For the past several months people have been congregating every Sunday at the Columbine Shopping Center in Loveland. They come to celebrate and gain knowledge about what some consider the holiest of holies at Beer Church. Beer Church is run by the proprietors of the homebrew shop, Elevated Fermentations, nestled within the shopping center.
John and Kristin Gawthrop opened Elevated Fermentations back in May with the idea of providing locally sourced ingredients to homebrewers in Northern Colorado; a region that prides itself on its craft beer. They provide grains that are grown and malted in Loveland and Fort Collins from Root Shoot Malting and Troubadour Maltings, yeasts from the laboratories of Inland Island in Denver, hops grown throughout the state from Colorado Hop Company, and all the necessary equipment needed to brew.
A Brief (Or So) History Of The Shop
John and Kristin moved from Wilmington, NC to Colorado in November 2016 with their kids to be closer to family. They knew they wanted to do something different occupation-wise. It needed to be in craft beer as it was their passion, but they weren’t quite sure what. After getting acclimated to the scene and studying the market for some time they had come to their decision in the following January. There was a realization that Northern Colorado was lacking a homebrew shop like they had back in Wilmington. An establishment that was welcoming, well laid out, well decorated, and clean. A place where existing homebrewers and newcomers would feel welcomed, want to hang out and talk shop, and learn more about the beautiful beverage called beer.
An additional wrinkle was added when they discovered that there was plenty of local products that weren’t getting into hands of homebrewers. This baffled the couple, and they set out to correct that. With Elevated Fermentations they made a commitment to the local craft beer community. They set out to promote local as much as possible, but also be all-encompassing.
With no prior experience of opening a brick-and-mortar store before, they found this new chapter in their life to challenging yet easy. In February, after returning from Belgium (a perfect beer lover’s destination spot) the Gawthrops started looking at properties. There were many things to take into consideration; location, ease of access, and parking availability. They also started designing a logo, and setting up accounts. Getting the right inventory, with focus on local, being the key element. They started with the local products before going to the national ones. And on May 2nd they opened their doors. In a matter of three months they were able to take a concept of an idea to fruition, and with very little issues with the local bureaucracy.
They’re the only homebrew shop to carry Troubador malts, sell more Root Shoots malts than any other store, and are the most northern homebrew shop to carry Inland Island yeast. They also found Old Town Spice Shop in Fort Collins to supply them with many of their spices and other products.
Intro to Homebrewing 101
I’m always curious in how someone gets into craft beer. The basic underlying story is usually the same for all: started on the yellow fizzy water and then had their eyes, mind, and taste buds opened up to a whole new world. But it’s the particulars of their journey that are interesting. (In fact I don’t think I’ve yet to meet someone who started right off with craft beer, but I’m sure there will be someday.) So I was curious to know how Kristin and John got into craft beer which lead them to homebrewing and then their own shop.
Back in 2000 Kristin was stationed at Lakeheath Royal Air Force, and one night her and some coworkers went to a pub. Unfamiliar with the beers available she asked for a recommendation. What she received was a pint of Caffrey’s Irish Stout in what she vividly recalls as the most beautiful beer she has ever seen. In the glass was a creamy chocolate milk beverage that cascaded into a darker hue of brown. This moment changed her life.
A few years earlier, 1995, John had his first Hefeweizen while in Munich. This shifted his perspective from the customary fare of lagers and pilsners. Then in 1997 when he was managing a coffee shop next to a new brewery in Virginia he began to learn more of what was offered in the world of beers. But it wasn’t until 2005 in North Carolina when he began to renew some of those old feelings. You see, he met Kristin and she helped pointing him out towards the local beer community.
While on a brewery tour John mentioned to the brewer giving the tour that he had a kegerator, one that Kristin bought for him. The brewer asked why they weren’t brewing their own beer. That was the catalyst needed to plunge John and Kristin into homebrewing. They went to the local homebrew store that day. The first beer John brewed was a Saison. (Which is a style Kristin doesn’t really like. She’s more fond of IPAs, particularly the juicy New England ones.) He fell in love with the style after having a Great Divide’s Colette. Once he had the first sip of his Saison he was hooked, brewed the next weekend, and never looked back.
Hope To See You At Church On Sunday
Elevated Fermentation’s Beer Church was completely off my radar. I would have never known about it unless from Dave, an old high school girlfriend’s dad. Dave recommended it to me as he had gotten into homebrewing (and makes a really nice double IPA), and thought it would be an interesting aspect of the local craft beer community to cover. I was definitely intrigued by the name, and wondered what exactly went on at these Sunday get-togethers.
