Chainless Brewing, Durango's newest brewery (and the seventh if you count the two that have left), came together through a lot of hard work and also a bit of luck.
Lucas Ratcliff and Jason Hughes, the head brewer and executive chef of the brewery, respectively, found out about each other's ambitions almost by accident.
“We've been home brewing for years, and Lucas was the service manager out at Nissan of Durango and Jason was a client of his,” said Corrin Oxnam, Chainless' general manager and Ratcliff's wife. “(Hughes), in passing, said he wanted to open a restaurant and Lucas, in passing, said 'I want to open a brewery.' About two weeks later, Jason was at the casino, playing the slots, and won $57,000. And here we are.”
Hughes said he was looking at restaurant locations when he found out Ratcliff and Oxnam wanted to start a brewery.
“I went in to get my car serviced and was telling (Ratcliff) about Guido's, which I was looking to rent and take over,” Hughes said. “(Ratcliff) said, 'We'll, I'm looking to do a brewery.' Next thing you know, I was driving away and there was this space that I wasn't going to be able to use for cooking, and I thought, 'How am I going to make that rent? And that was that.
“The light bulb went off as I drove away, of course, and I called him instantly, and I said, 'Lucas, what do you think about coming to check out this place with me and seeing if this will work for your space for a brewery.'”
Guido's location downtown didn't work out, but as the trio began to secure the brewery's present location at 3000 Main Ave., the former location of Durango Brewing Co., Hughes began meeting with investors and people who could provide equipment to the budding business.
“I go to link up with someone to find some equipment for the brewery ... and he says he's going to be 30 minutes late. I go to (Sky Ute) Casino, put in $200 and – it's a machine, granted, that I've been playing because it was going to hit – and it happened to hit on me. Over 50 grand later, here I am,” Hughes said.
Hughes says he wants to invest some of the earnings back into the community in the form of scholarships and the like if Chainless is successful.
“Coming into this money is a blessing for me, so I want to pass that blessing on,” he said.
Home brew to head brewerRatcliff, whose background is largely that of an auto mechanic, first learned how to brew while living next to Snoqualmie Brewery just outside of Seattle.
“I kind of got in with those guys, and I started brewing beer with them and they taught me how to brew,” he said.
Afterward, he brewed at home but didn't seek training or formal schooling.
“This is my first real big system that I've ever brewed on ... and it's going fabulous so far,” Ratcliff said. “It's like that dream story – the home brewer becomes the brewery owner.”
Ratcliff said that because of his obligation to his family, he couldn't afford to take a pay cut to work as an intern at another brewery and work his way up through the brewing world.
“I figured I'll start my own company and this is how I become my own head brewer, and so far, it's working fantastically,” he said. “I'm really happy with the way the beers are turning out.”
Oxnam said the name Chainless emerged as a play on having a rough time.
“When you break your chain out in the middle of nowhere on your mountain bike, you're kind of up s--- creek without a paddle. So what do you need after you go chainless? A beer.”
Beer, bites and bicyclingIn addition to a place for beer and food, Oxnam said the Chainless crew would like for the brewery to serve as a hub for the cycling community.
“One reason why we stuck with the biking theme was that it's huge in our community and we felt like there was a void there,” she said. “Everybody supports them, right? But nobody airs the races on the TVs at their bars. We want to show bicycle races.”
Carver Brewing Co. in downtown Durango also sports a bicycle theme and shows bicycle races.
Chainless also plans to host its own cycling events.
“We're all bicycle enthusiasts, so we're going to be sponsoring bike races and group rides from here,” Ratcliff said. “We really want to promote cycling in this town. We love it. It's healthy and fun and the kids love it. It's good for everybody.”
To encourage people to bike to the brewery, Chainless is offering $1 off the first pint of anyone who rides up.
Even the food is made with cyclists in mind.
“We want to be a health-conscious place because we want people to bike here and leave feeling better,” said Hughes, who has been a chef for about 20 years, including at restaurants such as Steamworks Brewing Co.
He said the brewery currently has burgers, salads, Southwestern-style food and specialty items, such as blackened chicken. Chainless' beers make their way into items such as the beer cheese spinach artichoke dip and beer queso.
Hughes said Chainless will eventually serve brunch, but he wanted to start off with a small menu.
This story has been edited to add that Carver Brewing Co. is also a bicycle-themed brewpub.