Colorado Springs native Taylor Donner sees his passion for beer as an extension of his longtime love for food. Donner pursued his first love to Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts and later found himself working in the Vancouver beer industry. After that, he was sold. He passed the Certified Cicerone Exam in April — an important feat in the beer industry — came back to the Springs and began working at Brewer’s Republic.
Donner is responsible for the brewpub’s beer ordering, event planning and bar tending. He spoke to the Business Journal this week about his career, why he stays in Colorado Springs and where he sees things going from here.
Tell us about your background.
I was born and raised in the Springs, graduated from the IB program at Palmer High School, and then went to Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. After a long semester of commuting two hours daily to get to school I left SFU and went to culinary school at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts. I cooked professionally for a little while after graduating, but fell in love with beer after taking a beer course taught by a good friend at PICA.
Tell me about your work and how you got to where you are professionally.
After about a year of working in the beer industry in Vancouver, I helped the friend at PICA write the curriculum for a level two course that was designed to be prep for the Certified Cicerone Exam. I took the exam last April and became certified [the only Certified Cicerones in Colorado Springs]. After leaving Vancouver last year, I found a job at Brewer’s Republic, where I do the beer ordering and event planning as well as bar-tend. On my off days I work in the beer section at Coaltrain Wine and Spirits, where I get to talk even more about beer. It really all just came about as a labor of passion. I loved food, then loved beer, and still love both. I’m in a place where I can talk about and enjoy both.
Was Colorado Springs a good place to do that?
Colorado Springs has been a great place to focus on my work. Beer is exploding everywhere, but I think as a city the Springs has lagged behind some of the bigger beer destinations in Colorado, so we’re at a great place in time where I get the chance daily to talk to and educate people about beer. I love getting people excited about beer and with the constant growth here there’s more opportunity than ever to do what I love.
What keeps you in the Springs?
Friends, family and community primarily. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to go back to Vancouver, but I have two great jobs, wonderful coworkers and great friends/family. I’ve also come to know a lot of regular customers at Brewer’s and Coaltrain that I get to talk to on a regular basis about new beers, new trends, what’s coming down the pipeline, etc. It’s a much different vibe than Vancouver. I feel like the Springs needs beer education more right now (which is definitely not a bad thing), and that’s what I do right now, so it’s definitely a supply-and-demand sort of deal.
What are your professional goals?
Eventually I’d love to have my own farmhouse brewery where I can focus on house-grown and -made food and artisan beer, but that’s a long way down the road. In the meantime I’d love to focus on more beer education, working on my own personal beer education, and getting into a brewery as an apprentice somewhere.
Do you have a personal mantra or mission statement?
My love of what I do is what drives me. It’s definitely a booming industry with a lot of ways to make good money, but at the end of the day it’s just about making enough to enjoy myself while working in an industry that fosters creativity and fraternity. I guess a cohesive mission statement would be: Helping people love beer as much as I do while becoming better at what I do constantly. Stagnation isn’t acceptable.
What advice would you give to young professionals in Colorado Springs?
Seize any opportunities that come your way, don’t get bogged down in the day-to-day, make plans for yourself and see them through. If you’re like me and you grew up here, don’t fall into the rut I did when I first moved back. It can be easy to get angry at your situation. I felt like moving back here from Vancouver was a step backward, but at the end of the day, this city is filled with great people and great opportunities. You just have to look for them and keep your head up.
Anything else? What do you do in your spare time?
I try to brew as much as possible on my modest homebrew setup; it’s definitely my true passion when it comes to beer, and I’m always trying to improve. I also have a lot of great friends in the Springs that I spend most of my free time with — drinking good beers, seeing good shows, just having a good time.