Hoppy hour: Father-son team brew small-scale success

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AURORA | Micro is a kind term to use when describing the brewing operation at Dad and Dudes Breweria in South Aurora. Founded in 2010 by father/son duo Tom “Dad” and Mason “Dude” Hembree, the combination brewery/pizzeria runs on a 1.5-barrel brewing system to crank out their suds which yields them three kegs per brew cycle and resulted in about 730 barrels of beer in 2013. By comparison, fellow Aurora brewery Dry Dock cranked out 12,000 barrels in the same time frame.

Basically, the operation at Dad’s is tiny — very tiny. The operation is so small that it technically qualifies as a nanobrewery, which, while there is no official definition, the U.S. Treasury Department describes as a “very small brewery operation.” Essentially, someone who makes beer for enjoyment and happens to sell a bit of it, too.

But, big changes are in motionfor the Hembree dudes, who are in the process of making some major changes to their bijou business by adding some serious backbone to their capacity and distribution capabilities.

“We want to draw more attention not only to our beers but also draw attention to this brewpub, and that there’s life in the suburbs,” Mason said. “We want to make a statement and take ourselves as seriously as everyone else is taking us now.”

Dad’s has increased to over 1,000 barrels in 2014, and is projected to hit the 2,500-barrel mark next year. The outfit has managed to expand so rapidly behind the notion of carpooling – the concept of bigger breweries sharing brew space and equipment with smaller ones like the Hembree’s.

“It’s really economical for us because we’re not spending the time and money to build a large brewery and it helps (other breweries) out because they’re not wasting their precious stainless steel,” Tom said.

Self-described “brew evangelists,” Tom and Mason have teamed with Rockyard Brewing Company in Castle Rock and the not-yet-open Sleeping Giant in Denver. The new partnership will allow them diversify their brewing arsenal and get more pints into the hands of the nearly 2,500 customers the brewpub sees every week.

“Instead of putting money in a big brewery, we’re putting money in the beer, Tom said. “We feel that we can serve Colorado through the Rockyard side of it, and Sleeping Giant is going to help us go outside of Colorado.”

The duo’s ramped up efforts will culminate this weekend at the Great American Beer Festival where they will debut new beers, a new 16 oz. can for their flagship batch, their Dank IPA, and be one of the festival’s sponsored breweries — the smallest Colorado beer outfit ever to do so. Becoming an official GABF sponsor affords the Hembrees a larger footprint at the festival, the ability to serve 10 beers instead of five, and most importantly, a coveted end-cap booth space that provides much more visibility than one of the many tucked away in the endless rows in the center of the festival, slated to host over 700 vendors.

Although the pair is investing significant resources into its overall brewing operation, particularly at the GABF, the food and community experience offered at the brewpub is not taking a backseat. The team has made a name for itself among the city’s pizza aficionados with their spent-grain crusted pies, the dough of which is made with agave nectar and the pressed grains leftover after their brewing process.

“Other brewpubs occasionally use their grain for pizza and other food, but they’re a lot of times they’re not so good. We want to set the standard for what a spent-grain pizza is supposed to taste like,” Tom said.

“It’s phenomenal working with your family, I couldn’t think of a better partner to have than my own son in business.”