The drive to Boulder is beautiful, nestled at the base of the freshly snow-capped Flatirons, there isn’t a bad view to be found. I lived in Boulder for four years while I attended the University of Colorado and go back frequently to visit old haunts and try new beers. The small town is expanding, as much as its people and their zoning restrictions will allow, requiring new additions to think outside of the box. Cellar West Artisan Ales is one of those places, they have taken the craft beer industry and found a way to make it their own in North Boulder.
You can find them on Lee Hill Drive a block west of Broadway but don’t go too far or you will end up in a sprawling housing development. The brewery is part of a row of commercial buildings, there is glass blowing and auto repair, but popping out from the facade is the beacon for beer, a three eyed loon. The loon, a familiar bird and symbol for owner/brewer Zach Nichols who grew up on the lakes of Wisconsin listening to them, is a way for him to bring his roots to his creation.
Zach’s personal and brewing roots started in Wisconsin but he honed his skills as one of the co-founders and brewers at Sanitas Brewing Company. While there Zach was able to learn and master his craft but more importantly he was introduced to the process of barrel-aging beers and wild yeast. He found himself focusing this ever-changing process. “I am intrigued by what happens in the barrel… there’s still a lot of research to be done on what’s happening.” When the opportunity arose, Zach sold his share of Sanitas to start his own brewery, where he could focus on something new, traditional Belgian farmhouse ales but with his own touch. A brewery that could allow him to focus on his passion for wild yeast and oak aged beers – Cellar West Artisan Ales was born.
The beers actually get their start at a different brewery, while not completely unheard of, it adds another wrinkle and of course an element of risk to the process. Zach takes his recipe, ingredients and brews his wort at nearby Wildwood Brewery, then he loads it up into a sanitized trailer before driving it back to his location and putting it into the barrels. The wort hits the barrel within a half hour of being knocked out of the brew house. At that point, depending on the brew situation, he will add his proprietary yeast to the oak barrels and allow the process to take its course. The beer rests in the barrels for a couple of months under the watchful eye of Zach. This is perhaps the most fascinating part of the process, in those barrels no one knows exactly what is happening. Each time there could be a different profile, unlike the steel at other breweries where they are aiming for the perfect replication of great beer, each batch is its own adventure.
When the beer is ready it will hit the only piece of metal in the brewery. In there, the beer is blended and this where decisions for the taste profile are made, whether it’s fruit or dry hopping, this is where it happens. Zach is working diligently to bring to life beers that are “expressive and not aggressive” with a flavor profile that is balanced, unique and creates the right mouth-feel (proteins like rye and oats are added to make it soft, pillowy) to be enjoyed in passing or featured as the main event.
To finish, all of his beers are bottle conditioned with Champagne yeast. “The bottle conditioning is an art itself” Zach shared, no beers on draft right now, but it’s in the future. From the brewing to bottling to labeling, Zach is involved in every step, “every single bottle of beer that goes out of here, I’ve had my hands on.” There is focus on every detail, it’s the small things, there isn’t a mission, but what it comes down to for Zach is that they are putting out good beer.
There tasting room is small, but it’s cozy and full of personal touches, from the large painted loon to the barrel tables. It’s utilitarian but that’s done with purpose, it is the type of place you can hang out with your friends and be present. There is a TV but only for big events, the record player transports you and personal vinyl is welcome. From your seat you can also see the full brewing operation, if it isn’t too busy ask Zach to show you around, it’s hard not to get excited about the beer when you hear him speak about it.
Saturday 12pm to 7pm
Expect this to change in the near future with the addition of Sundays
Westfield – Oak Fermented Saison
God’s Eye – Wild Porter with Blackberries
Moving forward the expectation is one new beer a month
If you can’t make it in, there are already a couple of places carrying bottles.
Hazel’s Beverage World – Boulder
Wyatts Wet Goods– Longmont