time ski and mountain bum who writes when he needs money for skiing or beer.