Dave Thibodeau headshot


There are a lot of things to think about when you start a business. Location, markets, consumers, branding, budgeting, the list can be overwhelming.  But what we’re talking about today on the Intrepid Entrepreneur Podcast is passion! Consumers can tell when you have it, and they most certainly can tell when you don’t.

Today, I have the honor to interview Dave Thibodeau, co-owner of a path-burning, stalwartly independent craft brewing company, Ska Brewing, which is located in my hometown of Durango Colorado.

Dave and one of his co-founders, Bill Graham, got into homebrewing as young adults and laid out their business plan on the back of a bar napkin.

When they went to the bank with their idea, no one was interested in funding them. But hearing that no one believed their company could work only made Dave even more determined to be successful.

Twenty one years later, Ska Brewing Company is growing on its own terms, keeping creativity, independence and their vision crystal clear as they continue to knock down the success milestones.

What makes them so successful? Dave says it’s their authenticity. It’s something national companies can’t replicate, and consumers not only notice, but revere.

Back when Ska was founded, Dave says he had no specific consumer type in mind mostly because back then, there barely was a consumer type for craft beer! They just tried to appeal people who wanted to be a part of their story, and share in the experience. Little did he know that he was on to the success formula for any passion-driven entrepreneurial business. It just came naturally to them.

Let’s be honest. … Craft beer is an experience!

Ska does a masterful job offering the experience of creativity without rules or boundaries, and the experience of location – there’s a reason the company has dropped the clutch on its growth and reach right from its founding in Durango.

Ska’s all about being at the outdoor festival listening to music, doing epic outdoor endurance sports, sitting at the local brewery where your beer was made and surprising and delighting the customer with a true, creative craft experience.

Bravery in Business Quote

“Whenever you’re talking about craft brewing or entrepreneurs, passion is the term that gets thrown around like crazy. But I really stand behind that.” – Dave Thibodeau

(click to tweet)

Cliff Notes:

  • Early support and assistance from other local brewers set a precedent for how they would treat other brewers and businesses, with a lot of camaraderie. There is so much to learn about the business and the product, that it takes a lot of collaboration and sharing of knowledge to be successful and get the information you need.
  • Craft brewers are just 10% of the entire beer market in the U.S.
  • Like some outdoor lifestyle markets, craft brewers are motivated to work together because they are all facing off against the same mega companies, Anheuser Busch,  MillerCoors, etc. Corporate competition gives craft brewers a common cause.
  • Dave’s passionate about the authenticity of Ska. It’s something that really shows, that consumers notice in craft breweries that national companies can’t replicate.
  • Craft beer is offering an experience to the customer. Extending the experience of being in their brewery, at a mountain festival in Colo., etc, to people who don’t live there or can’t come.
  • Had no “consumer type” in mind when they started the company. Twenty years ago, there barely was a consumer type for craft beer. Ska just wanted to appeal to the type of person who wants to be a part of their story, and share in the experience.
  • Slow growth as a smart strategy to build a strong foundation. Recently looking for way to expand but decided not to borrow a lot of money to open another facility/ building/restaurant.  Instead, they started “Mod Brewery,” a second brewery inside of their current facility completely dedicated to creating artful brews in small batches.
  • The Mod Brewery enables Ska’s artisan brewers have some fun and experiment with brewing techniques, 14 kegs at time.

 

“You can’t replicate it if it’s not genuine” – Dave Thibodeau

(click to tweet)

Resources:

SkaBrewing.com

Transcription (click to expand)

INTERVIEW START

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Dave Thibodeau, welcome to the Intrepid Entrepreneur Podcast.

David Thibodeau: Well, thanks for having me, Kristin.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: I am so stoked to have you on the show here today. You as well as Bill Graham and Matt Vincent comprised the team that own Ska Brewing here in our hometown of Durango, Colorado. I’ve known you guys for a super long time. Even when you guys were, like, dating your wives, I remember I would see you in various bars around Durango back when we didn’t have kids and whatnot and always, always on the trails at bike races, at running races, etc. And it’s just been amazing to see what you’ve pulled together and how you continue to drive Ska forward. So first of all, congratulations.

David Thibodeau: Thanks.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: And it seems like you’re having a lot of fun over there.

