Fort Collins’ Odell Brewing keeps focus on home


FORT COLLINS | From humble beginnings in Doug Odell’s kitchen, Odell Brewing Co. has grown to become one of the nation’s largest craft brewers. But even as the family-owned Fort Collins company completes a massive expansion, Odell says it intends to remain a regional brewery fiercely committed to its employees, the city and quality beer.

Odell is the 33rd-largest craft brewer in the country, but it rarely feels that way: The company and its 85 employees have deliberately maintained a low-key approach to both growth and publicity. And while it’s preparing to more than triple its brewing output, the company has no immediate plans for rapid growth.

Odell today distributes beers like 90 Shilling and Easy Street Wheat in 10 states and Great Britain. Texas, where the company will begin distributing shortly, is Odell’s first new market in three years. Today, 70 percent of Odell’s beer is sold in Colorado.

“We’re not a marketing machine. We’re not party providers,” said company co-founder Wynne Odell. “That’s not what I want to wake up thinking about.”

In an interview at the brewery’s Lincoln Avenue tasting room, Odell said the brewery is looking forward to completing a brewhouse expansion that will boost production from about 78,000 barrels this year to 300,000 in 2014. But the expansion isn’t really about capacity, she said.

Instead, the first driver was making sure Odell’s brewers could have some downtime. The current brewing equipment is in use virtually around the clock, Odell said.

Installing the more automated 135-barrel system will give brewers more time to work on special projects and personal development, she said. She said some craft breweries are highly focused on growth and capacity, which is something they’ve never been that worried about. The brewery was founded by husband-and-wife Doug and Wynne Odell, and Doug’s sister, Corkie Odell.

“We want to take our time and do it right,” Wynne Odell said of brewery capacity. “We want to make sure the people who work here love what we do.”

It’s that focus on beer and people that’s earned Odell a reputation as a community-focused brewery, said David May of the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce. May said the company’s commitment to the city, the United Way, the chamber and other charities keeps that bond strong.

“You can’t help but cheer for them,” May said. “They started with nothing, making beer in their kitchen and grew a successful company. They know that the community helped them become successful, and in turn they give back to the community in the form of economic prosperity and money and time to good causes. It’s a love story.”

Wynne Odell said the company works hard to maintain a strong connection with Fort Collins because it’s home: all of Odell’s beer is made in the Choice City, and that’s not going to change. She said Odell wants to remain a regional brewer, focusing on the states closest to Colorado, along with Great Britain, since that’s where Doug Odell drew inspiration for his beers.

In addition to the new brewing system, the brewery expansion will add 50 new seats to the tasting room, along with more outdoor seating. Wynne Odell said the tasting room remains the brewery’s single most important marketing tool, because it gives customers the chance to talk directly to Odell employees, including the Odell family.

During her interview with the Coloradoan, her husband, Doug, was chatting with someone else in the tasting room. Their daughter, Corey, is a receptionist, and their son works in the brewhouse. Corkie Odell’s son works as a brewery representative in Denver.

Jim Clark, executive director of Visit Fort Collins, said Odell’s focus on Fort Collins helps build community, which is good for both locals and tourists.

“The expansion will expand the experience here — what people can see and do while they’re here,” Clark said. “It will allow them to do more events, more music and expand time on site. It will change the flavor of a small pub atmosphere to where there will be a ‘wow’ factor.”

Fort Collins resident and fan Kelly Steinway said she’s happy to ride her bike across the city for a weekend tasting at Odell: “They don’t have the ‘too cool’ attitude, brew awesome beer and really play a big part in giving back to the community. The crowd speaks to the quality, friendliness and atmosphere of Odell.”

Steinway is the kind of person Odell is targeting with both the tasting room and the continued focus on slow, deliberate growth, Wynne Odell said.

“It’s about the beer. It all comes back to the beer. It’s a simple mission: we try to do one thing really, really well,” Wynne Odell said. “It’s nice to never wonder who we are.”