A face stared at me from the right of the bar. Chiseled cheekbones highlighted weathered eyes that peered out steadfastly across the whole room. Frizzy white hair crowned his head and flustered about wildly, untamed like a blustery winter wind. The life-size likeness of Jim Pasholka aka Snow Cap watched faithfully over the interior of Outer Range Brewery. His face plastered against the black wall reminded all drinkers who passed beneath his gaze that if they only turned around and peeked outside the doors the peaks of the mountains called, beckoning for an answer.
“I stare at him because I feel like you can see the track of someone’s life in their face, especially in Snow Cap’s. He has the tracks of a hardened mountain life,” said Emily Cleghorn, the co-founder of Outer Range Brewing Co. in Frisco, CO, who chose the picture almost as a talisman for the brewery.
As we plopped down outside on picnic tables outside the 15-bbl brewhouse I could see why.
To my left: Mountains.
To my right: Mountains.
In front of me: Mountains.
Behind me: Mountains.
“It’s not bad mashing in at the break of dawn and seeing the sunrise over the Continental Divide,” said Lee Cleghorn, the head brewer and the other half of Outer Range, as he joined us at the table.
Nestled into the Rocky Mountains of Summit County, CO, Outer Range sits at approximately 9,100 ft. in elevation. Getting to this town is no joke. As my car rental associate proclaimed to me at the counter in the Denver International Airport, “Altitude sickness is real. You’re going from 5,000ft to almost 10,000.” He promptly upgraded the tiny four-door, four-cylinder compact car I’d rented to a V6 Kia Sorento.
I silently thanked his generosity as my partner and I had wound our way up and down I-70 that morning. We climbed past cliffs brimming with Evergreen trees and snow-capped peaks. We drove next to runaway truck lanes that careened steeply upwards off the highway near a few particularly nasty curves. As we vacillated in and out of cell service, we felt the incessant buzz of New York City fade behind us like the intermittent crackle of the now useless radio.
With no phones, no Spotify, and depleted oxygen, the mountains enveloped us on all sides like a bear hug.
“Everyone comes up here chasing a spirit,” said Lee. “That is what we wanted the brewery to perpetuate.” Dedicated to creating a sanctuary from the clutter, confusion, and traffic of big cities, Outer Range evokes a sense of peacefulness and return to nature. Hence the name Outer Range, which Lee and Emily borrowed from a few lines in their favorite Rudyard Kipling poem, “The Explorer.”
“Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges–
Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!”
The mountain theme runs through Outer Range like a river at every turn. “I always think, ‘What would a mountain man say?’” Emily shared, pointing to Outer Range’s motto, “Leave the Life Below,” as the prime example.
Those four little words that have built the brewery’s foundation came from one of Emily’s favorite movies, Jeremiah Johnson. “It’s Robert Redford in his prime,” said Emily. As the film opens the narrator explains Robert Redford’s eponymous character has chosen to leave the life below for the outdoor life in the mountains. “He gave up his comfortable city life to come embrace the mountain culture,” said Emily.
Similarly, Emily and Lee chose to leave behind urbanity to live their dream. But, like a Colorado winter, the journey to open Outer Range has been long and at times harsh, but ultimately, beautiful.
Bars of Belgium, Mountains of Colorado
The Cleghorn’s love of beer really began with Lee who started drinking beer at an early age. Born in Germany, Lee moved to Brussels as a teenager after his dad received a station assignment in Belgium. “I was 16-years-old drinking Chimay blue at bars downtown,” said Lee. Attending college in the United States, he never developed a taste for light beer because it simply didn’t taste as good as “some of the best beers in the world he drank at sixteen,” joked Emily.
While in college, Lee began brewing on the weekends, a hobby he would carry with him into the army. “Homebrewing was always Lee’s outlet from the stress of army life,” said Emily.
Both army veterans, Lee and Emily met while serving in Colorado in the quirky town of Manitou Springs, CO. Emily’s friend invited her to a homebrew party. “This is a hippie town, so I was expecting someone with dreadlocks and instead it was Lee. Then, I got really interested,” said Emily.
“I had her cleaning bottles on our first date,” laughed Lee. Four months later the two married. Both still on active duty they bounced around from Tennessee to New York, but continued to carry a passion for Colorado on their backs like a pair of seasoned hikers.