David Thibodeau: Yeah. I mean, there’s certainly not a day that I don’t wake up and think about how grateful I am to live in Durango and to be able to do the things I do as far as my lifestyle goes, and actually make beer here for a living. And I’m shocked. 21 years ago, if you’d ask me if I’d still be making beer in Durango in 21 years, I would never be able to believe that it could possibly be true. So I wake up every day feeling grateful.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: I know. You guys have literally built an empire but it still feels very, very small. Very familial and very craftsman, if you will. So what I’d love to do is start by having you talk to my audience about the founding story of Ska Brewing and then talk a little bit about how it’s progressed. Because obviously, you started, I’m sure, just by creating beer at home, I would imagine.

David Thibodeau: Yeah. You know what? I’ve told this story a million times but Bill and I, we didn’t know Matt when we started. Bill and I started and Matt would join us after our first year in business. But we didn’t know him until we were in Durango. But Bill and I grew up together in Denver. We were total party kids in high school, and although we got pretty good grades, we were always in trouble and–

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Which is good. I mean–

David Thibodeau: Yeah.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: I know you almost have a teenage son now who’s 14, and I’m literally, like, saying that and, like, “Oh, wait. I didn’t mean it.”

David Thibodeau: Yeah. Exactly. We drank a lot, that’s when we got into drugs and all of that. But it was kind of crazy because I think it sort of switched the way we thought about things. We started thinking–I’m thinking about life in a different way. But fun was, like, absolutely at the forefront for us throughout our high school years even though we got pretty serious about it and continued to become better students as we went into graduating high school and going to college. But when we were, like, 15 years old, 16 years old maybe–some time, early to mid-80s, we were in my dad’s living room and we ran across a little notebook that said “Brew Book” on it. And just because it said “brew,” it got our attention. And we started flipping through it. And it turns out my dad had been homebrewing. He brewed from 1969 to 1980.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: [inaudible].

David Thibodeau: Yeah.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: That is so cool.

David Thibodeau: It’s crazy. And then so inside that book were all these log sheets from all of his brews starting with his first brew in ’69. And so we started flipping through it, like: “Holy crap, my dad was making beer. This is so cool.” And he probably quit just before it was interesting enough for me to even notice that he was doing it. But we started flipping through it, trying to figure out where he added alcohol and we realized he was actually making alcohol. And this light bulb went on, and pretty soon, that just took over our lives. And my dad–it was cool because my dad jumped right back into homebrewing with us. So we started brewing with him, and at that time, you could just buy the ingredients at the grocery store. You could, buy, like, malt extract in the baking section at King Soopers in Denver. There weren’t any homebrew shops yet. One would open later that year but at that time, we had to figure it all out ourselves. And that’s kind of what got us into it.

And then Bill came to Durango, his first year at college. And I went to UNC in Greeley and then I ended up finishing college in Denver Metropolitan State. And Bill ended up going to CEU in Boulder. But throughout that time, we never stopped brewing. And every project I did in college–I was a Communications Multimajor–and everything, whether it was video or a speech or any kind of presentation–technical writing–everything I did was on brewing beer. And so it was pretty interesting because it was very noble. And nobody knew anybody else that could brew their own beer at that time. So I got a lot of mileage out of that. but that was kind of the beginning and we just never let go of the idea of starting our own brewery. And then in about ’93, it was when we were both permanently living in Durango and–we didn’t have any money. I was actually living in my car, and I worked for Purgatory–

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Okay, I love that.

David Thibodeau: Yeah. And our business plan was basically scratched on the back of a bar napkin and it was in comic book form and the bank and the SPA just were total naysayers. They thought the idea was ridiculous, thought our approach was ridiculous. And I think, honestly, that was where the ambition came from. It was mostly to spike the naysayers. After we left the SPA the first time we talked to them, I just marched out of that room, I’m like, “Fuck that guy. We’re going to make this happen.”

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Yeah. I love it.

