Ashleigh Carter, Co-founder and Head Brewer, Bierstadt Lagerhaus

Going Pro by | Jul 2017 | Issue #126
Photos by Dustin Hall

Ashleigh Carter is well aware that there’s never been a better time to be a brewer slinging funky sour beers, or hazy IPAs masquerading as tall glasses of tropical juice. But as a brewer herself, she has no desire to jump into the volatile frontiers of the craft brewing marketplace. “I don’t think everything has to be 100 IBU, or sour,” she says. At Bierstadt Lagerhaus, the Denver brewery Carter co-founded with longtime partner in crime Bill Eye, she turns out the traditional German lagers she loves drinking, and asks beer drinkers to come along for the ride. Carter and Eye built Bierstadt around an Old World copper brewhouse they sourced from Germany, putting it to work on styles like Dunkel, Helles, and Pilsner, and hewing as closely as possible to the Reinheitsgebot. “Words can’t express what it’s like to see everybody drinking the thing you made, having a killer time with their friends, and knowing you provided that libation,” she says.

1. Knock ’em dead, with subtlety
Brewing is a rare job that brings together Carter’s analytical brain with her love of physical intensity (she collected a pure math degree from the University of North Carolina at Asheville while also playing Division 1 soccer). Fittingly, it was Colorado-based Dry Dock Brewing Company’s Altbier—a style that bridges the distance between ales and lagers—that sparked Carter’s love of brewing. “It was subtle, and such a clean expression of hops and malt,” she says. “It struck me as something so different than the super hoppy, crazy things people were brewing.”

2. Go all in
“I don’t do hobbies,” Carter says flatly. “If you like your hobby more than your job, why do you have your job?” That’s why, instead of trying to dial in some so-so homebrews, Carter wound up banging on the door of Dry Dock, to see if she could make brewing a career. From working in the brewery’s homebrew store and volunteering in the brewhouse, Carter quickly advanced her way to full-time brewer. “I loved taking care of the beer, seeing how little things you could tweak would create different results,” she says. “You’re using your brain, and lugging kegs, and not sitting in front of a computer.”

3. Find your place
Carter readily admits that she was a mediocre homebrewer. But she is most definitely a kickass industrial brewer. That’s a testament to the way her former Dry Dock crewmates—David Lin, now owner of Denver’s Comrade Brewing, and her Bierstadt co-founder Bill Eye—brought her along. “I was 26, and I was surrounded by awesome people who trusted me to do things right off the bat,” she says. “At a 7-barrel pub, everybody does everything, from brewing to filtering and cleaning the tanks. We all had the opportunity to do our own recipes. When people trust you, you trust yourself.”

4. Square up
Carter has made her name brewing delicious, true-to-style German lagers—previously at Denver’s Prost Brewing, and now at Bierstadt, which she and Eye opened together last year. “I could make Pils every day,” she says. “I was the kid in pottery class, trying to make sure my clay box was perfectly square. Lager is difficult to make, because it’s about making 100 different things one percent better. It’s both delicate and completely crushable.”

5. Aim for perfection, with the right tools
When Carter and Eye acquired Bierstadt’s 1932 copper brewing kettle three years ago, they didn’t have the money to buy a German kettle and ship it to Colorado, let alone the capital needed to launch a brewery. But they made the leap anyway. Bierstadt’s three core beers—a Pils, a Helles, and a Dunkel—are the culmination of the work Carter put into setting up the brewhouse from scratch. “We’ve put the tools in place to technically achieve the things we want in beer,” she says.

6. Brew for your desert island
“I literally have no desire to make anything but the beers we’re making,” Carter says. “I could make Saison, but why? […] If you’re not brewing your desert island beer, I don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing.” She loves Pils and Helles both for their quenchable nature and technical achievement. “I like the idea of trying to make the last batch the same as the one before. That consistency takes real skill—our aim is to be perfect every time.”

7. Build a brand on relationships
At Bierstadt, Carter is doing more than “trying to make the cleanest, most true-to-style” lagers in the US. She’s also using her brewery to reorient the way people think about, and consume, beers. To that end, Carter and Eye have gone to lengths to sell their beer differently, by focusing on a few dozen relationships with like-minded bar accounts. They also insist on having Bierstadt beers served in their own style-appropriate glassware. “Our glassware is our branding,” Carter explains. “If you can get Stella in a Stella glass anywhere, why shouldn’t I want you to pour my beer into my glass, too? Everybody should demand that. The shaker pint is dead.”

8. Head into the light
Carter’s Slow Pour Pils comes in a narrow, stemmed glass meant to show off its best qualities: A lustrous golden hue, and a massive pillowy head. “People’s eyes get huge when they see [it], and it takes 5 minutes to pour, but people will treat beer differently if it’s in that different glass,” Carter says. “A good Pilsner should shine with its own inner light. It should be crystal clear, and be able to emit its own light in a dark room.”

9. Beer is for drinking, so drink it
Carter’s brewery go-to is her Bierstadt Helles, a mug of beautifully crafted party beer. “Helles, to me, is a drinkin’ beer,” she says. “It walks this line between the bland and the sublime. If you’re drinking it in smaller quantities, you don’t fully appreciate it, but on the third half-liter, your whole face is in there, with this dry, light hop bitterness, and you realize, it’s perfect.”