Pictured above, left to right: Jon Brown, Bryan Wickenhauser, Scott Cline
He’s a professional athlete who has travelled the world for countless ski mountaineering races. He owns and manages a successful event space and a commercial equipment leasing company. And now, Bryan Wickenhauser is throwing his hat into the ring of the craft brewing movement.
As a local resident of Gunnison, Wickenhauser was approached about filling a high demand void for his community. With the recent closure of two breweries in both Gunnison and Crested Butte, Gunnison County has been without this traditional Colorado staple since last fall – a big no-no for a destination that boasts being a tourist hub and college town. With the help of a teammate and local brewmaster, Wickenhauser plans to open a new brewery on Gunnison’s Main Street named High Alpine Brewing Company. High Alpine’s tagline – “Where beer meets tree line” – aptly characterizes the close relationship this business will have with its location.
Wickenhauser’s business venture has been serendipitous so far. “I wasn’t really looking for a third business to be quite honest,” he jokes. “But I’m a person who doesn’t really say no to much.” His teammate, Jon Brown, recently sold his own business, leaving him with extra capital and time for a new project. With the marketplace ripe with an apparent consumer need for specialty beers, Brown and Wickenhauser knew exactly what needed to be done.
There was only one problem: “Neither one of us knew how to brew beer,” Wickenhauser scoffs. They started to ask around, quietly canvassing for the right person to play the role of brewmaster. During an impromptu stop at the local coffee shop, a conversation between Wickenhauser and Brown was overheard by the barista. The barista, Scott Cline, turned out to be a well-educated biologist with not only a background in brewing, but a robust business plan for a new brewery in his possession.
“We look forward to seeing the High Alpine Brewing Co. vision become a reality and I personally look forward to testing their product!”
~Chad Zummach, Gunnison Bank & Trust Company
With the right combination of entrepreneurial ambition, startup capital, and brewing know-how, these three gentlemen ventured off in search of additional financing to make High Alpine Brewing a reality. They approached their local bank, Gunnison Bank & Trust Company, for available options. With an apparent need for gap financing, Region 10 was called upon to help partner on the project. Wickenhauser had actually worked with Region 10 before when we was first opening his event space, the I Bar Ranch, so he was familiar with the organization’s scope of work. Wickenhauser described the process of attaining financing with Region 10 and Gunnison Bank & Trust as “super easy.”
Chad Zummach, Vice President at Gunnison Bank & Trust Company, echoed these sentiments: “Working with these highly motivated entrepreneurs and the staff at Region10 has been an absolute pleasure. We look forward to seeing the High Alpine Brewing Co. vision become a reality and I personally look forward to testing their product.”
With financing in place, Wickenhauser and crew were able to secure a location, which was conveniently located in the central business district of Gunnison. Also, they located a ten-barrel brewing system. For those unfamiliar with brewing metrics, most small-scale breweries use a three-barrel system. With the advice of other Western Slope brewers, the High Alpine group moved forward with a bigger system that they could grow into, especially since their business model included broader regional distribution by year two. They have also secured a wood-fired oven, because what goes better with beer more so than pizza?
The group is in the midst of remodeling and repurposing a building to make space for the brewery, which they closed on mid-January 2015. The goal is to be open by June 2015, and pouring their own brew shortly after in September. The Gunnison community has already responded with eager anticipation for the new business. “People tell us that we cannot open soon enough,” Wickenhauser comments. In due time, Gunnison residents will be able to kick back on a sun-soaked patio overlooking Gunnison’s Main Street, while they enjoy some delicious craft beers and wood-fired pizza.