David Thibodeau: Yeah. And so we actually started with a small loan from Bill’s dad and got a little warehouse in ’95 in Bodo Park here in Durango and started just in the back of that warehouse–and that was kind of the beginning of the whole thing. It was really neat. We had a friend in Denver who was the head brewer at the Wynkoop Brewing Company up there. And we told him we would give him 5% of the business if he would help us make the jump from homebrewer to professional brewer, and he–so he came down to Durango and he set up a meeting with Bill Carver who owns, obviously, Carver Brewing Company, and they were one of the pioneers. The second brew pub to open in the state of Colorado. And it was really intimidating for me to go in there and tell him we were kind of going to be competition of sorts. And I was afraid to talk to him but my friend, Kyle, set up this meeting. And when we sat down to talk to Bill, the first thing out of his mouth after we told him we were going to open a brewery was: “I’ll put you guys on tap.”

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Oh my gosh, that’s awesome.

David Thibodeau: Yeah. And it really set a precedent for how we would treat our fellow business people and other brewers throughout our history. And I think you see a lot of that camaraderie in the craft brewing business where everyone’s kind of got that mentality of the rising tide floating all boats. And I think a lot of that is–the epitome of that for me was Bill Carver in the early days. And it’s kind of a [inaudible] that we’ve held to ever since. There’s a lot of market share left. Collectively, all of us as craft brewers only have just over 10% of the entire beer market in the United States.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: That is incredible to me.

David Thibodeau: Yeah. 4,000 of us still have 90% of the market share that [inaudible] so we call all still be friends at this point.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: That’s amazing. And that was actually one of my questions for you, Dave, is the brewery community. Because I know you guys are in the process of advocating and almost lobbying for a lot of things to go your way to help pave the way for you to gain more market share and mind share. Can you talk a little bit about that? Because I think a lot of the entrepreneurs I interview and share on this show are from the outdoor active lifestyle markets. And sometimes those markets are more competitive-minded. They aren’t quite as open as I’ve seen Ska B. with the other brewers that would be “competitors” for them.

David Thibodeau: Yes. It’s kind of interesting. I really don’t know how it came to evolve into what it is with the craft brewers today other than maybe it’s just the fact that the people were so passionate and wanted to share their ideas–kind of the pioneers like Bill Carver. But I think, generally, it’s become accepted to most of us. It’s changing now because there’s a lot of people getting into the business today that aren’t passionate about it and don’t know much about brewing beer and [see a buck?] here or there but they hardly think they do. But I think a lot of it was that we were all learning so much 20 years ago. And you knew that everytime you learn something, you kind of got that awareness that there was so much more you didn’t know. And so it was kind of like the more you knew, the less you knew.

And so I think in that quest for more knowledge and to better your business and your product, you had to be willing to give up as much information as you were seeking. And I think that that’s kind of become somewhat cyclical and perpetual and doesn’t seem to have ended. And there’s still so much I don’t know so I still kind of have that same mindset. I think maybe it’s a little different. Like, with a lot of that outdoor lifestyle stuff, I think you’ve seen–there’s places where there’s certainly the same kind of opportunity particularly with, like, the food or the energy products where you see a different idea almost every day. Clothing might be a little different. But it’s crazy because–I mean, you’re more involved with it than I am but I would think–to me, it seems like the original ideas in some of the really progressive stuff whether it’s clothing or equipment or whatever in the outdoor lifestyle industry.

Like this last decade, it seems like it’s gone leaps and bounds. And for 20 years before that, it was totally stagnant. And I don’t know why that is, I mean, there’s, like, a [inaudible] speculate and you probably know a bit more about it. But I think now it’s a similar thing to craft brewing. I don’t know much about the whole market and depending on what the product might be but it seems that there’s a lot of opportunity to share ideas right now because there’s just so much going on. And I don’t know. There’s still a lot for everybody to learn about beers as long as it’s been around. There’s 50 new things happening every single day.

So for us, it’s just, like: “God, let’s just keep helping each other out.” It’s going to come down to really one gigantic, global brew monster that we’re all battling. And if this Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors–if everything happens is on that looks like it’s about to happen, one of every three beers made in the world is going to be a Budweiser product sooner than later. So that’s like we have something that we’re all working against and I think that’s kind of just this giant, horrible behemoth that we all are facing is motivation to work together. And certainly, there’s similar stories in some of the outdoor lifestyle stuff but it’s–we have that motivation behind us because we do have this ridiculous force in front of us. It’s trying to squash us off.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: That’s so interesting. So I have to comment here because you’ve brought up so many great points. So I feel that what you guys have, and there’s 4,000 of you, obviously. What you’re representing, I think, it’s so important for my audience–is you have a special brand, you create an experience through your brand and your product. You really do. Like, even the names of your product, the coming to theWorld Headquarters–we’re going to talk about ways you’ve expanded that, too, here in a few minutes. But what you’ve done at Ska is exactly the model. I don’t know if you were intentional with it, Dave, but seriously, you’re set-up to perfectly compete with the faceless behemoth out there.

