Bill Graham

What’s your current position at Ska Brewing Co. and how did you get started in the craft brewing industry?

I’m the co-owner and co-founder. In short, I mainly work on the floor with the guys and gals making and packaging beer. The three partners at Ska are the only ones at my company that do not have cool titles; the lab guy’s title is the “Random Sampler,” our sales rep’s title is the “Bar Room Hero,” the head brewer is “Exalted Zymurgist,” etc. I am merely the guy that says, “Slow down, now, what exactly did you do?” when someone screws up. I got into the craft brewing industry after nine years of homebrewing. My partner Dave Thibodeau and I used to make beer as Christmas presents for our friends and family that had silly little labels on them that read “Ska Brewing Company. Bill’s Kitchen, Durango, Co.” Everyone kind of knows the story… the home brewery grew out of the home garage into an industrial garage. We chose ours because it had a shower, knowing that when this goofy little thing failed we could at least live at the brewery until the landlord kicked us out. I guess, in a way, I’m still waiting for the eviction notice.

What’s new at Ska?

Better question, for me anyway, would be “what’s not new at your brewery.” About one year ago we finished a new building and brewery and moved into a space that has three times the square footage as the old place. It’s completely sick! We bought our brewhouse from Lagunitas in Petaluma, Calif. It’s not new, but it’s new to us. Two people can actually clean two tanks at once in the tank farm without bumping butts! We also bought Oskar Blues’ automated canning line. After canning one style of beer for years, we have three new beers in cans: True Blonde, Euphoria and Modus Hoperandi. This year we also introduced a mixed 12-pack of cans. I continue to work with our head brewer, Thomas Larsen, on our barrel aging project. It’s nice now that we have enough space to really rack some oak barrels rather than tripping over them at every turn. While after a few years we ended up owning the old brewery space,  it is indescribably fantastic to now own a new single-building, four-story brewery, where everything is new or at least new to us, and to be able to work on the future, all the while knowing my fictional “landlord” with his eviction notice is exactly that, fiction.

What’s the best part of being a part of the craft brewing community?

It definitely is the people. I mentioned that we bought our new-to-us brewhouse from Lagunitas. In dealing with other industries, like everyone must, you buy a used piece of equipment from them and that’s kind of it, “She’s all yours now pal, good luck.” Craft brewers are not like that. Jeremy at Lagunitas is available to advise and answer questions at every turn. Dale and another Jeremy at Oskar Blues are always available to “keep that sucker running.” If our Bar Room Hero has something cooking in Denver, we call Todd Thibault at Breckenridge Brewery and additionally, his boss Todd Usry, is kind of like our Undisclosed Mentor (oops, I think I just disclosed that). I once picked up the now-mayor of Denver at the airport for the Milwaukee CBC “’cause he needed a ride.” There are four breweries in Durango, a town of just 16,000. Logic would state that we would be at each others’ throats, but it isn’t like that at all; a bag of malt here, some hops there, bottles, cans, information. We not only in Durango but across the country really work together well. It’s really freakin’ incredible.

What do you like to do in your time away from the brewery?

I’m a Colorado boy: ski, skate, play hockey, hunt, fish, toboggan, hike, climb. If it involves some ground on an incline, I’m into it.

What’s your favorite food and beer pairing?

Pizza and pale ale, come on. Lately I’ve been getting into pairing beer with cheese. My favorite is J.W. Lee’s Harvest Ale and Stilton.

What’s your biggest accomplishment unrelated to your job?

Being a good dad to my three-year-old, Ila.

What’s your favorite beer that your brewery does not produce?

Carver’s Big Grizz Barley Wine.

What’s the most exotic travel destination at which you’ve had a chance to sample the local beer?

We once gave the Sliding Club in Salt Lake City some beer for their “practices,” and the next year they invited my partner Dave, myself, and the now deceased brewer Mike Eberle to the Olympic Luge Course in Park City to “give it a go.” Now I know the location isn’t that exotic, but the occasion was very exotic. Pull me aside sometime and I will give you the full run-down on Sliding, and how absolutely terrifying it was to burn my ski coat on ice! But the beers in Salt Lake were all very incredible and amazing especially given their max 3.2-percent abw content. The Utah Brewers Cooperative is a brewery that I really admire.


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