Sailing from the garage and into the Aurora craft brew business


AURORA | Even before a delivery mishap took over half the space where his car was supposed to sleep — filling it with several hulking silver brewing tanks — Jean Verrier’s garage left little doubt that he was a bit of a beer nerd.

The home-brew equipment is everywhere, and the kegerator against the wall is plastered with a collection of brewery stickers to make a suds snob smile.

But those neat rows of professional beer-making gear piled to one side are a sign that Verrier is making the leap from beer-loving homebrewer to the growing ranks of professional beer maker.

Early next year, Verrier is set to open Pilothouse Brewing Co. at East Quincy Avenue and South Buckley Road.

The brewery, Verrier said, will have a nautical theme complete with steering wheel in the tasting room and anchor chain lining the 675-square-foot patio.

Aside from beer, Verrier owns a sail boat on Lake Dillon and another at the Aurora Reservoir. He grew up sailing on Vermont’s Lake Champlain, and he’s a bit of a sailing nut, too.

“It’s kind of our other passion,” he said with a grin.

But it isn’t just that nautical theme that will set Pilothouse apart from other beermakers in the swelling craft brew scene, Verrier said.

Pilothouse will also offer other amateur brewers the chance to crank out some suds on the brewery’s professional production systems.

The plan, Verrier said, is for local homebrewers to sign up through Pilothouse’s website to compete for slots.  About two thirds of the more than 30 taps at the brewery will be pouring brews from those amateurs, he said.

That means Pilothouse likely won’t specialize in any particular style, he said, and it will instead offer a wider variety than most breweries can.

When it opens, Pilothouse will join more than 300 other breweries currently operating in craft-beer crazed Colorado, according to the Brewers Association.

The Boulder-based group, which tracks craft beer trends around the country, says Colorado has 8.4 breweries per 1,000 people, ranking it third highest in the country for breweries per capita. That’s a steep increase from just six years ago when the state had just more than 100 breweries, according to the association.

Despite its size — with more than 350,000 people — Aurora for a time lagged behind much of Colorado in terms of its craft brew scene.

For years, Dry Dock Brewing Co. was the only brewery in town, often packing its original tasting room at East Hampden Avenue and South Chambers Road with standing-room only crowds of beer loving Aurora residents.

But since those early days of a decade or so ago, the city’s brewery scene has grown. Ursula Brewery near the Anschutz Medical Campus, Launch Pad Brewing Co. not far from Buckley Air Force Base, Dad and Dude’s Breweria in the Cornerstar Shopping Center and others are all cranking out beers inside the city limits.

Still, despite being the state’s third-largest city, Aurora doesn’t have near the breweries per capita of other cities.  Verrier said that makes Aurora — and southeast Aurora in particular — the ideal spot to open up shop.

He said he personally prefers German and British-style beers and generally steers clear of sours. But with a yet-to-be determined group of brewers cranking out the bulk of the beers Pilothouse serves, he said the brewery will likely have some sours and other beers that Verrier would likely never brew himself. 

“What you will see is probably a greater variety,” he said. 

Beyond earning a spot on Pilothouse’s tap list — as well as the experience of brewing on a professional system — Verrier said the amateur brewers who come through will also earn prizes, ranging from free beer to gift certificates, though the exact details of the prizes haven’t yet been determined. 

The hope, Verrier said, is that amateur brewers will come bring their families with them on their brew days adding to what he hopes is an overall family-friendly atmosphere at Pilothouse.