I mean, sure there are people who don’t care and just want a certain kind of beer that they–I don’t know, like, it’s not an experience. What you guys offer is an experience, it’s a specialty, and when you tap into your ideal customer with that product and with your experience and with your brand, you’re actually, like, creating a connection with them which the behemoth can never do. And that’s why, see, you’re so successful with events. These outdoor music festivals, like–I just can’t imagine drinking something that’s, like, not craft beer in a mountain town watching awesome music. You know? And what you do is you kind of extend that experience to people who don’t live here, but [aspirationally?], that’s what they feel they want. That’s their identity. And I feel like what you guys are doing is so spot-on in that regard.

You’ve always known your target customer, Dave. How have you known who that has been? Because it seems like your brand has always been on par with that person. Like, the names of your beers, I mean, I’m imagining you are your avatar, right?

David Thibodeau: Oh, yeah.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: [I’m just?] making it so that it’s cool for you.

David Thibodeau: Well, that’s exactly what it is. We were really into comic books and Ska music when we started this whole thing. I mentioned earlier that we never really thought of this being, coming what it is now. And so when we started, we just did the things we loved. Whenever you’re talking about craft or entrepreneurs, passion is the term that gets thrown around like crazy. But I really kind of stand behind that. It was just what we were passionate about. And so our marketing platform really came out of this comic book and all of our labels and beer names, for the most part, are characters out of the comic book, and the heroes in the comic book, the legion of Ska were all bands and friends of ours that helped us bottle beers, and it’s just kind of evolved as we have evolved, and it’s really us.

And it’s pretty funny because I think what truly works–and it’s like you were explaining about the difference between a global behemoth–we refer to them collectively as Rock Hudson. And that’s our nemesis in the comic book, and it’s an ongoing story. So we really live this comic book story that we wrote, and everything is just another chapter in there. And so we’ve been battling Rock Hudson in a national beverage corporation all this time. And what they don’t have is that authenticity. And that is the thing that I think really appeals to the consumer. So we didn’t really have the type of consumer in mind. In fact, I don’t know that they even existed anywhere near the level that they do now. But the type of person that really wants to be part of the story and sharing that experience. So when you mentioned that we’ve created an experience and kind of a lifestyle around our brand, it’s really just an extension of the shit we like to do.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Right.

David Thibodeau: Yeah. But the beauty in that–and that’s why passion is so important is because that shows through. And you can’t replicate it if it’s not genuine. It’s impossible to do. People are too sappy for that. And so that’s our advantage that Rock Hudson will never have. And it’s funny because I’ll get emails or I’ll see, like, ratings online or something where people will say, “You know, I’ve always hated Ska music but I love these guys and I love their beer.” So even though they’re not in tune with the stuff that we kind of started with as a platform, they still know that it’s just a couple of people that started something that they really loved and they put their heart and soul into it, and now we have all our employees that are part of it as well, and they’re all in there as well. And you could feel that energy and you could feel that around the brewery. And people hold onto that and it means a lot to them. And it’s why people get so frustrated and upset when you see one of our brethren, like, selling-out to Budweiser or whatever it is. And you see their Facebook page just light up with angry people–because these are people who felt like they were part of their family, and suddenly, they’ve just gone off and taken the will with them. And it sucks.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: That does suck.

David Thibodeau: Yeah. And it doesn’t feel so good anymore. And the beauty of it is that’s what we have and it comes naturally. So–

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: You know–

David Thibodeau: That’s always been my advice, too, when people ask: “What’s the key?” It’s, like, if it didn’t come naturally, I don’t know what the key is. If it’s not fun, if it’s not what you like, if it didn’t come naturally, I don’t know. I don’t have the answer.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: I totally am with you. And your point about people being too [inaudible], I want to talk about that for a second. Because you referred to–wow, I’ve really seen this crazy influx of innovation or new products in outdoor active lifestyle, right? Or bike.

