By Crystal R. Albers
Via Wyoming News Exchange
TORRINGTON – The smell of warm wheat filled the room as a man wearing blue suspenders moved a long, wooden paddle around a vat of fresh beer. Were it not for the power cords and state-of-the-art digital equipment, one might have witnessed a similar scene decades, even centuries, ago.
“Charlie’s the brewmaster – he’s been a home brewer for 35 years,” Clayton Kilgore said of the man stirring the vat. Kilgore and Charlie Rife are co-owners of The Open Barrel Brewing Company – located at 1930 Main St. in Torrington. The brewery will open to the public next month.
The childhood friends and Torrington natives first decided to go into business with one another last year.
“We were classmates since first or second grade,” Kilgore said. “We all moved away, had different careers, and then moved back to Torrington to retire.
“Charlie had a party out at his house last July one year ago, and I went out there with my wife and tried his beer and sat down and said, ‘Charlie you ought to sell this stuff,’” Kilgore continued. “Konne, Charlie’s wife, said, ‘You do the paperwork, and we’ll start the brewery.’”
The brewery is located in the old Kellum building, which has housed everything from a pharmacy and various restaurants, to an appliance store and video rental shop.
“It’s a wonderful old building,” Kilgore said. “We took possession of the building on June 6 of this year.”
Although they’ve added fresh paint, fixtures, and plan to redo the floor – Rife and Kilgore are maintaining much of the building’s old charm, including the old-fashioned ceiling and curved upper level.
“We have a seating capacity of more than 200,” Kilgore said. “We’ll have a game room upstairs with pool tables, and serve bar food … like nachos, popcorn, pizzas. We’ll serve entirely our beer.”
The Open Barrel Brewing Company will feature eight different beers on tap, including seasonal beers.
“I know we’ll have a pale ale, and a wheat beer, which is what we’re brewing today,” Kilgore said. “Charlie has a couple other recipes for darker beers, and he makes an awesome jalapeno beer – it’s not too hot, not too spicy, just a really good beer.”
The official brewery inspection and approval is complete, and the structure has also received the go-ahead from the fire marshal and building inspector. The bar will need inspection once it’s finished, but aside from a bit of painting, construction and brewing, The Open Barrel Brewing Company is nearly ready to go.
“We have a planned opening date – if we get enough beer brewed – of Oct. 1. If not, around Oktoberfest,” Kilgore said. “We’re not going to open until we get enough beer. Every time we brew, it takes three-and-a-half weeks or longer for it to be ready.
“Charlie has brewed on a smaller system, now we’re on larger system – it’s a learning curve,” he added. “The more we brew, the better we’ll get.”
Kilgore said the venture would not have been possible without help from friends during the remodel, as well as his sister Karen Gering, Charlie’s wife, Konne, and friend Tim McClure.
“We’re trying to make it a very inviting location. ‘A coffee shop with beer’ is the best description I’ve had anyone give,” Rife said as he continued his work Thursday. Despite holding a bachelor’s degree in microbiology, a master’s degree in agronomy, and a Ph.D in plant breeding, all of which help Rife approach the brewing process scientifically, he credits his grandmother for his beer-making ability with a twinkle in his eye. “I learned to brew from my grandmother. She brewed beer way back when before (President) Carter made it legal.”