Jeff Airman was in the food business 15 years before discovering his passion for beer in the brewery mecca that is Colorado. Airman, a self-described “military brat” who calls California home, became an immediate fan boy of Paradox Beer Company upon its founding in 2012 and was hired a few months later to brew their product. Airman, 38, spoke to the Business Journal this week about his love of good food and beer, what he loves about his company and Paradox’s 9-mile move from Woodland Park to Divide.
Can you start by telling me a bit about yourself?
I’m Airman. What I do at Paradox? Pretty much everything. We’re a very small company — just five people — so I work on everything from production, conception, all the way through to helping with labels. I get to do a little bit of everything, which is great. We don’t really do titles, but I am a brewer at Paradox.
Have you been with Paradox since the beginning?
No. I think two or three months after they started was when I joined. I was going to their events like crazy because they were doing the best beer around here (them and Trinity). So I went and helped out at both them and Trinity, and Paradox was growing so quickly that they were able to hire me full-time almost right away.
Before that, had you had any experience brewing?
Not professionally — just home brewing — but fermentation has always been my thing. I was doing sourdoughs; I was doing pickles, home brewing, everything, because I’m just completely fascinated with the whole process. That’s where I saw Paradox going, with all of the barrel aging and wild yeast, and I just really became the fan boy for a while.
What were you doing professionally at that point?
Mostly restaurant work. I’ve done a lot of cooking and prepping and catering — everything in food. That’s really where I thought my career was going to go, because I wanted to be a chef and had really gotten to understand food and restaurants. Eventually I wanted to get away from that … and this was a break from that, but I really started to follow the flavors and love it.
Can you tell me about where you’re from and how you got here?
I’m an Air Force brat. I’ve lived all over, spent a lot of time in California … and then my dad ended his military career in Southern California at San Diego State, doing the ROTC program. So I went into the ROTC program for a year and found out it wasn’t for me. Because my dad went to the Academy, my dad loved this area so much that he promised himself that he’d buy himself a house one day and retire here. So he did buy the house, he just hasn’t retired. Right now, he is in Hawaii working and asked me if I could take care of his house here. It’s out in Lake George, and it’s beautiful and it’s peaceful, and as long as I’ve got a phone and Internet I’m set.
Yes, especially with Paradox and all of our experimentation and pushing the boundaries. I almost think that if we were in Denver or the Springs, there would be other influences and things that would make us move in another direction than we are. I really love the autonomy that we have out in the mountains. … It’s really perfect for us, because we have sort of a farmhouse concept.
How is working with beer the same or different than working with food?
What is great about what we’re doing is that we get to put it out when it’s ready. We get to let these blends age; we create the product, then we bottle and condition it, so it’s really us that get to decide when the dish is ready to serve. … It’s nice to have that level of control — like a chef.
Tell me about the company’s move from Woodland Park to Divide.
We moved about two months ago. We were in half the basement of a big building. The top level sat empty the entire time we were there … so we wanted to expand, but the city didn’t seem on board. They said we would need to start over with the planning process, get approval, go to meetings and all that stuff. So we thought that if we were going to go through all that, we might as well go somewhere else. So we had an opportunity in Divide on a bigger piece of land (3 acres) and it’s a much nicer layout for us. … It’s like it was built for us. Right now we’re getting approval for a tasting room and working on the retail space.