David Thibodeau: Sure.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: And I think with the propensity of, like, people that go online and wanted interface and engage with brands there and research brands there, and talk with their friends socially about things there, I think that’s the point they were making about people being too [inaudible]. Like, you honestly can’t hide that anymore. Or you can’t mask authenticity or buy. You just can’t. Like, it comes through. People follow you, they get emotionally engaged to it, and then if you sell-out to a larger entity that’s basically trying to scale or squeeze out margin or: “Oh, wow, that gives us a footprint in this region of the United States.” Or whatever. That is the first thing that falls to the ground is that authenticity And that’s the whole thing that made the brand special. It’s like my grandpa used to tell me when I was dating someone: “Well, you know, you shouldn’t try and change him like you started to date him the way he was so why would you expect him to change?” It’s, like, sort of, like–

David Thibodeau: Yeah,

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: [inaudible] buying a company and being, like, “Okay. Come into our portfolio and you’ll utilize all of the synergies that we have, and the HR. And blah, blah, blah, blah.” But when you think about it, it’s taking away the very thing that made the brand special. So it’s almost, like, a zero-sum game. And I feel like what’s made that happen in the outdoor market in terms of innovation is the fact that people can hop online and research and engage with brands in a way that they’ve never been able to before. So think about that. We used to buy beer in the grocery store or liquor store. Whatever. We didn’t really go online and engage with communities like you have at skabrewing.com. By the way, if anybody wants to read about the tale of Ska and the legion and the story here, it’s all on the website in cartoon form. So check it out. But think about that. When we grew up–

David Thibodeau: Yeah.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Nobody had the way to interface with a beer brand. It was literally just, like, they pulled it out of a cooler on a water ski trip and that was their marketing.

David Thibodeau: Yeah. And I think you’re exactly right. And through electronic media–and then the game changed. And not only the community that has been created online but that–if you think about, like, us in Durango, for example, and how we’re really kind of tied in to the people here–and it’s the same with a lot of the craft breweries, or most of the craft breweries–but this is the first time these last 15, 20 years where that community is–it’s like you said, you never knew who made your beer 20 years ago. You couldn’t talk to that person. You couldn’t ever talk to that person if they even existed. Which they didn’t. It’s robots.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Mm-hmm.

David Thibodeau: But now, with all these smaller neighborhood breweries and craft breweries in this online community, you can have a conversation online with the brewer themselves. And then if you so desire, you can go right to the brewery and drink beer with them. And that never existed before. And as much as they want a piece of that, there’s a large chunk of the population that’s calling bullshit on it. You know?

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Totally.

David Thibodeau:  So, it’s kind of–I mean, that’s what I cling to and that’s my hope for the future is that they’re not going to figure out a way to screw with the authenticity. And in their board meetings, that’s the subject of the day every single day. Is: “How do we get people to think we’re as authentic as these craft brewers?” And you see their attempts at it and it’s goofy. And right now, they just decided to just go with this scorched earth policy and take over the entire distribution network and then buy as many strategically, geographically placed successful craft brewers as they can around the nation and just confuse the consumer so that at some point, they just don’t know what craft is and they try and block the access to the market for the actual craft brewer and then confuse the consumer to the point where nobody knows what they’re buying. And then they just control the market. That’s the policy now. That’s what they’re going for. And [inaudible] have to hope that consumers, that the people that cares so much–and it’s, like, it’s the outdoor people as well. So foodies, I would say, outdoor people–people who care what they’re putting in their body and want to know what’s behind it, and the energy that’s a part of it.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Mm-hmm.

David Thibodeau:  Hopefully, that demographic as a giant demographic will just continue to grow and grow and grow and they’ll never be able to penetrate it with garbage.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Dude, it sounds like we have to blow up the Death Star.

David Thibodeau: Mm-hmm. It’s exactly what it is. It’s amazing the Star Wars analogies that roll through my brain when I’m talking about this stuff.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Yeah. That’s our generation, too. But now it’s our kids’ generation as well.

