Matthew Hexter loves craft beer. But as careers go, he doesn’t think the industry has much room left for him. So the founder of and vintner for Evergood Elixirs stepped away from his passion and followed a path less traveled.
Based in Palmer Lake, Evergood Elixirs produces the citrus “adventure wines” Skier Pee (lemon citrus wine) and Snow Bunny (strawberry-lemon citrus wine).
The company, consisting of Hexter (with help from his family) and a sales partner with a 5 percent stake, began bottling in June. In a short time, the business has carved its way into 20 retailers, restaurants and bars from the Springs to Breckenridge.
Hexter is from Cleveland, Ohio, and attended Ohio State University, where he met his future wife. He studied education and was a teacher before moving into project management and operations.
Not content with Ohio, Hexter said the couple took an online test akin to the dating site eHarmony for those looking to relocate.
“Everything we wanted was west,” he said.
In 2014, Hexter and his family moved to Ogden, Utah, for a trial run.
“It didn’t feel like home long term,” he said. “Colorado is where we wanted to end up. We didn’t move here first because, honestly, we didn’t know if we could afford it, but we’re so glad we’re here.”
Following a period of contract employment with Hewlett-Packard, Hexter worked briefly as chief operating officer at the pro-life ministry Save the Storks.
The one-time amateur adult-drink creator saw an untapped market in Colorado’s craft scene and has since committed most of his bandwidth to growing his elixir empire.
‘A good fit’
As a hobbyist, Hexter was often asked by friends to make his citrus wines, especially in the summer.
“So, over a year ago, I started to ask people about this and whether it would be a good fit,” he said. “Ian Lee with Lee Spirits has been a great mentor through this whole process. A lot of the startup community has — Peak Startup and 1 Million Cups have been just awesome.”
Hexter said as much as he enjoys making beer, “there are just way too many craft breweries. When I started to solicit these wares as a craft winery, people were like ‘This is really interesting. This is unique.’
“Part of the challenge of an entrepreneur is, we have ideas, we think they’re good ideas, but will the dogs eat? Will the people pull out their wallet and pay? Most of the time: No.
“You’re making something that’s really good for you and you feel compelled to do it, so you do it. But it doesn’t mean it’s a business. This was something I don’t think I felt super-compelled to do but other people really got excited about it. I thought, ‘Hey, this could be a legitimate business.’”
Skier Pee and Snow Bunny are gluten-free, vegan, 10 percent alcohol by volume and take six weeks to ferment. Hexter is currently utilizing 12 100-gallon tanks and is on course to make 5,600 22-ounce bottles every six weeks.
He has been testing different yeast nutrients and energizers to try and accelerate production and is on course to cut two weeks from his cycle.
He said his project management background included manufacturing, which has helped him from an operational standpoint, adding he also has a clear vision of his marketing strategy.
“With anything, you need a good product,” he said. “I don’t know that you need a great product. You need a good product with amazing branding and marketing.
“Back in the days of VHS and [Betamax], everybody said Beta was a better format. But VHS won because people got behind it, for whatever reason.
“I tried to develop a really good product but knew branding and marketing was key.”
The brand is meant to inspire a sense of adventure in the wide-open West.
“The names, the branding, the logo, the design — they all have an outdoor flavor to them,” he said. “We’re also going to launch two more products, one called Slopestyle, a lemon-lime wine … and one with the working name of Hard Tail, a mountain bike theme that will be watermelon-lemon.”
Hexter said the rest of the nation is rapidly following Colorado when it comes to the saturation of craft beer breweries and that some studies show beer has been falling out of favor with younger generations of drinking age.
“Many experts are wondering if it’s hitting its bubble nationwide,” he said, adding it is also difficult to scale small batches of beer to microbrewery volumes.
“Homebrewers make 5-gallon batches and they’re good,” Hexter said. “But it’s hard to 100x that or 1,000x that. It’s super hard to do that and I don’t think most breweries are good at it.
“I enjoy beer more [than wine] and enjoy brewing beer more but it’s very saturated. There’s a lot of competition. In craft wine, there really isn’t any. Everybody thinks it’s new and unique. This was more a business decision.”
Hexter said Evergood Elixirs is now sourcing 1,000-gallon tanks and by the end of next year, he wants to be producing about 250,000 gallons annually.
“The reason why: If I go 1 ounce over 250,000 gallons, my federal excise tax goes from 19 cents per gallon to $1.09 per gallon,” he said.
So are the tastes of craft connoisseurs changing in the state for good?
“I don’t think we’ll ever be done with craft beer. I think Colorado is known as a craft beer state now,” Hexter said. “But I am concerned with oversaturation. Not that that’s a bad thing. My dad’s been a Realtor all his life. He said the best thing about a recession is it weeds out all the people in it just for the money. It leaves all the Realtors who love working with people and real estate. I see a weeding out happening. … I think the people who make a really good product will still be around. And I hope we will be as well.”