Brewing, Cideries & Spirits  July 20, 2022

City Star Brewing shifts to taproom focus

BERTHOUD — The owners of City Star Brewing in Berthoud shifted their attention to their taproom at a time when other craft brewers had their sights on distribution.

John and Whitney Way expanded their taproom into the empty business front next door in 2017 after realizing they weren’t making much of a profit distributing their beer to restaurants across the Front Range.

“Running our reports and numbers, we realized we were using a crazy amount of resources, so there was not much of an incentive to continue on that path,” said Whitney, co-founder and owner/operator of City Star Brewing, 321 Mountain Ave. “That was a hard decision to make because it was opposite to what our peers were doing. … Our craft beer industry peers were expanding their distribution footprint or signing with distributors.” 

The Ways opened City Star Brewing in 2012 in a 2,500-square-foot space with enough room for brewery operations and a 50-seat taproom. John, a homebrewer who was working for Oskar Blues at the time, wanted to further his profession in craft beer and found an available space in a 100-year-old building owned by Whitney’s parents, Dan and Rudi Taylor. 

“Initially, I was helping with licensing and a lot of the logistics of opening (a brewery). I never intended it to be my full time profession as well,” said Whitney, who, at the time, imported handicrafts and textiles from Latin America and sold them online through her business, Little Mango Imports. 

The Ways brought in a full crowd during their opening weekend, running out of beer and needing to close the following weekend. They launched City Star Brewing when Berthoud didn’t have a brewery and at the beginning of the recent craft beer boom in Colorado.

“We were welcomed with open arms in this community,” Whitney said. “We realized that Berthoud is very thirsty.”

Soon, the taproom was at capacity, especially during the weekends. So in 2014, the Ways put plans in place to add another 3,500 square feet to their footprint by purchasing the space to the east that once housed Dean’s New & Used Furniture. They spent the next three years converting it into a barrel room, an additional seating area and a beer garden with more seating — this allowed the taproom to triple its seats to 150. 

“We saw that there were a couple of breweries in Colorado with a taproom-focused business model,” Whitney said. 

A taproom focus means a smaller scale operation, opposite that of high-volume distribution, which also requires more funding to implement, Whitney said. Distribution costs can be extensive, particularly in the areas of staffing, transportation and line cleaning, she said. 

“Just crunching the numbers, we realized we needed to be producing quite a bit more volume than before,” Whitney said. “By pulling back from distribution, our revenue didn’t change much, but our expenses decreased quite a bit. … We do have a healthy profit margin, though I wouldn’t refer to it as large.”

The Ways scaled back their distribution from more than 100 restaurants across the Front Range to 12 accounts in Loveland, Longmont and Lyons. Instead of volume, they refocused their energy into creating more types of beer, releasing one to two a week. They have 12 beers on tap at all times, including four mainstays and eight specialties with a rotating hard seltzer — it’s a fruit infusion called Fizz they started in May 2022. Their batch sizes are small enough, they can run out of a type of beer and replace it with a new beer.

“We’re able to control the presentation of the product out of the taproom. We can focus on craft at that scale,” Whitney said. “We’re not growing for the sake of growth. We’re focusing on quality, prioritizing quality over the quantity of barrels and quantity of accounts.”

The Ways also took on a community-centric model for their taproom, bringing quality events to the brewery, something that Whitney focuses on. 

“I love crafting unique events and bringing people together and seeing the joy people find in having a great experience, seeing that social interaction, and introducing craft beer to new people,” Whitney said.

Christine Torres, a Berthoud resident for 23 years, saw how City Star Brewing became a “central gathering spot for the community to connect and maintain relationships both personal and business.”

“Over the years, they have adjusted to having spaced outdoor seating when COVID required, to now enough seating for listening to local bands, bringing your fur buddy and the back room for reserved events,” Torres said. “Known for giving to nonprofits and supporting community events, City Star Brewery is a shining example of how giving and growing with the community benefits everyone.” 

The Ways host food trucks Tuesday to Sunday, a trivia night on Tuesday, and live music Friday to Sunday, using the beer garden stage during the summer months and the taproom during the colder months. 

“We amplified the schedule during the pandemic and maintained it,” Whitney said, explaining that initially the taproom offered food trucks two to three days a week and now rotate through 15 a month. “In our 10 years of operation, the food truck scene has evolved in several ways. We’ve seen … demand increase, and we’ve seen events adopt the food truck model.”

The focus on the taproom also meant a change in staffing. The Ways expanded from two full-time sales and delivery employees to 12 on staff — one of the distribution employees took another job and the second now works in the brewery. 

“My favorite part about working at City Star is being surrounded by the best coworkers, owners and customers, many of whom I call some of my closest friends,” said Alissa Hegan, taproom manager at City Star Brewing. “There has been a lot of growth in Berthoud the past few years, but City Star still strives to keep that small-town feel. It’s a place that you can walk in and feel like you are sharing a beer with longtime friends, even if you only met them minutes ago.” 

The Ways made other improvements, including upping the sound system in the barrel room and installing a mister system in the beer garden. They sell bottle barrel-aged beers and launched a canning line in May 2020 to begin canning some of them. They purchased a seven-barrel brew system in 2020, which they plan to implement next year to replace their 3.5-barrel system. The current system can brew 100 gallons at a time, and it takes brewing multiple times to fill eight seven- and 14-gallon fermentation tanks — either two or four times depending on the size.

“We won’t be brewing more. We’ll be working more efficiently,” Whitney said. “We will have a period of stabilization after that to determine what’s next.”

The Ways don’t have a five- or 10-year plan, partly because of the “chaotic world” they operate their business in right now, Whitney said.

“Part of what’s great about being so involved, working in and on the business, is we can make decisions quickly,” Whitney said. “That’s one of the biggest successes is recognizing good decisions, the right decisions, and being able to look back and know we made smart decisions that benefit staff, the business and people who walk in the door.” 

BERTHOUD — The owners of City Star Brewing in Berthoud shifted their attention to their taproom at a time when other craft brewers had their sights on distribution.

John and Whitney Way expanded their taproom into the empty business front next door in 2017 after realizing they weren’t making much of a profit distributing their beer to restaurants across the Front Range.

“Running our reports and numbers, we realized we were using a crazy amount of resources, so there was not much of an incentive to continue on that path,” said Whitney, co-founder and owner/operator of City Star…

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Shelley Widhalm

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