David Thibodeau: Yeah.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: So I have a couple more questions here. This is fantastic for my audience so thank you so much. Let’s talk a little bit about how you’ve evolved and how your partners have evolved at Ska. Because that, to me, is the kind of the next few questions I want to ask is you guys are now doing a lot more to tie in and bridge with your ideal outdoor consumer, your bike culture consumer, and as you said, foodies, and people who really care about where their food comes from, what they’re putting in their bodies. You’ve evolved that way, too. And I see some of the partnerships and some of the things that you’re doing such as the Mod Brewery. And I wanted you to talk a little bit about how you keep the person and the personality and just the realness of the brewing process front and center with something like the Mod Brewery. And that does tie in to what I wanted you to talk about, too, with World Headquarters here in Durango.

David Thibodeau: Yeah. The Mod Brewery kind of comes out of–we’re sort of pushing capacity and trying to figure out what to do next. And I think we’ve always been pretty progressive, and none of us are very comfortable sitting on our haunches. Even though, I think, slower growth in the next few years for craft brewers is a smart strategy. And to really kind of create a solid foundation. So instead of doing something, like, opening another brewery someplace or borrowing millions more dollars to expand or build a new brewery, we’re pretty happy with what we’ve got. But we are pushing our capacity. But we don’t want it to be a factory-like atmosphere for our brewers and our staff. And so moving forward, we were like–you know, we have the opportunity to buy a cool little brewery and our first thought was: “Should we open another little brewery with a tasting room?

Or a restaurant maybe in Denver, maybe Albuquerque, Phoenix or something? Not too far away? They could really handle it. And probably be a smarter move as far as [a faux?] smart financial move?” But then we were like, “You know, the World Headquarters is our hub and it’s where, for the most part, our people are. And it would be nice to put that brewery just open another brewery right inside our existing brewery and let our brewers have some fun and let their creative juices flow.” So that’s kind of where the Mod Brewery came from is there’s been a lot of beers that we wanted to mess around with and a lot of brewing techniques but out brew system is set up for production in larger batches.

So the idea behind the Mod Brewer was put this whole new  brewery in at the World Headquarters and let our brewers have some fun and brew 14 kegs of beer at a time instead of almost 500 kegs of beer at a time. And [inaudible] in our tasting room, maybe have some draft for special events or special tappings in some of our other markets. But really, just to keep innovating and maybe stumble across the next thing we might do on a bigger scale. To keep it fun here at the World Headquarters, those are the types of things like the Mod Brewery that, I think, keep it exciting and keep it fun and really keep the culture alive.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: And that’s exactly what makes Ska, like, what it is so I think that’s fantastic. But one thing I have to ask is: that’s only available to Durango? And how do you extend that out? I know you said that you can bring that in on a draft basis, right, to special events [inaudible]. But I also feel like as a business owner, you might want to put that out there a little bit more. And I’m wondering if maybe a pop-up shop or some sort of a road tour might be on your future.

David Thibodeau: Those are exactly the types of things we talk about all the time. And I think this brewery is pretty small but it does give us opportunity–one of the things that happens at the business level distribution with beer is there’s a lot of tap houses, bars, and restaurants that are really into rotating their draft handles right now and so this is the type of thing that–if there’s a couple killer craft, beer bars, or some of our better customers that have always stood by us that we can reward them with one-off beers, maybe we can get them a couple of kegs of the style beers. So that will be available. And that works, too, because it’s kind of a teaser, it does get the word out a little wider, that–hey, there are a lot of other beers we can do. But then again, it brings people–we like people to see where we are and see Durango. And the thing that’s been amazing to me that is almost mind-boggling because I used to think I was the only person like this. But there’s so many beer geeks out there now that go on these full-on pilgrimages–

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Yep.

David Thibodeau: –to the breweries that they love. And we love that. The more beer we sell closer to home, the better control we have over the quality. But we like to show people where it comes from, and let them meet us and show them Durango. And so a lot of these is actually set up–if you want to look at it from a business standpoint–to help bring people to the World Headquarters so they can get more of a feel of who we are and what we do. So it’s kind of by design. But if something hits or one of those rotating taps really loves that beer or there’s a beer that our brewers just can’t believe that they just pulled something off and they want to make it on a bigger scale, it works as an experimental or a pilot brewery in that manner, too. So maybe our next beer that we release in all of our markets–it might originate in the Mod Brewery. So.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: That’s super cool. So two things on that point because I know we have to kind of work toward wrapping up here. I could literally talk with you for hours, but. I might put a couple of my audience members to sleep. So, okay. Bringing people to Durango. That got two things to bring up there. That definitely ties in with your Race Across America. Recent announcement that you guys are, I guess, partnering with them? And Durango’s one of the stops on their maps. So that totally makes sense. And give us a little bit of a heads-up around what that is. Because that’s obviously part of your evolution. As Durango [inaudible], like, that’s all we love to do is, like, pick an endurance challenge, finish it, and have a great beer after, right?

David Thibodeau: Okay. Though it’s kind of funny there’s–I was not much of a road biker at all. And then I love mountain biking, love running–those are kind of my two big things that where I get my cardio from. But then about six years ago, seven years ago, Adam Avery from Avery Brewing up in Boulder called me and he said, “Hey, we just had this crazy idea. We’re thinking we want to ride our road bikes over some of the highest Colorado passes that are paved from Avery down to Ska over the course of a few days and go ride right to a brewery in a mountain town at each day and drink beer and wake up and ride over the next pass or two and go to the next brewery.”

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: I’m sorry but that sounds like the best thing in the universe.

David Thibodeau: It’s awesome. It’s amazing. And so he was like, “Hey, if we do that, would you do something special with one keg or something to kind of celebrate when we get to Durango?” And I was like, “I’m going with you guys.” And so Arlo, one of our–we call him our Barroom Hero but he’s our National Sales Manager. Him and I jumped at that opportunity and we brewed a beer with Avery and now we call it the SkAvery Boulderango or The Tour of Boulderango.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Oh, I love it! That is so awesome.

David Thibodeau: Yeah. And so we do that every summer. We ride from Avery down to Ska–and in fact, this year, we’re riding from Ska to Avery, so we’re going backwards. And we do some charity stuff. But we drink a lot of beer and ride a lot of miles. So our shortest day is 65 to 70 miles, and then our longest day’s 130 miles.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Awesome.

David Thibodeau: Yeah. I mean, it’s crazy because of the amount of beer that we’re drinking when we finish. And at the top of each pass. But it’s not a casual ride. It’s pretty competitive, and everybody’s in relatively good shape. So I learned a lot about road biking in the first couple of years. And then coincidentally, I started paying attention to road biking things that I never paid that much attention. And then I realized the Race Across America was coming through Durango and–actually, it’s two parts: the Race Across the West and the Race Across America. And it starts in Southern California. The Race Across the West ends in Durango and the Race Across America ends in New England. And it’s literally a race as far across the country as you can ride and the riders are just crazy and delirious and–there’s some killer podcasts out there that has some really good stories about it.

It became kind of intriguing to me, and just by chance, the woman who was the director at the time just stopped by the brewery and asked if we’d be interested in sponsorship of some sort. I was like, “Yeah. Road bikers, kind of a different crowd.” And she was like, “What about just some beer for when we come through Durango?” And so we said, “Sure.” And then lo and behold, a couple years ago, the new director swings by the brewery, and it’s a friend of mine that I went to junior high and high school with. So, yeah, so we were sort of an unofficial or maybe official sponsor last year but it was pretty casual. but we just gave them a bunch of beers for volunteers and for the riders that finished here and then for any of the riders that wanted to stop and have some beers. It’s not like a big, corporate beer thing and beer certainly isn’t the focus or really much of the focus of this race.

But this year, it’s more official and we’re actually an official sponsor of the race. My friend, John [Riling?] is the director of the race now. So it’s that type of thing. It’s kind of–I’ve gotten pretty into road biking now. I’m doing the Iron Horse this weekend and–it still isn’t mountain biking to me by any means but it keeps you in shape and it’s a lot of fun. And riding with some of our other brewers around the state kind of brought that altogether for me. We’re doing that again in June or July, so. A lot of fun. Like, the road bikes have somehow turned  into some crazy fun for me.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: I’m right there with you. Although I still love my mountain bike. So the thing I’d like to close with, and I think this is a cool opportunity for us to discuss and possibly hit on another podcast in the future is, I’m involved now with the state of Colorado’s outdoor recreation industry working with Luis Benitez, right?

David Thibodeau: Mm-hmm.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: And this just happened last July. And he definitely sees lifestyles of health and sustainability which is that LOHAS yoga movement–very much headquartered in Boulder and Southern California. That’s an important part of the economic driver and the profile of the outdoor industry in the state. Guess what else he sees?