From the very beginning the Gawthrops knew they wanted to offer weekly brewing demonstrations and classes. The goal in mind was to help build and support a better connected and more informed beer community in Northern Colorado. They also knew they wanted to do these sessions on Sunday afternoons: hence Beer Church. It soon came to a realization that John’s explanations of the brewing process could get old very quickly. So, to mix things up they thought about inviting local brewers, growers, and processors to share their knowledge.
They wanted to have Beer Church start immediately after opening their shop, but they had some logistics to work out. Their location didn’t have an outdoor space for brewing, and being able to have visual and physical demonstrations was a key element. Their problems were solved when they purchased a Grainfather. For those that don’t know, a Grainfather is an all-in-one electric all-grain brewing system. Having this device enabled John to brew inside for the demonstrations, and Beer Church kicked off in July. (I don’t yet homebrew but this contraption is insanely cool.)
John begins every Beer Church with a little talk about the beer that is brewing at the moment, usually tied into that day’s topic. The topics can range from a style of beer to essential ingredients or to a local brewery. Sometimes there is a guest speaker who is an expert in their particular field. These individuals are more than happy to share their deep knowledge of hops or malts. Or it can be an owner or head brewer of one of the many local breweries. From them you’ll get to know what it takes to get to that level, and how their beers are made.
If John and Kristin are running the show, in particular to styles of beer, you’ll get deeper understanding of a beer. From its history of how it came about to what goes into making this style that sets it apart from others. And there are always samples; beer (and sometimes mead) to taste, hops to smell, and malted grains to nibble on. There are a few occasions where the topic is pairing beer and food, which is never a bad thing.
Beer Church has a very laid back, open atmosphere. This isn’t some event where someone talks to you for an hour and that’s it. It’s as if Kristin and John and their guest speakers are the cool college professors that you can shoot the shit with. If you have a question, go ahead and ask it. Being inquisitive is always welcomed. Even after the session is over people hang out to socialize and talk beer. There is a real sense of community.
I think that’s what keep drawing the congregation back every week. This is a friendly and passionate environment that Beer Church has cultivated. It has given those with a shared hobby to interact with each other and share knowledge. Sure the numbers ebb and flow depending on what’s going on. Broncos games would lessen the numbers (well, until some gave up on them towards the end of the season). There are times when it becomes standing room only when a local brewery visits or when they have their monthly Homebrew Share. Some people have gotten the genius idea to bring their own chairs.
Sharing Is Caring
The Homebrew Share is a fairly new addition to Beer Church, but it is quite an unique experience. The members of Beer Church range in ages and experience. Some have been tinkering around for a few months and there are some who’ve won homebrewing Pro-Am competitions. It’s a chance for the everyone to get feedback from craft beer lovers, and not just family and friends. Maybe a little tweak here and there is advised to take the brew to the next level. I liken it to being back as an art student when I would have to show my illustrations or short films to the class. I imagine it can be a nerve-wracking experience. The feedback can be critical but it’s always constructive, and everyone is very supportive.
The beers brought to the bottle share is a wide spectrum of tried and true classics, hop bombs, and experimental beers that push the limits. I’ve had a barleywine that was just as good if not better than what you would find on the shelves or in the cold boxes. There was a blueberry wheat that was such a deep purple that I didn’t know what to expect, but it was such a refreshing beer. Then there’s Thomas who’s been replicating TenFidy since 2012 trying to find that sweet spot. His last batch was number 19, and it was damn good. It’s amazing to see the creativity that goes on in creating these homebrews. From extracts to all-grain and all the other additional ingredients applied.
What Lies Ahead
All the Beer Churchgoers I got in contact with all remarked on how much they’ve gained from the Gawthrops. John and Kristin truly love what they are doing, and are so willing to share their knowledge and experiences in homebrewing with everyone. I’ve heard numerous stories where they’ve helped out a customer by talking them through an issue over the phone (and sometimes it’s several phone calls throughout the day). It truly is a welcoming experience, and one that draws me back every Sunday. Now I just have to start brewing my own beers.
John hopes Beer Church lasts forever. Besides it being a chance (or excuse) to brew every week, there’s always more to learn and share. There are still many topics that haven’t been covered and more to expand on. Plus there are still so many breweries in the area to come in to share their experiences and have their brains picked.
I asked if the idea of opening their own brewery ever crossed their minds since they have such a deep passion and knowledge for beer, but they both stated that Elevated Fermentations is there focus right now. Yet the homebrewing couple recently won medals at the Sweethearts Revenge competition hosted by the Weiz Guys homebrew club. Kristin won gold for her Black Lager, and John also got a gold for his Saison. Who’s to say what could happen down the road? But for now we can appreciate the hard work they are doing in educating and strengthening the bond between homebrewers and the overall craft beer community in Northern Colorado.
Beer Church Info
- Elevated Fermentations (2245 W. Eisenhower Blvd., Loveland)
- Sundays 2-3pm
- List of Upcoming Events