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Landon McConnell, a sophomore at Loveland’s Thompson Valley High School, grew up around beer. His grandfather, Guy McConnell, is a brewer and taproom manager at Grimm Brothers Brewhouse who has also made beer and mead at home for more than 30 years. Guy’s garage is outfitted with all sorts of brewing equipment, including a fridge with four taps, and when little Landon came along, he was inspired to make the operation more kid friendly.
“It started with something he can drink,” Guy says. “When Landon was young, I had one tap [in my garage] that was always his soda. Then I had him make his own.”
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Landon started tinkering with flavorings and honeys—the same fancy ones that Guy uses for his meads—when he was eight years old, hand-squeezing the citrus for a ginger lemon-lime soda. Making his own soda was fun, so he kept on experimenting out of his grandpa’s garage.
“Over time I learned how it really works,” says Landon, who is now 16. “Now I do everything [myself], from sanitizing to putting it in the keg. I know the entire process, and it’s all really enjoyable.”
Landon’s sodas got so delicious that a couple years ago Guy decided to put them on tap at the Grimm brewhouse, replacing the store-bought soft drinks it used to sell. Now with the title of head soda maker, Landon’s honey-sweetened artisanal sodas are always on tap—at least until they run out. There’s the house favorite root beer, made with vanilla and Oregon meadowfoam honey to give it a toasted marshmallow finish; the new Little Ghost, a blend of white peach juice and blueberry blossom honey; and the not-as-successful Sith and Jedi sodas made for May the 4th last year, which were essentially cream sodas dyed red and blue with food coloring. “They were a little nerdy,” Landon concedes.
If you want something with a higher ABV, Guy uses those same honeys for Grimm’s Braggots—a beer/mead hybrid. His favorites are the Queen Bee made with California orange blossom honey and his blackberry-flavored Ballinderry Sword. He’s been working for Grimm Brothers, which also pours more traditional German-influenced beers like its Fearless Youth lager and Blood Orange Griffin hefeweizen, since 2014.
While Landon’s craft pops have been a draw for area kids, the demand goes beyond the under-21 set. “We get a lot of requests from people looking for Landon’s craft soda,” Guy says. “They don’t want the Sprite and Coke. A lot of adults are asking for it as well.”
So much so that this summer Grimm Brothers will start selling Landon’s sodas in to-go cans, so people of all ages can enjoy them outside of the taproom. The 16-ounce cans should be ready to go, literally, by June. “[Landon’s] teaching me now,” Guy says. “He’s the chief decider of what we’re going to do [for the sodas], and I just record it.”
Landon doesn’t have any plans to stop soda making anytime soon, and he hopes to eventually expand beyond Grimm’s taps, maybe cranking up the octane and making meads like Guy. (But first, you know, high school.)
“I’m definitely interested in continuing this once I get out of high school,” he says. “It would be nice to have more on tap, maybe start distributing to local stores and restaurants. See what happens from here.”
623 N. Denver Ave., Loveland