David Thibodeau: Beer.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Yes, sir. I love this–the whole conversation. So I don’t know if you guys every really thought about it this way but you really are part of the outdoor recreation industry. And there’s obviously a figurehead in Luis here–state of Washington just named one, Utah has one, and several other states are standing up the office. And apparently, on a national level, the dollars that come from the outdoor recreation industry, which is you and I and our businesses, too, is they’re trying to make it a part of the gross domestic product. So once that happens, it’s going to really create a lot of, I think, opportunity for us to grow, and perhaps not replace but supplement or augment–like, the extraction industries in these little towns that we love and live in.

So kind of another cool chapter around the corner but just know that, like, what Ska is doing and how you’re showcasing Durango–it fits squarely in tourism, it fits squarely in outdoor recreation industry. And that has to be, honestly, like my final point. And one of the things I love most about Ska is the fact that you guys were at the forefront of that canned craft beer movement. My [inaudible] into outdoors was–my major in college was raft guiding. My dad thinks it was Poli Sci. But having the net behind my boat full of canned beers and at that time–because it was back when dinosaurs were on the earth–it wasn’t craft beer. It was crap beer.

David Thibodeau: Yeah.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: But now I can tow a net with some righteous beer in it in cans, thanks to you guys. Honestly, you were one of the path burners. And that is a big part of your business focus, isn’t it?

David Thibodeau: It really is. Everybody knows Oskar Blues. They were the first craft brewery to begin canning their beer in the States. And we were right on their heels in 2003. So yeah, we’ve been canning beer for 13 years now. And that’s the reason we got into it. It was because it was just so much more conducive to our lifestyle. And we had some hesitations at first but that’s just it. I think you can see the cohesion with sustainability, lifestyle, outdoors, craft, and caring about–and really tying it altogether under the umbrella of health and lifestyle. You know, I love it because it’s exactly who I am and what I care about. And it’s nice to see these synergies really, really hooking up especially just like these last five years.

And when you mentioned beer being a part of that, obviously, it’s totally what engulfs my entire life so I’m aware of that. But it’s crazy, it’s kindred spirits and we’re like-minded people and people that like to get at it. They work hard, they exercise hard, they play hard, they like drinking beer. And a lot of it depending on your level of whatever it is you’re doing as far as, like, competing or whatever, there’s–I don’t know anybody in Durango, at least, or really, Colorado. It kind of encompasses what Colorado’s all about. But everybody that plays that hard loves to have some beers when they’re done working themselves to the bone. And it just kind of is like the little cherry on the top and the reward for being a stronger person. And it’s all about balance. And I think that beer and exercise and lifestyle are–those things all help balance each other out and make for a well-rounded person and a well-rounded community.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Well, it’s so well-said. Honestly, like, we have so many other things that I wanted to ask you about but I want to make sure I’m respectful of your time and my audience’s time.

David Thibodeau: Yeah.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: I will put some of those things in the podcast notes page which–oh, and talk about a little bit in the intro and outro. So just know that I’ll cover those. But I just want to say, like, also, as the owner of Verde, going on 15 years, founded here in Durango–I’ve always wanted to work with you. And since we’ve started working together just for the past couple of months, like, we are so proud, and I am, especially, so proud to be helping you get the word out on your amazing indie company and your awesome product and your culture and your community–we just couldn’t be more proud. But honestly, I wanted to say thanks. Like, I couldn’t be more proud. So thank you so much, and I am so excited to support your continued success here.

David Thibodeau: Yeah. You guys are great. God, you’ve been doing it for 14 years now?

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Yeah. I was pregnant when I launched it with–

David Thibodeau: My gosh. Well, congratulations. And yeah, it’s exciting. I always knew that there’d be a day when I thought that two companies could come together and really help each other out. I’m glad it’s finally happening. So.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: The timing is now.

David Thibodeau: Yeah.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Well, anyway, I really, really appreciate that. I can’t wait to see and share more about what you guys have on tap. And you might be getting a couple of e-mails from me. Maybe even some dollar bills in the mail asking or bribing you to let me go on this Boulderango road biking. You know.

David Thibodeau: It’s worse than you can imagine.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Oh, it sounds like a dream. It really does. Well, thank you so much, and I will definitely be having you back on the show here and just–again, like, awesome time together to talk here–

INTERVIEW END

Join the Conversation

comments