Stay in one place long enough, and you’ll see things come and go, only to come back around again. It’s been over 40 years since Boulder County got into the brewing game, and in that time, brewers and breweries have opened and closed, beer styles have fallen in and out of favor, and customer habits have shifted on a dime. It takes real conviction to stay in this business, but it takes desperation to make it in the first place.
“We talk about Hog as the beer that saved the brewery,” Adam Avery says. “It really was because it got us in with out-of-state distribution.”
As the name might indicate, Avery is the founder of his namesake brewery, Avery Brewing Company, and the beer he’s talking about is Hog Heaven—one of Avery’s iconic ales and arguably one of the most influential beers brewed in Boulder County.
That might sound like hyperbole, but it’s not. When Avery released Hog Heaven in 1998, Boulder County, and Colorado in general, was amber ale country. Led by the success of New Belgium’s Fat Time and bolstered by the popularity of easy-drinking brewpub ales, the craft beer scene was considerably less hoppy than it is today. Brewer Gordon Knight of High Country, Twisted Pine, and Wolf Tongue fame is often pointed to as one of the first to experiment with hoppy ales in the county. But in the early- to mid-’90s, even beer aficionados didn’t know what to make of Knight’s bracingly bitter beers.
And they certainly didn’t know what to make of Avery’s hoppy IPA, released in 1996. Bartenders would call up Avery and tell him to pick up his kegs. Customers didn’t want it. It was too bitter.
Avery had been embracing hops since he opened the brewery in 1994. His first three out the door: RedPoint Amber Ale, Out of Bounds Stout, and Ellie’s Brown Ale. Sounds typical, but in Avery’s hands, they were anything but.
“Even in the craft scene, we were having difficulty because our amber was a big amber,” he says.
It came down to “a do-or-die” moment. “We’re going to make a big monster beer that’s highly hopped, highly bitter, highly alcoholic,” Avery says.
You know that adage of leaning into your strengths? Well, Avery took one look at his unsellable hoppy beer and decided to turn up the volume.
The result was Hog Heaven—named after a bike race co-owner Larry Avery read about in the paper—garnet red in the glass, big and rich in the mouth. Brewed with Columbus hops, two-row barley, and caramel malts, Hog Heaven weighed in at 9.2 percent alcohol by volume and sported over 100 international bittering units. Today Hog Heaven is classified as an Imperial Red IPA, but that style didn’t exist back in ’98, so Avery put “Dry-hopped Barleywine-style ale” on the label. Call it what you will; Hog turned Avery’s luck around.
“If not the beer that turned it around, it was the mentality of how we should use our brewery to do what we want to do,” Avery says. And what Avery wanted to do was push boundaries, “Making beers for a very, very small and select group of people.”
But that small and select group turned out to be pretty big. A strong beer festival in California invited Avery’s Hog Heaven as a featured beer, and in attendance was Greg Koch of Stone Brewing—no stranger to hoppy ales himself. Koch was looking to self-distribute his beer and wanted to bring on other brands. He found a kindred spirit in Avery.
“My concentration was and has been producing super flavor-forward beers that kind of hit the upper edge of what ‘beer’ should be,” Avery says.
The timing couldn’t have been better. The tides were shifting among beer drinkers, and a new generation was looking for something that tasted totally unlike anything their parents might have had in their fridges. Hog Heaven opened the door for an entire line of big beers for Avery, and production exploded from 3,000 barrels in 1999 to 15,000 in 2009.
And now Hog Heaven returns for a limited time to Avery’s lineup. You’ll find it on tap at the brewery in Gunbarrel and at liquor stores as part of Avery’s Hop Variety pack.
Michael J. Casey is the author of Boulder County Beer, a refreshing history of how a collection of young entrepreneurs like Avery turned the cities of Boulder, Longmont, and beyond into ground zero for craft beer in the Centennial State.