Case Study: Primitive Is Committed to Spontaneously Fermented Beer—and to Making It Fun

With a tight focus on oak-aged beers inspired by Belgian lambic and gueuze, Lisa and Brandon Boldt are making their niche more convivial and approachable.

Kate Bernot Jun 15, 2023 - 13 min read

Case Study: Primitive Is Committed to Spontaneously Fermented Beer—and to Making It Fun Primary Image

Photo: Jamie Bogner

It’s not possible to leave the taproom of Primitive Beer in Longmont, Colorado, without knowing more about spontaneously fermented beer than when you walked through its doors—and you’ll probably love it more than when you walked through the doors, too. That’s because the brewery’s educational approach to this rarified niche is less academic and more, well, sponsponbingbong.

The catchphrase—a nonsensical reference to spontaneous beer—is framed in a place of prominence on a wall near Primitive’s bar, alongside tin tackers from Cantillon and Oud Beersel. The juxtaposition is a metaphor for what Primitive cofounders Brandon and Lisa Boldt are building in their five-year-old blendery: deep reverence for traditional Belgian lambic and gueuze, injected with whimsy.

The husband-wife duo will be the first to acknowledge how weird Primitive is. At a time when other breweries are recognizing the need to diversify into new styles or go “beyond beer” to appeal to more drinkers, Primitive remains steadfastly in its lane: producing only 100 percent spontaneously inoculated, oak-fermented beers, and selling them primarily out of the taproom. While they initially conceived of Primitive as a brewery focused on barrel-aged wild beers, extensive travel to Belgium convinced the Boldts that even that was too broad a focus.

“There were already breweries that did that,” Brandon says. “We decided we needed to do something that A, we believe in, B, we have ownership over, and C, to some degree, adds to or enriches the already vibrant beer community in Colorado and the Front Range.”


The journey from developing that conviction to making an all-spontaneous blendery succeed as a business is still a work in progress. Staying small has helped—the Boldts are the company’s only two employees, and Lisa maintains another job outside of beer. So has remaining faithful to the guardrails the couple set early on for their beer and business. If it’s not spontaneously fermented, it doesn’t happen. If it doesn’t advance and broaden the appeal of lambic-inspired beer, it doesn’t happen. If it’s not made with 100 percent Colorado ingredients, it doesn’t happen. (When they want to use an out-of-state ingredient, the Boldts collaborate with another brewery.)

These “north stars,” as Brandon refers to them, might seem constricting, but the couple insists that they’ve been immensely freeing. They both pay attention to trends and developments in the broader beer market, but they say it’s always been clear to them what type of beer Primitive makes and what type of business it is. Because those questions don’t keep them awake at night, Lisa and Brandon spend their time making the best beer they can—and keeping the lights on, so they can do it for another year.

“Money left on the table is fine,” Brandon says. “That’s a big part of allowing yourself to be so refined and so niche. We’re not maximizing profit here. We do still need to find some more people [to buy our beer], but especially with something like this, it’s about staying nimble and figuring out when you can stop, once you’re producing enough and are sustainable.”

In the taproom, another quirky but symbolic object speaks to this singular commitment. Atop an oak barrel, what began as a single melting candlestick is now a blob-like crag of melted candle wax the Boldts refer to as “the eternal flame of lambic.”

Photos: Jamie Bogner

Laser Focus

To understand 99 percent of the decisions the Boldts make, it helps to think outside the context of typical U.S. breweries. Though the couple worked in Colorado’s beer industry for years before opening Primitive, they feel their business has more in common with distilleries, low-intervention wineries, and artisan cheesemakers than with the typical brewpub. It’s true of their relatively expensive products and local supply chain but also of the near-obsessive focus on gaining proficiency—Brandon eschews the word “expertise”—in making one very specific type of product.


It also helps to picture how Belgian lambic breweries operate. They’re communal gathering spaces, but they’re particular. Each reflects geography and climate, as well as the personality of the sometimes-peculiar proprietors. They are not everything to everyone, and they tend to be quirky family affairs, as Primitive is. Some of the decision to not hire staff is designed to keep costs low, and some of it has to do with Primitive being such an extension of the Boldts personally.

“It can be hard for Brandon and Lisa to find people they trust to represent what they’re doing at the level that they’re doing it,” says Eric Larkin, cofounder and brewer at Denver’s Cohesion Brewing Company, who has traveled to Belgium with the couple. “They’re uncompromising in that, and that feels very Belgian.”

