FORT COLLINS – New Belgium Brewing Co. founder Jeff Lebesch was still pedaling around from abbey to abbey in Belgium collecting ale recipes in 1989 when Doug and Wynne Odell opened a new frontier by launching Fort Collins’ first craft brewery.
Twenty years later, Odell Brewing Co. is a frequent match for New Belgium, its larger local competitor, in international brewing competitions, routinely racking up gold medals for its offerings.
“The recognition we get is a big part of what makes this so enjoyable,” Doug Odell said. “It’s great to be honored like that, especially by our peers.”
The role the Odells have played in making craft brewing one of Northern Colorado’s key economic sectors, and their commitment to community in the process, earn them the 2008 Bravo! Entrepreneur Award for Fort Collins.
Odell Brewing Co.’s 40,000-barrel annual production capacity lands it among the top 40 craft brewers in the nation. But the focus at Odell these days is not so much on quantity as on quality, with special releases of new super-premium beers and a new “pilot” series of small-batch offerings available only on tap at the brewery northeast of Old Town.
“This has been a labor of love, definitely,” Doug Odell said at the Aug. 18 release party for Woodcut No. 1, as he uncorked the first bottle of an oak-aged ale that was produced using techniques more common in Napa Valley wineries than in Northern Colorado breweries. “This project started more than a year ago with the concept.”
The result: A limited run of 120 cases, with each 750 ml. bottle corked with wire cages, champagne-style. The price: also champagne-style, with a suggested retail price of $24.99 per bottle.
Fast track for startup
The Odells launched their business two decades ago using the proceeds from the sale of their Seattle home and investments from friends and family. They chose Fort Collins in part to join Doug Odell’s sister, Corky, who joined the couple in starting the company. In just 18 months, Odell was in the black – a fast track for any startup business.
For its first seven years, Odell’s products were available only on tap, at taverns throughout Colorado and at the brewhouse. In 1996, the company began bottling its beer for retail sales. The standard offerings now include flagship 90 Shilling English-style ale, Five Barrel Pale Ale, Cutthroat Porter, Easy Street Wheat, Levity Amber Ale and, the newest, India Pale Ale.
The Odell market network has expanded well beyond its Northern Colorado home, with products now available in eight Rocky Mountain and Midwestern states, most recently Arizona.
Likewise, the Lincoln Avenue brewery has expanded twice over the years to accommodate the growing market, and another major expansion is in the works.
Today Doug and Wynne Odell are planning their 20th anniversary, and locals can anticipate a party akin to last summer’s Small Batch Festival, when 3,500 people descended on the brewery to soak up Odell beer – and the company’s culture.
“A lot of who we are is our story,” Wynne Odell told the Business Report two years ago. “It really contributes to our success.”