The first year of business has sailed by for Launch Pad Brewery. Already, they’ve taken home hardware from the All Colorado Beer Fest and Rails and Ales, and they’re aiming for this fall’s Great American Beer Festival.
Things have gone so well that the brewery near Buckley Air Force Base has already upgraded its brewing equipment a full year earlier than owner and brewer David Levesque had hoped. We sat down with David to talk about his time maintaining nuclear missiles in the Air Force, brewing “big” beers, $2 PBR pitchers and the future of the craft beer scene.
BJ: When did you start
DL: In late 2007, early 2008. I was military, stationed in North Dakota for six and a half years — drank PBR. That’s all I knew for beer, I didn’t know anything better. When I got transferred here to Buckley Air Force Base after processing they took me to Dry Dock. And Dry Dock back in 2007 was the hole in the wall behind the strip mall. I got a beer and was like, ‘What is this? This is amazing.’ And they were like, ‘This is craft beer,’ and I was like, ‘Craft beer what do you mean?’ Then I got interested and said, ‘Can I make this?’ It’s just blossomed from there. I was just strictly a home brewer but always very into it, how can I make it better, how can I make it better?
BJ: Ever reach for Pabst anymore?
DL: If I’m gonna go for a macro or something nice — easy drinking when I’m golfing or out camping, yeah, I’ll drink a Pabst. But it kind of became a little bit of a hipster thing lately. I used to get pitchers of Pabst for $2. Now I go to a Rockies game and it’s $9 for a can. I enjoy all beer, I believe everything has got its place depending on what I’m doing. If I’m out eating Mexican food, I’m gonna grab a Modelo or a Dos Equis or something like that, something that’s right for the time and the place. I’m not picky, I’ll drink it all.
BJ: Are there similarities between
the Air Force and brewing?
DL: There’s been a lot that’s really has helped out as far as team management, opening up a brewery and having employees, being able to run a schedule. Another big thing is the interaction with customers, being able to interact with the customers on a military level as well as now on a commercial level. Another big one people don’t understand is in the military we have (instructional procedures) for everything. I was a nuclear weapons guy, and if you go to do anything you a have a book, step-by-step it says disconnect this, do this, turn this off. That’s helped here in brewing. When you’re brewing, this needs to get done — this, this, then this. And in between those steps, something is going to go wrong because everyday we brew something will, and then you have to figure out what do I need to do to fix that.
BJ: Why did you want to make
the leap from home brewer
to commercial brewer?
DL: We were having a pumpkin beer fest at the house just for fun and we had pumpkin food, pumpkin dessert, pumpkin beers, pumpkin everything. So I sat down looked at my books and came up with this pumpkin beer recipe, super complex — I wanted to make it big and in depth. Everybody freaked out about the pumpkin beer, and one of my friends came up to me and said, ‘You know, you should open a brewery.’ This was in 2014 when the brewery scene was really starting to grow fast. The next morning I woke up and it stuck with me. So I started doing some research and made a business plan.
BJ: What’s your favorite
style of beer to make?
DL: I like big, bold beers. Belgians are probably my favorite style: trippels, quads, Avery does a quintuple now. I like the bigger, heavier beers. If you notice a lot of our beers start at 6-percent alcohol and go up. We are working on some session stuff, trying to get some nice lighter options, but I like the big, bold beer.
BJ: What about those big beers do you like?
DL: The mouth feel, I think that came from drinking PBR for years in North Dakota. Not a lot of mouth feel. When I got here the noticeable difference was mouth feel. Craft beer has a greater mouth feel and those bigger beers, those higher ABV beers, have even more mouth feel, and have that malt backbone to balance the hops. I’m not a big hop guy. West Coast IPA? I really don’t like them, that’s why I don’t brew them. My assistant brewer Paul (Mahoney), he brews all the IPAs because he likes IPAs. … I stick to the rest of the stuff, the Midwest-style pale ales, the Belgians, the stouts, the bigger beers.
BJ: Anything in the craft beer scene you don’t like?
DL: I’m a big fan of balance. With working with Lockheed now, working at the brewery, having a baby, there’s a lot of balancing in my life. That’s probably why I tend to go with beers that are more balanced. West Coast IPAs are good when they are balanced, but when you have someone throwing more hops in just to make it bitter for the hop heads — because ‘the bitterer it is, the better it is.’ That’s kind of the scene the craft beer scene is going to, it’s gotta be super bitter. It’s undrinkable at that point, but that’s what they want, so that’s why we put an IPA on.
BJ: When you got started, were you
surprised by how closely knit the scene is?
DL: That was a really big surprise to me. Growing up having different jobs, you have competition. You kind of learn not to like your competition. You’re in the plumbing industry, well, the plumber down the road, you’re better than them. There is this awkward competition the whole time. No matter what the business is, it’s very cutthroat out there because you are trying to make money. So when I got into the brewing scene I was a little nervous, but there were some breweries — Dry Dock, Coda (now Ursula), Copper Kettle, Fiction, Two22 — they heard we were trying to open and they gave nothing but support. They’d tell me, ‘This is who we use for this, this is the equipment guy for this, this is the trouble we ran into, watch out for this.’ It was nothing but support, and I was kind of taken aback. At first you’re a bit guarded, like, ‘Are these guys trying to set me up or what?’ Nope. Everybody was 100 percent honest.
BJ: When you opened you were one of several dozen new Colorado breweries to launch in 2015. Can the industry keep growing like this?
DL: It’s a scary thought. Growing up you used to have neighborhood bars, every neighborhood had its own bar. I think that’s where breweries are gonna go. It’s not going to be as much everyone flocking to one brewery as it is that brewery is the brewery of that neighborhood, and you’ll create these bubbles. Some of the bubbles will overlap eventually, but I think that’s where the brewery scene is going now. So we are gonna rely a lot more on distribution. We’re seven miles outside of Denver, so you are not going to be having people coming out as much because, on the way out here, they’re gonna hit 18 breweries. So you’re gonna have destination breweries and neighborhood breweries.