Old British-style brews? West Coast-style IPAs? You can find them all at the tiny J Wells Brewery in Boulder.
—Illustration by Charlie Powell
With new micro- and nanobreweries opening seemingly every week, it’s an extraordinary time to be a beer drinker in Colorado. And, in many cases, small-scale is better when it comes to craft brewing. At the forefront of this trend is Jamie Wells, owner and head brewer of one of the smallest operations in the state, the eponymous J Wells Brewery. Wells has impressed serious suds lovers with a variety of big, British-style bitters and by using water that mimics the mineral makeup of H20 from Burton-upon-Trent, England. His tap list also includes a number of hop-forward beers such as Hop Haze, Wells’ flagship IPA, which delivers massive hops flavor balanced with a dose of malty sweetness. We caught up with the Boulder brewer to talk about what’s on tap.
5280: With a three-and-a-half barrel brewing system and only five volunteers on staff, what challenges do you face with the size of your operation?
Jamie Wells: Keeping up with demand. It seems like we’re always expanding and growing to try to keep up. We’re going to upgrade to a 10-barrel system within the next year in order to fix that.
What makes J Wells Brewery stand out in such a crowded industry?
Every brewery has “hand-crafted beer,” but I’m involved in every step of the process from beginning to end. I use “Burtonization” when I brew—that’s the adding of salts, either gypsum or calcium chloride, to the water, which
mimics the water used [by breweries] in Burton-upon-Trent, England. This means we have to keep a really close eye on the mineral content of our water before we even start brewing. But it gives our beer a unique English flavor you
don’t find too often.
What has changed at J Wells over the past year?
We upgraded our brew system and tripled our fermentation space. We expanded our cooler by 10 times. We redesigned our logo and clarified our message, emphasizing our big-flavored, bold ales. But we still use no enzymes, no
antifoaming agents, etc.—just regular old malted barley and hops [and yeast and water]. It’s about as natural as it can get. We’d like to double our production, but to do that, we’d need to double our current fermentation space. I’d like to fix it so that I’m not brewing constantly and can interact with customers more.
There are a lot of homebrewers dreaming about going pro: Any sage advice?
Identify your customer and identify where you want to open. It’s wonderful being a brewer in Colorado because you can have a taproom and, for a nominal fee, you can distribute, too. But ask yourself: What do I want to do? Do I want to bottle? Do I want a taproom? Then, position yourself so that your message is heard.
Can you tell me about Lisa Red Ale? It has an interesting story behind it, right?
Some time ago, my wife, Lisa, survived a blood clot. When she got better, she started Surviving the Silent Killer, an awareness organization that works a lot with the National Blood Clot Alliance. I wanted to support her, so…I made Lisa Red Ale. Ten percent of its sales go to the National Blood Clot Alliance. It’s about as popular as Hop Haze. We sell roughly 100 bottles a month. I just want to try and give something back.