Durango, CO, is home to Ska Brewing, a craft brewery that works hard to create beer everyone can enjoy. It sounds simplistic; doesn’t every brewery do that?
Yet, Ska’s mission is inspired by more than just creating a good product. They are fighting back against big companies that have made beer unenjoyable. The founders instilled these ideals into their business practices from Day 1.
The brewery was started in 1995 by two friends, Dave Thibodeau and Bill Graham. The two thought of the idea when they were teenagers trying to scheme around age restrictions on alcohol. They thought, “Why buy beer when we can make it ourselves?” They found that their home batches tasted better than a lot of beers made by “Big Beer.” So, while listening to ska music — from which the business name comes — Thibodeau and Graham decided to pursue the idea.
“Captain Corporate America is a jerk. He wants you to drink watery beer-soda and listen to the same bad music and tell the same bad jokes and think the same,” said Matt Vincent, co-owner and VP of operations, on the brewery website. “He wants you to be part of a machine that’s powered by sameness. We just want you to drink and be happy and maybe tell someone else to drink and be happy.”
Photo Courtesy Ska Brewing
Ska carries out many sustainable practices in its operations. Its “headquarters” uses 50% less energy per barrel of beer, thanks to thoughtful building design, solar lighting, and waste recycling. Wind power supplies 100% of the company’s energy needs. Insulation is made from recycled blue jeans, and tables are made from old bowling alley wood. All spent grain hops and yeast is composted for landscaping purposes.
According to the company’s 2022 Year in Review, it was one of the first craft breweries to package its beer in infinitely recyclable aluminum cans.
The initiatives expanded to most paper materials, glass, and other metals being recycled. An ionized air rinse is used instead of water to clean out bottles for future use. This year, Ska installed a paperboard machine so the company could transition from plastic can collars, which is safer and better for the environment.
“The difference between big beer and craft beer is love,” said Thibodeau. “Like the love of a man for a woman or a dog for a woman dog or a tall person for a very large car or a tall clown for a very small car or a bear for a stranger that tries to pet it or me for beer.”
Its Year in Review report also said the company produced around 25,000 BBL of beer served on tap at the Durango headquarters. Distribution increased as well, with Wyoming joining the list, taking Ska’s range to 11 states. Several new brews debuted, including one infused with peppermint bark.
Photo Courtesy Ska Brewing
In honor of 27 years of operation, the brewery hosted a legendary Ska band called Hepcat — Ska also serves as a venue for many punk rock bands. You can’t fight “The Man” without the music to motivate you.
Also, in 2022, the brewery collaborated with Fort Lewis College to create a signature canned brew. The Skyhawk Single Hop Sultana IPA was a project chemistry students worked on to demonstrate the biotransformation of hops and how they affect beer taste. It was served at Fort Lewis’s commencement in May 2022. The collaborative effort shows how dedicated the owners are to making better-tasting products.
“We’ve been really excited about this research because it furthers our analytical view of hop varieties, transcending a deeper understanding of how hops perform in the brewing process beyond just flavors and aromas in the resulting beer,” Steve Breezley, brewmaster, told Rad Craft Beer.
Ska is involved in a few charity drives. It donates around $50,000 of its time, money, and products to nonprofits around Southwest Colorado, such as La Plata Open Space Conservancy, Manna Soup Kitchen, United Way, and many others. Its products are the official beers of multiple cycling festivals. Several artists come to the Durango brewery to showcase their work.
Ska evolved from a mischievous way for two friends to drink beer for free to a full-fledged business. It stuck it to Big Beer with its expanding distribution network, colorful labels, and full-bodied ales. Who wouldn’t want to drink that?