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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
It only took a kiss to wake Sleeping Beauty, but for the small, sleeping brewery that was hidden in a tiny corner of the then Saratoga Inn that Mike “Doc” Jansen purchased in 2008, it was going to take a lot more.
“It was just sitting there with some equipment, in a very small area of the resort in a corner,” Jansen recalled. “Someone had a dream, but never took it any further.”
The three-barrel system would make just six gallons or kegs at a time, but it was the brand of the brewery system that caught Jansen’s eye. The company was well known for producing what is essentially the Ferrari of beer brewing systems.
In the beginning years of the Hot Springs Hotel and Resort, though, there were lots of other puzzle pieces to put in place first.
“There were so many components,” Jansen recalled. “The kitchen is HUGE in our resort, and the spa was there, and we didn’t have a workout facility, and we had hot springs, and we have historic rooms, and we had a golf course that had a sprinkler system from the 50s. So, you can imagine that it’s a puzzle, and it needed a 10-year-strategic plan to sharpen every one of those pieces in the puzzle.”
But, at some point, finally, things began to slow down, and one day Jansen knew it was time to wake the sleeping brewery.
Third-Oldest, But Smallest, Brewery In Wyoming
“It was called, when we acquired the resort, it had a license called the Sierra Madre Brewing Co.,” Jansen recalled. “It was the third-oldest brewery license in the state of Wyoming, but it was quite small.”
When Jansen told his wife that he wanted to build a really high-end, state-of-the-art brewery to complement their resort, she was skeptical.
“Mike, you don’t know much about beer besides enjoying it,” she told him.
Jansen figured she was probably right. He had read a few books about it, but that wasn’t enough. So, despite the fact he was already working full-time as an orthopedic surgeon, not to mention, overseeing the resort’s development, he went back to school.
“I got a master’s in brewing, and then I designed a new brewery,” Jansen said. “From there, it was easy to recruit a team to help pull all this together, because they want to work in the most state-of-the-art brewery that you can imagine, with top-of-the-line equipment.”
A Brewery Prince is Found
About the same time Jansen was ordering the equipment for the brewery, a certain brewer in Wisconsin named Richard Zielke noticed the Saratoga resort’s national ad, seeking a brewmaster.
Zielke’s son, it so happened, was living in Encampment at the time.
“He knew the bar manager at the time,” Zielke recalled. “He had been in the area while I was in Wisconsin for you know, five or six years.”
His son’s connection was an inside track to a job Zielke describes today as a “pretty sweet offer.”
“When I walked into this place, it was all brand new,” Zielke recalled. “It was like Doc handed me the keys to a Mercedes.”
All the new equipment with all the bells and whistles is what attracted Zielke to Snowy Mountain brewery, but when he got his start in brewing, things were quite different.
“I’ve worked on some pretty outdated equipment that you just kind of have to you know, keep it going, because, for whatever reason, this stuff isn’t cheap,” he said.
Brewing also wasn’t what Zielke started out in life to do. Once upon a time, he had been making eye glasses for an optometrist in Estes Park, Colorado.
“I didn’t realize the seasonal dynamics of the job in Estes Park,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “It just dried up at the end of the summer, and I wasn’t expecting that.”
He found an emergency job at a tasting bar, where wine, beer and other spirts are tasted, in Estes Park. It was just supposed to be a short-term solution to his immediate problem — paying the bills.
“But it just got its hooks into me,” Zielke said. “So, from working at the tasting bar, I kept kind of going into the production facility and asking questions.”
Before too long, he was helping with the bottling line and then the packaging, and then the keg deliveries.
“I just kind of fell into it,” he said. “I was never a home brewer. I really just fell in love with the whole thing.”
Beer culture a couple of decades ago was still very welcoming, Zielke recalled, even among competing breweries. Everyone was so willing to answer his questions.
He’d found family, and a new career.
Steep Learning Curve
Zielke had a 10-year learning curve to go through, though, before he would get his first brew-master position in Wisconsin. There, he continued the learning and developed the skills he would need to help wake the sleeping brewery in Saratoga.
“I started a bottling line there for that place, just as I’m starting the canning (lines) for Snowy Mountain,” Zielke said. “It’s kind of the same pathway. Because right now we have the brewery capacity to do much more than just the pub here in Saratoga, so we’re trying to branch out.”
Snowy Mountain, as it stands today, can now produce a whole lot more beer than the residents and tourists of Saratoga can drink in a year’s time. The resort is now looking to expand the beer’s distribution reach to Wyoming and beyond.
Right now, Snowy Mountain’s beer can be found throughout southeastern Wyoming including at Laramie’s Applebees and at Cheyenne’s Old Chicago, to name a couple outlets.
“They’ll order kegs from us once or twice a month,” Zielke said.
Some of the beers are also part of the Anheuser Busch distributor’s lineup, so they find their way into a variety of package stores throughout the region as well.
While the cans today have a kind of general label, that, too, is about to change.
“We just received new artwork for the cans yesterday,” Zielke said. “We haven’t put beer in them yet, they’re just empty cans. But it’s a whole different look.”
Dozens of artists submitted designs for the new cans, which were voted on.
“Each one is completely different,” Zielke said. “Each one is a work of art that’s been turned into a can label.”
The new art is meant to serve as a calling card, to showcase not just the brewery and resort, but Saratoga as well. There’s a QR code on the new cans, which will lead to more information about the resort and all the tourism opportunities that Saratoga has to offer.
“They look fantastic, I mean, they’re going to really make an impression when people see them,” Zielke said. “And if we, you know, fill a few barstools that’s great, or if we book some lodging here because they heard about the beer and they came to enjoy what Saratoga has to offer, that’s kind of the name of the game. I mean it’s more than just trying to sell six packs of beer.”
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