Note: This profile originally appeared in issue 66 of BeerAdvocate Magazine
Once upon a time in a distant land known as Northern Colorado, two home brewers decided that 5-gallon batches weren’t big enough. They brewed together and quickly realized that they had similar tastes and ideas about what good beer should taste like. So, with a little knowledge and a lot of courage the duo set out on an adventure destined to change their lives.
Perhaps making the leap from hobbyist to professional brewer is not exactly the stuff of fairy tales, but it was a pretty big deal for Don Chapman and Aaron Heaton, who founded Grimm Brothers Brewhouse in Loveland, Colorado in 2010.
“Aaron and I were in a homebrew club called Liquid Poets up in Fort Collins,” Chapman said. “There was a discussion about starting a brewery, and he and I piped up and said we wanted to do this.”
Chapman and Heaton decided early on that they would brew German-style beers, but had trouble finding a name for the brewery. When Chapman’s wife suggested naming the brewery after the world’s most famous German storytellers, they both quickly agreed that it was a stupid idea. Then, they both realized they were wrong.
“About three years ago or so we were sitting at my living room and trying to come up with a name for a brewery,” Chapman explained. “My wife, who is a grade-school teacher… came up with the idea. We knew we wanted to be a German brewhouse, and my wife mentioned the Brothers Grimm. We both thought it was a stupid idea and too childish, but then we started reading the fairy tales and we got into it.”
Once Heaton and Chapman started reading the often macabre and morbid stories from the Grimm Brothers, they decided that a Grimm Brothers moniker would only be childish if they embraced the Disney versions of the stories – something they were wont to do anyways because of the likely possibility of lawsuits. Once they realized that there are no copyrights on stories old enough to be considered part of the public domain, they embraced the Grimm Brothers image.
The result is a portfolio of beers (see sidebar) with fairytale inspired names and label art. And while the images on the labels may appear cartoonish, they carry with them some of the darker and scarier imagery that makes the Grimm fairy tales so compelling in the first place.
“It works out really well because we can tell stories about our beers, and the beers can have a background story of their own,” Heaton said.
For a business partnership to be successful, there must be some common ground. Sure, it’s important for their to be complementing contrasts as well, but if there is no space where the partners are in harmony, then there is bound to be discord. Chapman and Heaton come from different professional backgrounds – Chapman, Grimm Brothers’ President and Head Brewer, is an electrical engineer and still works his “day job” a couple times a week, while Heaton, the Vice President and Business Manager, recently left his job that had him managing corporate finances to focus on the brewery fulltime. However, they share one thing in common: A love for beer.
“We were just very passionate about beer,” Heaton said. “Why are you a beer writer? It’s because you have a passion for beer. There’s a lot of people who like beer, but maybe they aren’t passionate about it. When we were brewing or trying new beers, we were always trying to figure out what ingredients we were tasting and which part contributed which flavors or aromas.
“We were trying to figure out what is coming form those components. That’s something we always have is that drive and that passion for the industry.”
Not only did they share a passion for beer, but they discovered that they liked the same things about it. Without planning on it, Chapman and Heaton found themselves brewing consistently similar beers to each other, and recognized that they had a lot in common when it came to beer.
“We used a lot of the same grains,” Heaton said. “We were very similar to each other and we had similar palates. It’s good to have things in common. I always like that we can go back and forth with recipes and tastes.”
The duo also shares a strong ambition. Although the brewery is still in its infancy, they have big plans for it as it grows up.
“I always say that I won’t be satisfied until we can go to Germany and buy our beer off the shelf,” Chapman said. “That’s our goal is to start distributing farther – first, to more states; then eventually, internationally.”
True to Roots
The decision to brew German-style beers was primarily a business one. Chapman said that both he and Heaton brewed a little bit of everything as home brewers, but recognized a dearth of German-style beers in Northern Colorado.
This explains how an Alt Style Ale such as Little Red Cap, which took a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival, became the brewery’s flagship. It is traditionally clean tasting, although, like the axe-wielding heroine on the beer’s label, it packs a surprise. In this case, a burst of American hops.
“We still play around with fun styles,” Chapman said. “We say we’re German-inspired with American Freedoms.”
Chapman and Heaton appear to approach new beers like true homebrewers. It is the same innovative and experimental attitude that led them to play with sour beers and age a Bock beer in a barrel with Brettanomyces.
In truth, Grimm Brothers Brewhouse likely wouldn’t exist as it does without the help of the area’s other homebrewers, as Chapman and Heaton employed their old friends at Liquid Poets to brew some test batches for them in the early stages when they did not have the fermentation space necessary to develop new recipes.
That pioneering spirit expresses itself these days in beers like Snow Drop and Master Thief. Both represent old styles – Köttbusser and German Porter, respectively – that went out of favor in Germany, but have found new life at Grimm Brothers.
Like the Köttbusser, an ale made with honey and molasses that was outlawed after the passing of Reinheitsgebot, Chapman and Heaton take pleasure in resurrecting old styles. Another example is the Grätzer: a small, hoppy Polish beer brewed with heavy doses of smoked malt that Grimm Brothers will release as part of the brewery’s Fable Series.
For Chapman and Heaton, the opportunity to resurrect old styles and play with new ones is all about having fun.
“I’d say it was selfish,” Chapman said. “Not necessarily money selfish, we just have the opportunity to push these beers that aren’t produced anywhere and it’s fun to do. That’s why we brew in the first place because we like making beer. It gives us a chance to play.”
The way Chapman and Heaton talk about having fun at work, perhaps the Grimm Brothers moniker was a little childish after all. And perhaps that isn’t such a bad thing. After all, as Heaton points out, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying what you do.
“Plus you get to drink at work,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Sean Lewis is a freelance journalist and a homebrewer. He is currently writing his first book for St. Martin’s Press.