Monday, May 25, 2009

The tale of Ska: Interview with Dave Thibodeau, Part I

Soggy Coaster sat down recently with Dave Thibodeau, president and co-founder of Ska Brewing Co. in Durango. Thibodeau and Bill Graham started Ska in 1995. The brewery is best known for Pinstripe Red Ale and True Blonde Ale, but it brews everything from an imperial porter to a Mexican lager. I edited and condensed the transcript, and I'll be posting the remainder of this interview in installments over the next several days:

Soggy Coaster: So let’s begin at the beginning. How did you, Bill (Graham) and Matt (Vincent) get together?

Dave Thibodeau: Bill and I started it. Bill and I were homebrewers in high school. We actually stumbled across a log book of my dad’s in his library. It said ‘beer log’ or something. And we flipped through it. We were wondering, at what point do you add alcohol in making beer? And we realized that you actually fermented it and you created the alcohol. And we were 17, 18 probably. And we realized that we could make our own beer without having to buy it. We were old enough to buy the ingredients.

We would always homebrew. At that point in time, there weren’t any homebrew shops. This was up in Denver. One opened up later that year, but we used to have to go buy ingredients from a friend of my dad’s basement up in Laramie, Wyoming. Or we did for the first couple batches, anyways.

That’s how we got into homebrewing, and we just homebrewed for years. I mean, at first, it was just getting drunk. The beers slowly got better. And then by the time we were graduating, we both wanted to be living in Durango. But we kept brewing beer this whole time.

We used to always put – because it was novel at the time – we were really into ska music, we were into comic books. We would put whatever the name of the beer was on the label that we’d make up on Bill’s Macintosh or Commodore 250 or whatever it was (laughs). We’d put Ska Brewing – Dave’s kitchen, Bill’s kitchen, Durango or Boulder or whatever it was.

Once we got to Durango, we were both working other jobs – I worked up at Purgatory (Mountain) and Bill worked for, I think, KREZ – and we realized that we definitely were going to have to start our own brewery.

We were fortunate enough at that time, we went for it, we got a small loan from Bill’s dad. We did a lot of traveling up and down the Western Slope. There were some closed-down dairies and creameries that had some old stainless tanks, a different type of equipment, but we knew we could use them. We did a lot of bartering, traded with some people, sold some stuff, bought some other stuff and eventually had enough to start in the corner of the warehouse where our old space was.

We didn’t really know Matt at the time. But we met him through a homebrew party. And I think we were the only three real homebrewers in Durango. So we brought a keg and kind of crashed his party and he was totally excited about it, that someone showed up with an actual keg of homebrew.

He had a kegerator hooked up that had three of his kegs, but he could put four in it. So we had four homebrew kegs, a big party and all these punk-ass kids totally into drinking crazy homebrew.

He was actually starting brewing for Durango Brewing right about that time. Then we started brewing together. Bill and I opened up, and Matt helped us out with a bunch of stuff over the course of the year. Then after a year, Matt bought in.

We started 14 years ago and Matt bought in about 13 years ago. So that’s how we got rolling.

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