Last fall, three Colorado friends and colleagues journeyed to Mexico City to attend a beer festival and learn more about the Mexican brewing scene. Those friends—Jason Buehler, Patrick Crawford, and Charlie Berger—were on the hunt for inspiration for Cervecería Colorado, Denver Beer Co.’s Mexican brewery concept.
The trio found what they were looking for in terms of beer, but the trip created a lasting memory for Crawford and Berger for another reason: They got to see Denver Beer Co. head brewer Buehler in his element, laughing and smiling with the many Mexican brewer friends he’d made over the years. “We had to stop walking every three feet because Jason needed to go give another brewer a hug or talk to one of his friends about some crazy beer they had tasted together,” says Crawford, who co-founded Denver Beer Co. with Berger in 2011. “Jason was always making friends all over the world.”
That memory has taken on new significance in light of Buehler’s death this past Friday, while traversing between South Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak near Aspen. Buehler, 43, was a husband, a father of three, and a loyal friend.
The Colorado craft brewing scene is still reeling from the news of Buehler’s death. Buehler—who lived in Niwot with his wife Leanne and his children Ellie, Clive, and Otto—was a talented, innovative brewer. As a beer judge, he understood and appreciated the technical elements of traditional styles, but he also wasn’t afraid to put his own modern twists on the classics. “Honestly, Jason would’ve been the right fit for any role, but for us, he brought energy and inspiration…he brought the ability to collaborate and learn,” says Berger. “Craft beer is all about pushing the boundaries and making something fun and new, and those are the things he did every day of his life.”
Buehler won nearly a dozen Great American Beer Festival medals over the years and created some of Denver Beer Co.’s most popular brews, including its beloved Graham Cracker Porter. He also invented many of the beers currently available at the brewery’s taprooms in Arvada and Denver, ranging from hard seltzers to the Tart Delight citrus sour and Pretzel Assassin amber lager.
Buehler’s journey to brewing started with his family in his hometown of Millersburg, Ohio, a small town between Columbus and Cleveland. “His dad, Jim, was a big part of the inspiration,” Crawford says. “They home-brewed their first batch of beer together and that’s what got Jason hooked on brewing.”
Buehler studied marketing at Miami University, then later studied brewing at Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago. While there, Buehler crossed paths with fellow student Berger and the two formed a lasting friendship. Buehler moved to Colorado and began “cutting his teeth” at Rockyard Brewing in Castle Rock, says Mike Drabing, that brewery’s co-owner. “His record of accomplishment within the industry over the past decade should speak for itself,” Drabing says. “I will miss his sincerity, his easy-going way, his wry sense of humor, and his ability to make just about anybody laugh. The world has truly lost one of the good guys.”
Buehler also worked at Shamrock Brewing in Pueblo before taking on the head brewer position at Oskar Blues in Lyons. Even after he left Oskar Blues for the top job at Denver Beer Co., Buehler’s family remained in Niwot and he maintained a friendly relationship with Dale Katechis, Oskar Blues’ founder. The two men often waved at each other from their cars early in the morning while dropping their children off at Blue Mountain Elementary School in Longmont.
As much as Buehler enjoyed and excelled at brewing, his family was his first love, Katechis says. He also changed the dynamic of every room he walked into, without even trying. “He just had an air and a way about him that was infectious. He always had a smile on his face, he was always positive—you just knew in your gut that he was good energy and a good person,” Katechis says. “There was never anything pretentious about him, never anything other than, ‘Damn, I wish I was like that guy just a little bit more.’”
Outside of work, Buehler took advantage of all that Colorado has to offer, bagging 36 14ers and, often, like a true Coloradan, stopping for a beer at the trailhead afterward. He also enjoyed cooking and running, Berger says.
Buehler’s friends have created a GoFundMe page to help support his family. The campaign raised more than $130,000 in less than 24 hours to help with monthly expenses and, someday, create a scholarship or foundation in Buehler’s memory.