In the meantime, Lee dedicated himself to homebrewing, getting guys together to brew when he wasn’t deployed or in the field. One time, hobbled by hip surgery, Lee remained undeterred, rigging a plywood contraption to help him brew during his injury. While transferring the wort, the ladder broke, spilling hot liquid all over Emily’s arm. She ran inside to pour cold water on the burn while Lee continued to crutch around outside. Several minutes later he shouted, “Is the beer ruined?” “My arm was all bubbled up nasty and he chooses to save the beer,” said Emily.
Such has been Lee’s tenacity to his craft. “I always put a bug in his ear to open a brewery, but we thought it was an impossible task,” Emily shared.
After Lee returned from his fourth deployment, the two decided it was time to leave the army. Lee had left shortly after their daughter Madeline was born. “He missed her first words, her first steps, her first birthday,” said Emily. “When he got back we said, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s live our dream and open a brewery.’”
The pair spent two years planning Outer Range, living on the East Coast while Lee went to brewing school in Vermont at the American Brewers Guild and later interned at Other Half with Jesse Ferguson. “I washed about 5,000 kegs for those guys,” Lee chuckled. “I got my start by asking Jesse thousands of questions.”
When it came time to open their own place, Lee and Emily used the brewery as an opportunity to move back to Colorado.
“This is our happy place,” said Emily. “No one lives here on accident. The winters are hard. It’s pretty remote. You have to have that spirit of loving the outdoors. We want to encourage people to embrace what the mountains have to offer and escape that corporate city life when they get burnt out.”
Frisco became that place of solitude. Located right off the major highway I-70, Outer Range sits in the middle of seven popular ski resorts. On the property itself, the patio provides 360° views of the mountains (plus Emily loves drinking beer outside and, oh by the way, in the winter the Cleghorns install a temporary yurt) while the proximity to Whole Foods attracts a craft-loving customer. “The rent is actually as high as we would pay in Brooklyn,” joked Emily (perhaps, a small reminder of the big city). “We did this all on our life savings and a small business loan.”
With a limited budget, the couple has been forced to get creative, erecting the cold box themselves along with a new extension. “Someone handed me a saw and asked me to cut out part of the back door,” said Emily, “I told him I’d never done it before, but said okay and went to work.”
But the investment has paid off.
The 15-barrel (bbl) brewhouse chugged out 800 bbls in 2017 and Lee expects them to push north of 2,000 this year. Since opening on Christmas day in 2016, Outer Range has already gained national attention, named to Craft & Beer Brewing magazine’s critic’s list of best new breweries in 2017 and garnering best new brewery accolades from BeerAdvocate and USA Today this year.
And they’ve done it all by brewing only two styles of beer.
Only Belgians and IPAs
When you wander into Outer Range and take a gander at the menu board you’ll notice one thing right away: The absence of ambers, stouts, pilsners, etc. Outer Range sticks to two styles of beer and two styles only: Belgians and IPAs.
“The world’s best breweries brew only three or four beers,” said Lee. “That’s the traditional way a brewery would operate and that’s how they survived for hundreds of years. We wanted to bring that focus to our brewery. By focusing on those two styles we can iterate on them and force ourselves to be creative within those boxes.”
In the beginning, the Cleghorn’s strategy engendered pushback.
“One guy threw his stool and stormed out,” said Emily.
But over time the one and half-year-old brewery has gained the notoriety and respect deserving of two beer styles brewed to perfection.
“I admire what they do. If you go to any other brewer it will be the whole thing – a lager, a brown ale, an IPA, a wheat beer, a porter, a stout, and none of them are that great,” said Chris Schmidt, the co-owner and head chef at Craftsman, a contemporary restaurant in Vail, CO. “For them to focus on one thing and do it better than anybody else takes a lot of courage. They could have caved, but they didn’t. [Emily and Lee] put their foot down. It’s important to have a vision, focus on it and do it well.”
Unsurprisingly, the Cleghorns remain as humble and eager to communicate their passion for life in the great outdoors.
