DeShazo’s New Lake City Brewing Co. Adds to Local Beer Brewing Heritage

Although home brewers occasionally share their custom beer brews among friends, it’s been well over 130 years since Lake City locals and visitors enjoyed a frothy beer which was commercially brewed locally.
All that is about to change as construction began last week on Doug and Diane DeShazos’ Lake City Brewing Co. building on South Bluff Street.
According to DeShazos, contractor Ken Bodine of Bodine Construction should have the 1,200-s.f. single-story brewery building complete by late September or early October this year.
Interior arrangement of the new building will include a public seating area for the consumption of gourmet hotdogs and, to the left after entering from Second Street, the intriguingly-named “brewhouse” in a separate glass-walled enclosure where the actual beer making and fermenting will occur.
Adjacent to the brewhouse will be a 12’x12’ stainless steel walk-in cooler where the beer will be stored. Installed into the wall of the cooler and behind a small bar will be taps to dispense a liquid beer brew for every taste — — blonde, Irish-style red, and pale, including varieties of the celebrated IPA (India Pale Ale), together with locally-brewed porter and stout.
The restaurant portion of the business will be conducted under the watchful eye of Doug DeShazo’s brother, Dale DeShazo, who is moving to Lake City from Denver. A key feature of the brewery building is a large outdoor deck, measuring 16’ x 48’, which will be constructed on the Bluff Street side of the building.
In addition to his beer interests, Doug DeShazo is perhaps best known in Lake City as an accredited chiropractor who has scheduled his services through Lake City Area Medical Center since he and his wife, Diane, moved here from Palmer, Alaska, in 2015.
A native of Dallas, Texas, Doug says he “escaped immediately after receiving his accreditation from Parker College of Chiropractic. Seeking a remote locale, he moved to Alaska where he met Diane, a native of Anchorage.
DeShazo enjoyed a lively chiropractic business in Alaska, aided by Diane who ran the business end of the enterprise.
The couple’s lives took an unexpected detour, however, after they came across Lake City and became enamored of the area’s rugged terrain and extreme remoteness. They initially visited the area in 2005 after Doug’s aunt and uncle, Nita and Jim Arnold, acquired Pleasant View Resort in upper Wade’s Addition.
They hiked and camped in the area frequently thereafter and in 2015 finally made the move to become full-time residents. In addition to Doug’s work as a chiropractor in Lake City, Diane DeShazo has concocted her own line of locally-manufactured soaps which she markets under the title “Lake City Soap Co.” The soaps are made from a combination of lye and water infused with fragrant oils such as coconut and olive oil, and shay butter. Not surprisingly, several of the soaps have a connection to beer, one a special hop-scented concoction and another described as a “stout soap.”
While living in Alaska, Doug began experimenting with brewing his own beer at home. He enjoyed the challenge, a significant aspect of which is mastering the science of properly steeping the grain, adding hops and then fermenting the brew with yeast to achieve the specific subtle taste.
The fermentation process, he says, “is where the real work begins.” One of Doug’s initial home brew challenges in Lake City was dealing with the high altitude and making sure the brew is sufficiently oxygenated to promote fermentation with the yeast.
Doug’s skill level with home brew has now escalated with a training course in the brewing science and related engineering which he is completing through the American Brewers’ Guild. Part of the six-month course was online and will include seven days hands-on training at the Guild’s brewery in Vermont.
In visiting Lake City and neighboring mountain towns during trips down from Alaska and prior to their move, Doug and Diane say the one glaring omission which was needed was a local beer brewery.
After selling their Alaska chiropractic practice, DeShazo says they concluded “it was time to do something fun,” exclaiming, “Lake City needs a brewery!”
Mirroring the competition among towns which emerged in the 19th century, DeShazos refer to the subtle bragging rights derived from communities which have their own custom breweries.
Hometown breweries, led by Fort Collins and Breckenridge, have proliferated in recent years. Gunnison and Ridgway, for instance, each have their own brewery, while other neighboring communities, such as Silverton and Ouray, have the luxury of being served by two breweries each. The number three is lucky in both Montrose and Pagosa Springs, each of which sports three beer breweries.
Lake City’s status as the sole regional community without a brewery is abruptly changing.
DeShazo says he is now fully licensed and, once Bodine has the walls of the new building enclosed, later this summer will begin selling 64-ounce containers known as “growlers” for off-premises consumption.
Doug will serve as brewmaster at Lake City Brewing Co., crafting eight different types of beer. Each type of beer — varieties of pale ale, stout and porter — will be made in batches of four barrels, a half-barrel translating to one keg. In addition to sampling the beer largesse at the tap in the brewery, take-away beer in growlers will also be offered.
Several Lake City restaurants have expressed an interest in commercially serving Lake City Brewing Co. beer, including Johnson & Lovegreen’s Climb Elevated Restaurant, which served up samples of DeShazo’s stout over the Christmas holidays and an Irish Red ale on St. Patrick’s Day.
DeShazo says the new brewery will be a year-round Lake City business, open throughout the winter with limited hours and on a full-time basis during the summer and early fall season.
Groundbreaking for the foundation occurred last Wednesday, June 7, coinciding with refreshing samples of pale ale, cream ale, and rye IPA which were dispensed.
Concrete for the new brewery building’s footers was poured on Monday morning this week.
