GABF Interview: Wes Burbank, Brewer at Backcountry Brewery

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GABF Interview: Wes Burbank, Brewer at Backcountry Brewery

Another staple at the Great American Beer Festival was Backcountry Brewery, they always have an endcap with a ton of great beer flowing. Located in Frisco, Colorado, one of the greatest mountain towns in the country, I had the pleasure of throwing back a few tasters of their brews while talking with Assistant Brewer, Wes Burbank.


Brew Beer Blog: What kind of perks and difficulties come with brewing deep in the mountains?

Wes: I think most of the perks are pretty obvious – we brew in a Mountain town surrounded by outdoor activities for everyone to enjoy. We can ski/snowboard, hike, bike, climb, and go boating/sailing within a few minutes from us. I don’t do much outdoors during the winter, but being able to have access to all kinds of hiking trails is great in the summer (our summers here are better than the winter, but that’s a local secret!), and of course having my sport bike, there’s twisties everywhere for me to have fun on.

The biggest difficulties I’ve encountered have been everything costs a lot more, which isn’t great for the people that live and work here. Another thing that gets rough is most people you encounter in the Winter and Summer months is that everyone is on vacation, and most of them certainly act accordingly. People are act completely differently when they know they don’t live there.

I’d certainly say, though, that the positives by far outweigh the negatives.


Brew Beer Blog: What’s your favorite beer that you’ve ever brewed, at home or professionally?

Wes: I’m pretty proud of my Rye Brown Ale. It’s taken many forms at home, and I was able to brew it professionally this past spring. It’s not a beer that will knock your socks off, but our general approach here at Backcountry is brewing to please a wide variety of people. I think it’s a beer that the “geeks” can enjoy because it is complex, but new-comers to Craft Beer were able to drink it as well. I think that’s what makes a successful beer. While we do occasionally brew beers that are more tailored to the beer geek crowd, they sometimes don’t go over very well with our local following. Our Berliner Weisse was really popular down in Denver and moved very well, but up here, it was the first sour beer that a lot of our customers had tried, so it was hit or miss with a lot of people.


Brew Beer Blog: What kind of education and experience did you have that helped land the position at Backcountry?

Wes: I was a home brewer before working here, with a LOT of help from friends that were already brewers. I took a couple of classes at Siebel in Chicago, but that starts to get pretty expensive. I owe a lot to my friend Ted at New Belgium and my best friend Shane, who is a brewer at Dogfish Head. I also owe a huge debt of gratitude to our Head Brewer, Alan Simons, who took a chance with hiring me. He believed in me, and I hope that two years later he still thinks he made the right choice.


Brew Beer Blog: What’s your favorite/most useful piece of homebrewing equipment?

Wes: I think that’s easily my Blichman brew kettle and the accessories that are hooked up to it. It’s a costly investment, but it’s a great piece of equipment that I recommend to all my friends who are home brewers. I use it as a mash/lauter tun as well as a boil kettle, and I think it really improved the quality of my beers.

Also an honorable mention to my kegerator. Bottling was my least favorite thing and now I don’t have to worry about it. Plus, how cool is it to have your own beer on tap in the garage? If I ever want to take bottles anywhere, I have a Blichman beer gun, so I can just bottle however much I want – it’s fantastic.

Brew Beer Blog:: Aside from Backcountry, what’s your favorite brewery?

Wes: That changes all the time. Right now I’ve been on a Firestone Walker kick. Their lineup is great across the board. Wookey Jack is a staple in my fridge.

To visit, though, would be my good friends over at TRVE Brewing. I’m a metal head, so it’s great to have a couple of beers and listen to good music. Their beer is also some of the best in Denver, and very consistent. Nick and Sydney do a great job over there, and I am very excited to see them succeed.


Brew Beer Blog: Any good upcoming beers you can tell us about?

Wes: We just released a ton of beers for GABF, so look for bombers of our Weizenbock, which is like a big Hefeweizen – we call it Banana Bread Beer. We also have our India Black Ale / Black IPA out right now, which is very popular among our fans, and one of my favorites that we make.

Also, much to the delight of everyone everywhere, we have our Breakfast Stout available in bombers right now. It’s a 4.4% Milk Stout with a ton of coffee, so it is very much an appropriate breakfast beer.

As far as upcoming beers, I can’t say much at the moment but we have some fun things in the works, as well as possibly something special for CBC / World Beer Cup next year in Denver.


Brew Beer Blog: Any advice you can give to homebrewers looking to break into professional brewing?

Wes: Keep brewing! I would also recommend buying a couple of Brewing Science books as well, they are very helpful in understanding why you’re doing what you’re doing, and finding out the reasons why off-flavors occur, so you know how to correct them.

Also, talk to everyone! Join a forum, join a homebrew club, pick the brain of your local brewer – most of us are pretty friendly, especially over a couple of beers. I used to come to Backcountry before I worked there asking questions, and not only did it help my brewing, I think it probably helped that Alan recognized me when I had my interview with him.


Wes Burbank is an assistant brewer at Backcountry Brewery, a homebrewer, and a metal head. If you bring any metal themed beer bottles into the brewery you can probably talk him into buying you a beer, and of course, talking metal.

Backcountry brewery is located in Frisco, CO. Their website has info on events, beers, the brewery, restaurant, and more. If you’re in the area, stop by, the beer, food, and views are second to none.


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