Like their newest can release, Trail No. 1. Part of a series of five can releases, the IPA uses Cashmere hops for an intense aroma of mango. But it’s what’s on the outside of this can that really surprises. A detachable label (that Emily hand-wrapped herself on each can until 4:30 am after the label machine broke) features a trail map taking adventurous beer drinkers on a three-mile hike around Lily Pad Lake. With points of interest included, Trail No. 1 is the Cleghorn’s latest brilliant idea to share their love of the mountains with people in an active way.
“We do this trail with our daughter, Madeleine, all the time,” said Emily. “The trailhead is right across the street.”
“We want to share our love of this area with everybody so hopefully this can will encourage people to hike the trails,” said Emily
In a dramatic role reversal, Outer Range will be bringing the Arcadian mountains to the urban jungle when they join us for Hop Culture’s inaugural women in craft beer festival, Beers With(out) Beards, at The Well in Brooklyn on Saturday, August. 11th.
With the goal to empower all women in craft beer, BW(O)B will be a weeklong celebration recognizing the achievements of women in the industry. Featuring 12 events from industry panels and beer dinners to beer trivia and beer yoga, BW(O)B will be the biggest festival of its kind in the country. All centered around honoring the badass women of beer.
As a woman working in the industry, Emily has experienced her share of ups and downs (but fittingly, mostly ups).
“When we first opened the brewery together,” Emily shared, “I can’t tell you how many people asked me, ‘Oh sweetie do you do the books?’ I was like, ‘Is this 1950s?’”
An eight-year army veteran, Emily has been no stranger to serving in male-dominated fields. As one of two women out of 800 in her unit, Emily has always been surrounded by men. In craft beer though, “It’s not just men. it’s men with huge beards,” laughed Emily “It’s like, ‘Settle down with the masculinity guys.’” All joking aside, Emily emphasized that compared to other industries, craft beer is such a welcoming culture, making the strongly hardwired image of manliness somewhat of an inconsistency.
Lee agrees that the whole machismo element seems to contradict the heart of craft beer.
“I’m so tired of all these dudes in bad leather shoes at beer events walking around getting slammed. That’s not the reality of the industry,” said Lee. “Emily and I work together everyday on everything, so my beer industry is half women. But, I’m always reminded when we go to other beer festivals that it’s just a bunch of dudes. It is very unexciting, so BW(O)B needs to be the norm.”
Technically, Emily isn’t the only woman working at Outer Range. The couple’s daughter, Madeleine, who calls the brewery, “the burry” also helps out. “We had her painting things the night before we opened,” said Emily, who recounted a time when they asked Madeleine what job she wanted at Outer Range when she grew up. “We asked her if she wanted to do science like ‘Dada’ or marketing like ‘Mama’?” said Emily. “She knew science, but asked about marketing, so we told her, ‘What would you tell people to get them to come to Outer Range? She responded, ‘Oh, I would tell them we make the best IPAs!’”
For Emily, participating in BW(O)B means not only sharing the best IPAs but also standing up for the women behind-the-scenes. Women like herself, her daughter, and Diana, Outer Range’s graphic designer, who will be joining Emily to pour beer in New York.
“I’m most excited for celebrating women in the industry. A lot of times, we’re the silent heroes,” said Emily, pointing to the fact that Diana actually lives in an airstream in Oregon, yet has still dedicated herself to creating rad labels for Outer Range. “Celebrating women is just so cool,” she continued. While BW(O)B will highlight women through a weeklong festival, Emily pointed out that beer can be used in many different ways every day to embolden women from all time periods, industries, backgrounds, and cultures.
Take for example the label on Outer Range’s Cabin Culture Double IPA. Working with the Frisco Historic Museum, Emily chose to use the powerful photograph of a local woman from the 1800s, Evelina. “She has a flower in her cap and a long skirt, but she is packing heat,” exclaimed Emily. “She has a frickin’ pistol and a saw that is literally as tall as she is!” Evelina reminds Emily – and anyone who drinks Cabin Culture – that women have been powerful figures for centuries. We need to continue to carry that mentality through to today.
It’s women from the past like Evelina, the present like Emily and Diana, and the future like Madeleine that BW(O)B seeks to recognize and empower.
As for the towering likeness of Outer Range’s omnipotent mascot, Snow Cap, what would he say about Beers With(out) Beards? According to Emily, his response would be simple, “Yeah, so what? Of course women are running shit.”
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