Summit Brewing Company Founder and President Mark Stutrud breezes into the brewery’s board room, sits down at a long wood table and takes a sip from a foam-topped Winter Ale. He toasts to the end of 2016 and wants to know just one thing: “What’s got you hungover today? What is it that bit you last night?” His shoulders shake, and his big, signature laugh spills out.
Perhaps the friendliest of all beer drinkers, Mark is in the mood to talk and tell a few stories.
Wrapping Up Summit’s 30th Anniversary Celebration
In his own words, “The 30th Anniversary celebration was absolutely phenomenal. We had four special beers from the brewing team — the Double IPA, the Keller Pils, some history in a glass with the West London-Style Ale, and then the Barleywine, which was connected to the original formulation of the EPA. That’s all just good stuff. Very Solid.”
Mark grins, too, explaining the paradox of a year-long party. “It was kind of a methodical party. Everything was thought out, but it was still very celebratory and spontaneous. And to get Bob Mould booked for our Backyard Bash, finally, after trying for three years? That was awesome.”
Savoring Summit’s success just a moment longer, Mark admits he still has to pinch himself to believe it’s actually been 30 years. “When I look back and think of all the work we’ve done, and when I look at all the changes we’ve incorporated in this organization in the past 12 months, not to mention the changes in the industry and marketplace, it’s been very momentous.”
Growing and Changing
People have this belief about business, Mark says, that you hit 30 years and things become predictable — maybe not easier, but predictable. They believe history provides a foundation for what to expect in the future.
“But there are still surprises,” he says. “This organization has never gone through more internal changes in a single year than this year. It was a very challenging year. We confronted and responded to a number of significant issues and put together a solid plan. And just looking back at how different this organization is now compared to the first half of the year — it’s just such a contrast.”
Despite that internal transformation, Summit has maintained a steady and low-key outward appearance. “That’s how it should be, right?” Mark says. “The stuff that’s for outside consumption is the beer.”
Even so, Mark bristles at the idea that people think they’ve got Summit pegged. “Many don’t realize how young this organization is. I’m the oldest fart here for the most part, but when you look at the people who really drive this organization, it’s very youthful. And we balance that enthusiasm and engagement with some very strong industry veterans, people like Damien [McConn, Head Brewer] and Rebecca [Newman, Quality Manager]. Despite the misconception that we’re staid or stuck in our ways, we’re absolutely everything but that.”
What’s in Store for 2017
“We’ve been a little too low-key in the past,” Mark says. “We haven’t bragged enough, and that’s to our disadvantage. As a consequence, when people get close to us and understand what’s going on, they immediately appreciate the amount of thoughtfulness that goes into what we do for a living.”
With that in mind, Mark believes it’s time to reeducate people and get them up to speed. “The depth of our portfolio, for example, is huge. Just in our IPAs, they are all totally distinct and different from each other. We don’t make one beer and then make a different elevation of the same beer.”
Summit’s IPA Collection, which will be packaged early this month, highlights that diversity and the individuality of each beer. “Although they’re all classified as IPAs, each one helps customers appreciate hops in a different way. It’s up to the individuals to open themselves up and not think, ‘Ah shit, this is just a Summit.’ But if they take their time and really explore the different flavors of True Brit and Horizon Red — which really is one of the most complex beers we produce — they’ll understand what we believe represents balance and that true dance between malt, hops and all of the other ingredients.”
After all, Mark points out, “We’re from grain country! If we don’t have that balance between ingredients and that foundation from our signature grains, then we forsake our soul.”
Beyond IPAs, 2017 will see a modest renovation of the brewery’s beloved Beer Hall, as well as an increased focus on Summit’s more sessionable beers, such as our longtime-favorite Pilsener and 2016’s breakout Keller Pils — a.k.a. KILLER PILS.
“We’re totally morphing into a brewer that does lagers in the true Germanic tradition without compromise,” Mark says. “And thanks to the talent we have and the technology at our facility, we can really replicate them. There’s gonna be a kind of awakening. People could really know who the hell we are.”