After a slew of brewery closures, Anheuser-Busch’s recent sell-off of several “High End” brands, and the Brewers Association’s recent reports detailing diminished within the industry, it has become evident that the momentum of craft beer has slowed over the last two years. However, great craft breweries always find ways to adapt, and the best are able to do so while still remaining true to the ideals that made this industry so successful over the last decade. Next week’s release of Welcome to the Here and Now, a West Coast Pilsner from Denver’s Amalgam Brewing may appear on the surface to be just another exciting entry from one of the state’s most highly regarded, yet under-the-radar breweries, but this newest release is also representative of Amalgam’s next evolutionary phase.
Since its inception just over five years ago, Denver’s Amalgam Brewing has managed to stay ahead of the curve by bucking more conventional norms like off-premise distribution, a traditional brick-and-mortar taproom operating model, and the most basic practice of brewing on their own system. Instead, co-founders Philip Joyce and Eric Schmidt launched Amalgam in 2018 by contract brewing their base wort at a handful of different Colorado breweries before transporting that base to their 5,000-square-foot production warehouse where it was then fermented in oak.
For the first four years of operation, Joyce and Schmidt primarily focused on mixed-fermentation Wild and spontaneous Ales and barrel-aged Stouts, as well as Saisons and Table Beers. These specialty styles captured the attention of beer fanatics enough to help fuel an equally unique business model that primarily centered around a membership program where members paid an upfront fee for a guaranteed number of bottle releases each year. The model was supplemented prior to the pandemic with monthly open houses, which allowed the public on-site to enjoy beer at Amalgam’s barrel facility.
However as the public interest in beer has shifted, so have the preferences of Joyce and Schmidt, and now the two have gradually begun evolving Amalgam’s focus toward adding easier-drinking hop-forward Lagers and West Coast IPAs, while still keeping their specialty beer program alive and well.
“This shift toward adding easier-drinking hop-forward beers allows us to stay authentic to ourselves and our interests,” explained Schmidt. “Our goal with Amalgam has always been to showcase our creative interests and drive. We have always been very small batch and intentional, so barrel-aged beers will continue to remain a focus, but our personal interests have shifted as well. Drinking 750s of barrel-aged Stouts every weekend while snowboarding doesn’t exactly fit with our current lifestyle.”
The upcoming release of the aptly named “Welcome to the Here and Now”, which was brewed, fermented, and canned at Denver’s Bierstadt Lagerhaus signals the next chapter in a greater union between the two breweries. While Amalgam has always been a passion project for both Joyce and Schmidt, the two have also taken on full-time roles with other breweries. In fact, Joyce joined the Bierstadt team as a brewer and cellar person in October 2022 and has since utilized their brewhouse to brew the base wort for a number of Amalgam’s beers. But that unique twist on the two breweries’ spirit of collaboration is now even more entrenched with Bierstadt’s installation of a 20bbl fermenter, dubbed “The Philmenter”, dedicated specifically for Amalgam’s beers moving forward.
“Ashleigh has always known that I’ve had a creative itch and this is a great way to scratch that itch while broadening my skills,” said Joyce. “The relationship is really symbiotic. As a Lager-focused brewery, we don’t brew wort as often as most other breweries. So the opportunity to get more repetition in the brewhouse gives them greater trust in me as a brewery and allows me to become more helpful to Bierstadt.”
“I think Phil is super talented, and as much as I want to keep him here forever, I want him to have what he wants,” said Ashleigh Carter, co-founder and head brewer of Bierstadt Lagerhaus. “I also want to keep him motivated to own his own brewery one day. What we have here is extremely narrow in view, so I think it’s important to keep him passionate about this industry as a whole. I respect him so much, he’s one of my closest friends in this industry.”
The opportunity to utilize Bierstadt as a dedicated brewing and fermentation space will not only allow Amalgam to begin producing more beer but also brings the added benefit of several technical advantages. Bierstadt’s focus on traditional Lager brewing techniques including step mashing and decoction will help Amalgam to create greater texture in its beer, and the employment of cold knockouts and the use of a floatation tank will help to produce cleaner wort, healthier yeast, and a cleaner fermentation, which results in a lower potential for off-flavors.
But brewing high-quality Lagers is just one half of the equation for Amalgam, as Joyce and Schmidt remain inspired by the groundbreaking innovation that has taken place over the last decade in the realm of hops.
Amalgam has already produced a number of collaborations with some of the industry’s best hoppy beer producers like Cannonball Creek, Green Cheek, and Highland Park Brewery to name a few. These relationships have helped open up greater access to exciting new hops and as well as innovative hopping techniques.
“One of the benefits of being our size is that we only need a small batch of these new varietals to experiment with,” said Joyce. “As we begin brewing more hoppy Lagers and IPAs, we’re going to let the hops guide decisions on future releases.”
Schmidt notes that the opportunity to brew more consistently at Bierstadt will also allow Amalgam to release new beers every four to six weeks with a greater focus on the aforementioned West Coast Pilsner and West Coast IPA styles.
“It’s an opportunity to learn in real-time how we want to make, market, and connect with these products,” said Schmidt. “It’s natural to have the urge to jump, but we want to make sure we’re taking a calculated risk. We’re always trying to be strategic in what we’re doing. This opportunity with Bierstadt gives us more opportunities to learn different aspects of the craft while staying as dynamic as possible, which allows us to stay on such a creative path.”
Welcome to the Here and Now, a 5.8% abv West Coast Pilsner featuring Mosaic, Strata and Zuper Saazer hops showcasing floral lemon notes, will be released on Thursday, September 21 at Noon in cans only at Bierstadt Lagerhaus. And to further cement the momentous occasion, Bierstadt and Amalgam will also be releasing a collaboration Pilsner, dubbed Party Committee Pils at the same date and time available both on draft and in cans to-go.