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Strange Craft Beer Company owner Tim Myers still remembers the first time he met Andy Jessen.
The year was 2010. Jessen, who had recently launched Bonfire Brewing in Eagle, stopped into the newly opened Strange Craft in Denver with his then-girlfriend and partner Amanda to chat and try some of Myers’ beers. The two men, who shared home-brewing backgrounds, became fast friends, quickly launching into deep conversations about their beers, their young businesses, and anything else that came to mind.
“Mostly, we enjoyed each other’s company as a couple of kindred spirits, and would sit down over a few pints and share war stories about getting our businesses open and keeping our businesses successful,” Myers says.
Now, Myers is cherishing the memories of all those conversations with Jessen as he and many other members of the Colorado craft beer community continue to try to process the news of their friend’s death.
Jessen, 40, died on February 1, along with Eagle residents and community leaders Seth Bossung and Adam Palmer, in a backcountry avalanche near Silverton. One other skier was buried under the snow and suffered injuries but ultimately survived the accident, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Three other people skiing with the group were not caught in the avalanche and dug in the snow for hours to reach Jessen, Bossung, and Palmer. More than 30 rescuers from several agencies performed search and rescue operations from February 2 to 4 to recover the men’s bodies.
News of the deaths rocked the small mountain town of Eagle, where all three men were heavily involved in the community. In addition to co-founding Bonfire Brewing, Jessen served as mayor pro tempore on Eagle’s town council. Palmer was also a newly elected town council member and led Eagle County’s sustainability initiatives. Bossung worked on energy efficiency for the county.
Before launching Bonfire Brewing with co-founder Matt Wirtz, Jessen worked as a code enforcement officer for Eagle County, according to his LinkedIn profile. He grew up in Hartford, New York, and attended St. Lawrence University in nearby Canton, New York. Jessen also attended the University of Maine School of Law. (In 2014, Wirtz moved to Europe, leaving the business in the hands of Andy and Amanda Jessen, who met in 2008 and got married several years later.)
Through a spokeswoman, members of Jessen’s family and the team at Bonfire declined to be interviewed for this story, so it’s not clear what drew Jessen to Colorado—but after he arrived, he wasted no time exploring the mountains. “I always admired and maybe envied how much fun Andy got to have in the mountains with rafting and backcountry skiing and hiking and just being in the outdoors,” Myers says.
Jessen’s love of the outdoors—and, perhaps more importantly, how it can bring people together—became one of the key themes of his life and at Bonfire, which served as a community hub. The brewery’s slogan was “gather ’round.” “We call it the “BonFam”—the Bonfire family,” Myers says.
Jessen had a gentle smile and he never shied away from a good bear hug. In life and in business, Jessen always tried to keep any challenges he faced in perspective and he loved to find humor in every situation. Case in point: Ten days ago, the Town of Eagle re-lit a phallic monument, lovingly known around Eagle as the “Christmas Penis,” with holiday lights in Jessen’s honor. “He didn’t take life too seriously and he was willing to have fun with himself, his brand at Bonfire, and life in general,” says Shawnee Adelson, executive director of the Colorado Brewers Guild.
Jessen was also happy to lend a hand—or an ear—to any member of the Colorado craft brewing scene. He supported many other craft breweries and was committed to the industry, Adelson says. “Because of where Bonfire is located, his impact was statewide,” she says. “He wasn’t just Front Range or Western Slope, he was in the middle of the state and on the I-70 corridor, which created an opportunity for him to make connections and have collaborations across Colorado.”
GoFundMe campaigns have been set up for all three avalanche victims and their families: