Salida, Colorado

CEO and Head Brewer Mike LaCroix brings a production mindset to his upstart brewery in the Arkansas River Valley.

After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Portland, Oregon, LaCroix ascended to Silver Plume Brewing Company in 1992. “I got out of culinary school and immediately became a brewer,” says LaCroix.

Silver Plume Brewing was short-lived. “It only lasted for an hour and a half,” he jokes. “A lot of people still remember the beers” — most notable the Raspberry Porter.

LaCroix headed downhill to Tommyknocker Brewery in Idaho Springs for a couple years before vagabonding to Arizona, Michigan, and back to Arizona again to run Tommyknocker’s since-shuttered production facility in Phoenix.

Then he returned to Colorado for a stint at Golden City Brewery before heading southwest in 2002 to Salida to brew at Amicas Pizza, Microbrews & More for 14 years. “I outgrew it,” says LaCroix. “I was brewing in 600 square feet on old dairy equipment and knew I wanted to get back into production again.”

With a handshake deal to continue to supply Amicas, he set up shop in a former supermarket on U.S. Highway 50.

Before the brewery got too far, however, there was some moniker trouble. “Our first name was Hubbub Brewing Company,” says LaCroix. “We had to change it because of a copyright issue with Hopworks Urban Brewery in Portland.” He went back to an earlier consideration that was a nod to the iconic Washington, D.C. hardcore band, Bad Brains: Soulcraft.

New brand in hand, the brewery pivoted from the easy-drinking beers LaCroix made at Amicas to a more diverse lineup. Brewing on a 15-barrel system from Canada-based DME in a three-vessel brewhouse, Soulcraft’s annual capacity is 5,000 barrels. A dozen brite tanks in the cellar directly feed 16 taps in the popular tasting room.

After an abandoned plan to focus on bombers, Soulcraft started canning five SKUs on a line from Michigan-based MicroCanner in 2018, with a sixth (a yet-to-be-named blonde) on the way. “We couldn’t be happier,” LaCroix says of the line. “We were looking for something with as small a footprint as possible and still had capacity.”

Of the cans, X-Ray IPA is the brewery’s top seller, and the catalog also includes All-Mountain Amber, Sticky Pils, and Coconut Milk Stout. The common thread is eye-catching art by local artist Kurt Snyder.

Made with Colorado-grown Pueblo and serrano chile peppers, Soulcraft’s Green Chile Ale is a bit of a wild card. “It’s very crushable,” says LaCroix, describing the heat as mild yet “lingering.” “It’s one of these beers I learned to make early in my career,” he says. “We wanted to morph it into something more drinkable. I drank five of them one day. I couldn’t get enough.”

Volume grew about 30 percent to 3,200 barrels in 2018 as Soulcraft looks to make an even bigger jump in 2019. “Our distributor [Denver-based Western Distributing] would like to grow us by 75 percent this year. I said, ‘Absolutely not,'” says LaCroix. “We’re looking at growth of 30 to 50 percent.”

It follows that LaCroix is preparing to pull the trigger that will increase capacity to 7,000 barrels, as the 2019 forecast is 5,000-plus barrels.

He’s also moving from sleeved cans from CanSource in Longmont to printed cans from Ball by way of a unique deal with Price Container in Utah. Price will buy the cans from Ball and store them for Soulcraft. “We get 18 months of storage if we need it,” says LaCroix. “They’ll ship them to us when we need them.”

It’s not as cheap as buying directly from Ball, he notes, but the deal eliminates the need for space to store hundreds of thousands of cans and cuts down on risk.

As Soulcraft grows, LaCroix says he wants to remain a Colorado brand and has no aspirations to grow outside the state’s rectangular borderlines. “We want to be just a Colorado brewery,” he notes. “I have a lot of respect for Mike Bristol at Bristol Brewing in Colorado Springs. They’ve always increased their production and aren’t a monster brewery.”

Favorite beers: LaCroix points to New Holland Brewing’s bourbon barrel-aged stout: “One of my favorites right now is Dragon’s Milk. I really appreciate what the guys at New Holland did at GABF last year, where they had a booth with a bunch of different varieties of it.”

He also cites a few favorites on the Front Range. “I’m a big fan of Woods Boss Brewing. I’m a big fan of Odd13. I’ve always enjoyed everything that WeldWerks does.”

Of Soulcraft’s beers, his go-tos are Moon Itcher Helles and Low Vis Hazy Pale Ale.

Challenges: “Because of our location, staffing is an issue,” says LaCroix. “Eventually, we are going to be running two shifts a day, five days a week.”

A second hurdle: “Keeping up with the demands of our distributor.” LaCroix says he’s aiming to grow organically and sustainably.

Opportunities: The tasting room — which features a stage and room for 100 inside and 50 more in a beer garden outside — has exceeded expectations. LaCroix says he thought retail would generate 30 percent of sales, but the taproom contributes about 40 percent.

“We figured out how to small batches on our system where we can do one to three barrels,” he says.

The plan is to augment the event schedule and book more musical acts. “We’re a bit of a music venue right now,” says LaCroix. “We’d like to upgrade that so we can bring in bigger names.”

“We just want to be an exceptional business,” he adds. “That’s all about connection to the community and the quality of the employees we have.”

Needs: “Brand ambassadors,” says LaCroix. “We have never really had any outside sales support, because we’ve never been able to keep up with orders.”

He adds, “We’d also like to have a sweet new delivery van.”