Brewed for success
Alumnus opens craft brewery in Colorado
By Bob Cunningham
Taylor Rees majored in pop culture at Bowling Green State University, but he also had an unofficial minor: home brewing. His brewing hobby got him in the door at one of the premier breweries in the country, but it was his knowledge of subcultures that helped him successfully open his own brewery this spring.
Soon after graduating from BGSU, Rees moved to Colorado to housesit for a family friend and found himself in the middle of a craft beer nirvana. He started working at the Colorado Humane Society, but after four years he was ready to switch gears.
“I had been home brewing for a long time through college and got really serious about it when I moved to Colorado, which was a pretty good beer scene,” said Rees, 37, a Class of 2000 alumnus. “So, I was a serious home brewer and I wasn’t happy at the humane society at the time. So, I went to three breweries and knocked on the door and Great Divide (Brewing Co.) hired me on the bottling line.”
From there, Rees, who grew up in Hudson, Ohio, started working his way up the brewing hierarchy. After a few months on the bottling line, he moved over to kegging beer, and after that it was on to warehousing. He worked for about a year in the logistics division, which “basically is shipping beer all over the country.”
Then the opportunity Rees had been waiting for showed up.
“One brewer got another job, so I applied for that and I got it,” he said. “I was basically what they call a shift brewer for a few years, and the last four years I was at Great Divide I was the head brewer.”
His decade at Great Divide was a perfect proving ground for his current venture: Spangalang Brewery.
“I loved working at Great Divide,” said Rees, who lives in downtown Denver with his longtime girlfriend. “Maybe three years ago, I got the bug to maybe start my own thing. I definitely learned from what I consider to be one of the top breweries in the country—everything from quality to PR, just everything. It was a great experience.
“Then this opportunity in (Five Points) popped up. It was about a year ago this property became available to lease. The landowners wanted a brewery in there and they wanted experienced brewers. So, myself and the two other co-owners who also worked at Great Divide, we had a business plan we had been shopping around. Things just fell together rather quickly and we made it happen.”
Rees and his business partners, Austin Wiley and Darren Boyd, opened Spangalang Brewery on April 9 in the Five Points neighborhood of Denver. The name honors the neighborhood’s jazz music tradition from the 1920s to 1950s when jazz legends such as Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington were regulars at area bars. “Spangalang” is a reference to the classic cymbal pattern associated with jazz music.
Plus, Rees said, it’s important to stick out in a city with more than 80 breweries. The name helps, but it’s the quality of the beer that will leave the largest footprint in the craft community.
“There’s basically a brewery in every neighborhood and there are some neighborhoods that have seven, eight, nine breweries,” Rees said. “It’s pretty insane and I forget that the rest of the country isn’t necessarily like that.
“Somehow they’re not going out of business, which is awesome. It’s an amazing scene out here and it’s fun being a part of for sure.”
Rees said Spangalang will strive for a diverse beer lineup, unless his clientele decides otherwise.
“Our initial lineup when we opened was pretty Belgian heavy because we tend to like Belgian beers,” he said. “We had a Belgian double, a saison, a wit, a couple IPAs, and an imperial stout. So, we’re throwing everything out there and seeing what people like. If it looks like our drinkers want us to go a certain direction, we’ll go in that direction. Otherwise, we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing because it’s fun.”
Understanding his consumers and anticipating needs in general is a strength Rees picked up during his time at BGSU.
“The pop culture major obviously dealt with the mindset of the masses and also dealt with subcultures as well,” he said. “There’s definitely a beer subculture. People call them beer geeks or beer nerds or whatever you want to call them. The way we studied cultures in college and in anthropology classes is, this subculture of people are our customers essentially. Which translates to, we want to get them interested in our beer. We want to make beer that they like.
“Learning how to analyze cultures from the outside has helped a lot in that sense and realizing that there’s a language to them—they have habits. Being able to address those cultures and to hope to maybe understand them is definitely something I learned in school.”
For more information about Spangalang Brewery visit spangalangbrewery.com.