Equipment in the brewhouse is being fabricated by Colorado Brewing Systems in Fort Collins, Colorado, and will consist of 100-gallon stainless steel kettles, each 36”-tall, where the grain will be steeped.
Hops are then added to the steeped broth and transferred to three 6’-tall stainless steel fermenters into which yeast is added and the “real important work begins,” according to Doug.
The steeping and boiling process in large kettles lasts for approximately three to four hours, fermenting with yeast requires between seven and 14 days, depending on the particular style of beer.
The area selected for the new brewery — the southeast corner of Bluff and 2nd Street — has an interesting and colorful history dating back to the 1870s. Initially envisioned as a business district strategically located at the entryway to mines on Henson Creek, including the Ute-Ulay, the area soon changed into a saloon and brothel district, dubbed “Hell’s Acre” by pioneering Presbyterian missionary Rev. George M. Darley. The name was especially fitting, according to Darley, because “the first part of the name was about all that was ever raised on that acre.”
The corner location of Lake City Brewing Co. was initially part of the stabling and corral founded in the mid-1870s by John Bartholf and known as the “Elephant Corral.” Immediately to the south was the 1890s-era Crystal Palace built as a combined dance hall and brothel by Clara Ogden and, across the street, was George Betts and James Browning’s San Juan Central.
Betts and Browning were lynched for killing Hinsdale Sheriff E.N. Campbell in 1882, although the San Juan Central building continued to be used as a saloon and brothel run by Annie Scanlon, known as
“Irish Ann” Blanchard, until the business was destroyed by fire in 1916.
Lake City has a rich beer brewing history and in fact had one of the region’s first breweries, conducted by a Mr. Gotto from Del Notre, which began operations in June, 1876. The Gotto brewery — with repurposed equipment from the defunct Milton brewery at Del Norte — was located in Wade’s Addition south of Henson Creek in handy proximity to a proliferation of saloons which operated around-the-clock.
By December, 1876, a second Lake City brewery opened in Wade’s Addition, Borngesser & Fisher’s Lake City Brewing Co., specializing in beer and ale.
Charles W. Hirt, Sr., a native of Baden, Germany, opened Lake City’s best known beer brewery east of the Lake Fork — in the area known as Harlan Meadow, today the location of the water treatment plant and historic Work-Harlan bungalow — in 1877.
Hirt immigrated to the United States in 1862 and operated a brewery at Sioux City, Iowa, before relocating to Lake City in 1876. He acquired vacant lots east of the river on the northern edge of the Ball Flats where he built a two-story brewery, described as a “conveniently arranged establishment, as sweet and clean as a tidy woman’s kitchen.”
Operations at Hirt’s San Juan Brewery consisted of a two-story building with vats located on both the ground floor and second-story levels. Malt grown in Minnesota was brought into Lake City by wagon and dumped into the upstairs vat where it was continuously mixed using horse power. The brewery’s fermenting room was on the ground floor, while the second story level also housed a wood-fired boiler with 12-barrel capacity.
The brewery complex also included “elegant ice houses, cooling rooms, store houses and a bottling establishment.”
Beer was supplied in kegs to Lake City saloons and sold 10-cents for two drinks. The firm’s bottling division produced a prodigious amount of bottled beer for home consumption.
In June and July, 1880, the Hirt brewery produced 5,000 bottles of beer, as well as wooden kegs which were delivered to area saloons.
“Every city of any importance in the Northern and Middle states now has a brewery,” the Lake City MINING REGISTER wrote, “and our eastern readers will no doubt learn with surprise that in the midst of the tall peaks of the Rocky Mountains, and where the waters are almost as pure as those of New Jeruselem, there is a brewery that produces a most excellent article, and large quantities of it.”
Sale of Hirt’s lager beer doubled from 40 barrels in May, 1880, to 80 barrels in May, 1881, and increased to 100 barrels in June, 1881. A large volume of bottled beer was consumed locally in Lake City, as well as laboriously shipped on ice to out-of-town clients. Soldiers stationed with the military cantonment reportedly consumed 3,000 bottles of Hirt’s beer on a monthly basis.
Hirt’s San Juan Brewery was destroyed by fire in February, 1882, the blaze causing a $2,000 uninsured loss and leaving the brewery’s vats, boiler, misc. machinery and ice roof entirely in ruins.
Hirt continued diminished operations following the fire and ultimately relocated to Montrose in 1886 where he established the Montrose Bottling Works.
The sole remnant of Charles Hirt’s San Juan Brewery is an arched storage room which was tunneled into the hillside just above the Dave Work-Lee Harlan “Harlwork” property on the Ball Flats. The partially collapsed excavation, built from native stone and brick, was used for cold storage of beer by Hirt and was later stabilized as an unground storage and parking area by Homer Harlan.
Years ahead of Doug and Diane DeShazos’ arrival in Lake City and creation of their new Lake City Brewing Co., Lake City MINING REGISTER was perhaps foreshadowing beer events in 2017 when it wrote in 1880, “Beer is a safe and wholesome beverage, and it would be a great blessing if the people of America drank more of it and less spiritous drinks.”
“But great social revolutions are not completed in a day, nor in a decade, and this generation will not live to see America converted to a beer-drinking community, although the change is gradually being made.”