Owner and head brewer Sean Buchan mixes art and science together at his expanding brewery enterprise.
Just off of East Colfax Avenue in Denver’s Bluebird District, Cerebral Brewing has a giant image of a brain painted on the outside of its building. (Or is it a hybrid of a brain and hop flower?)
Inside, behind the scenes — away from customers sampling flights of beers in the small, glass lab beakers which Cerebral utilizes for that purpose — a scientific approach is at work. Buchan says, “As a smaller brewery, we were probably one of the only 10-barrel breweries in the state for a number of years that had our own functioning lab. So, we were doing all of our cell counts and doing all of our own yeast propagation in-house.”
Furthermore, for those patrons enjoying pints at tables outside near that brainy artwork, Cerebral Brewing hopes “to convey to [our customers] that we’re putting a lot of thought into everything that [we’re] doing.”
“I think you have to have the science for you to be able to make a quality and consistent product,” Buchan notes. “After that, it’s all art. Everything we do, there’s infinite possibilities in the grain bill construction, the hop bill, things that we can be treating the beer with afterwards. And then there’s, ‘How are we going to name and brand the product?'” It’s a process that continues to jazz his brewing staff, Buchan says — and it’s what presumably keeps people coming back for the rotating selections.
There’s the brewery’s flagship beer, its hazy, floral Rare Trait IPA. The brewery wittily described an Imperial IPA, Cheat Code, on Twitter as “bursting with notes of Orange Julius, Pineapple Lifesaver and Passionfruit Fruit Leather!” Mixed fermentation beers figure into the mix, as well, and during the brewery’s first year competing at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), it won a silver in the “Brett Beer” category for its collaboration with Our Mutual Friend.
It scored again this year at the GABF in the “Chili Beer” category for a barrel-aged stout which Buchan describes as “modeled after a Mexican hot chocolate” — and which incorporates “two different barrel sources, two different stout bases, aged on ancho and guajillo chiles that we had processed here, and then Mexican cacao nibs and Mexican vanilla beans and a little bit of cinnamon.” (The beer’s name — Humo y Espejos with Fuego! — can be translated as “Smoke and Mirrors with Fire!”)
Some lagers get fermented in the brewery’s foeders, including Inhabited Form, which incorporates oats along with Citra and Galaxy hops. It’s the beer “that’s nearest and dearest to my heart,” says Buchan.
Besides being served directly at its brewery, beers from Cerebral Brewing can be found at 150 accounts — mostly in the Denver metro area, but also a few in Fort Collins and Colorado Springs. During its first full year in operation in 2016, the brewery produced “just shy of 700” barrels. “This year we’re on pace to do a little over 2,800 barrels,” says Buchan. But he expects that number will begin to drop off beginning in early 2022 at his present 4,000-square-foot space.
That’s because Cerebral Brewing is getting ready to open a second, much larger location on East Colfax Avenue in Aurora. Within its 18,000 square feet, the brewery will first begin packaging beer, allowing the brewery to expand its distribution, while its new taproom is being built out. Buchan finds the prospect of serving an expanding clientele “exciting” and observes, “The diversity is huge in Aurora.” He also thinks the area appears “on track” to eventually become the destination the city hopes it will be.
That new location is just a few miles down the road from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, where Buchan earned his doctorate in Physical Therapy. Years before he ever owned Cerebral Brewing, Buchan worked just over six years as a physical therapist at a skilled nursing facility. “During that time, I got a little discouraged by . . . how profit-driven [healthcare] is and not patient- or outcome-driven,” he says
Buchan began brewing beer as a hobby, a way to blow off steam, eventually joining the Denver Homebrew Club. A few members went professional and opened their own breweries, including TRVE, Former Future (now Black Project), and Our Mutual Friend, leading Buchan to take a course at the Denver Small Business Center and formulate a plan. He opened Cerebral Brewing in November 2015.
The brewery has gotten it down to a science: “It’s really about delivering a drinkable beer to the consumer,” says Buchan, who wants people to be able to relish a drinkable pint, rather than something more befitting a four-ounce pour. “It has to be of a certain level of quality, it has to be consistent.” Furthermore, he swiftly adds, “We take pride in enjoying the art.”
Favorite beers: Buchan points to a pair of standouts in Denver. “Our Mutual Friend has always been a brewery that I look up to,” he says. “I think they’ve done a lot of things right and I think they make very good beer across a good number of styles.” Then there’s Cohesion Brewing Company: “I’m a big fan of the stuff they’re putting out and I try to sneak over there as much as I can.”
Buchan also drew inspiration from trying his first foeder-fermented beers from Threes Brewing and Tired Hands Brewing Company while at a festival in Copenhagen, Denmark. Buchan says, “I came home from that trip and immediately put money down on two foeders, and we’ve been doing oak-fermented lager for about three and a half years now — and love the results.”
Challenges: In the midst of massive expansion, Buchan says it will be “staying true to ourselves while we’re growing,” as well as “making sure our employees are a priority.”
Opportunities: The ability to brew much more beer at its upcoming Aurora location: “The added production will, also, let us be able to be distributed in areas that we’ve really never been able to [previously supply with] product.”