Cohesion focuses exclusively on Czech-style lagers, a niche in itself. But Larkin says that Primitive is in some ways even more off-the-beaten-path, given its weekends-only hours and its location outside a major city. And then there’s the beer itself: A Czech-style pilsner is familiar enough to any drinker who’s had a pale lager, but Primitive “does not make something that tastes like a beer you’ve had before, most likely,” Larkin says.

In its Old World–inspired stylistic specificity, Primitive joins fellow Denver-area breweries Cohesion, Hogshead, and Bierstadt—whose beers are served as guest beers at the brewery’s taproom.

“When you’re unique like this and people are seeking you out for what you do, on one hand, you’d feel like you can do a half-assed job and people wouldn’t know,” says Robert Bell, Hogshead’s head brewer. “But that doesn’t work when people are coming from Europe to try your beer.”


Because of the narrowness of Primitive’s lens, Brandon sees endless room for deeper knowledge of his barrels, microbes, and processes, leading to iterative improvements in his beers. He’s currently obsessed with “marathon” boils, using Maillard reactions to influence color and flavor—and, to some degree, selectively pressure microbes to produce lower-acidity spontaneous beers.

If he had his own brewing equipment, Brandon would use a direct-fire kettle to achieve this. However, Primitive makes its wort on other breweries’ steam-jacketed kettles. So, when time and other patient brewers’ schedules permit, Brandon will push his boils well beyond four hours—up to even 72 hours. Once those sugars ferment out, this process has generally produced beers that possess other compounds that contribute to a perceived richness—something he says he’s found in only the occasional oude gueuze (he mentions 3 Fonteinen Langste Kook, which uses a marathon-long boil).

In the future, the Boldts hope to add their own brewing equipment, allowing them not only to make their own wort but also potentially to sell wort to other small-scale blenderies, lowering the barrier to entry for producing spontaneously fermented beer. Of course, it would also make their corner of Colorado feel a bit more like Belgium.

Photos, clockwise from top left: Jamie Bogner; Stacey McMahan; Jamie Bogner

Find People, Spread Love

Most people would consider lambic-inspired beer challenging to understand in terms of its process and perhaps challenging to appreciate in terms of its flavors. The Boldts acknowledge this, while also pushing back on certain assumptions: Perhaps much of that reputation has to do with the way those beers have historically been presented.

At the taproom, the physical space forces visitors to reckon with Primitive’s production methods. Oak is everywhere, and the coolship is an especially important tool for helping people visualize the process.


“You can describe to someone until the cows come home how to spontaneously inoculate a beer and what it means to [work only] seasonally,” Brandon says, “but when they get around the coolship and see it filled, they’re like, ‘I get it! That is hot sugar water, and the windows are open!’”

At the taproom and events, Primitive tries to offer a corrective to misconceptions about oak-fermented beers’ stuffiness. If you encounter the brewery at a festival, you might see Lisa or Brandon pour their beer from a lambic basket. But you’re almost more likely to see them unboxing a plastic bag of one of their still beers from its cardboard package—picture a boxed wine, but full of young, spontaneously fermented beer—and offering people splashes straight from the bag. (Sponsponbingbong, indeed.)

“They can have a conversation with you about beer for hours, or they can say, ‘Hey slap the bag,’” Larkin says. “Being able to come with that level of approachability is a really strong part of what they’ve done.”

The brewery also has been intentional in partnering with organizations and events that advance racial and social justice. Two collaboration beers with Beer Kulture saw all revenue benefit that organization’s Sparks Foundation, which provides grants to Black male entrepreneurs. Such efforts are mostly due to a personal commitment, but it’s also in service of welcoming all drinkers to share in what Primitive is doing.

Photos: Jamie Bogner

“In the spirit of going narrow instead of going broad, we’re really trying to find our people rather than appeal to everyone,” Brandon says. He says that Primitive has worked with select distributors to get modest amounts of beer into New York, Oregon, Washington, D.C., and Colorado, and that they would eventually like to establish relationships with bars and restaurants for tasting events. “Our people aren’t people who look like us or who grew up like us or are from the same areas. It’s finding people from far and wide who are like: ‘Yes, this resonates with me.’”


Lisa puts it more succinctly: “All people can equally love or hate our beer,” she says, laughing.

In a testament to Primitive’s welcoming atmosphere, a handful of the brewery’s regulars typically don’t even order the house beers; instead, they opt for guest drafts. Eventually, the Boldts say, they’d like to add a full liquor license. Events such as the annual Hot Bierfest—a celebration of beers that are mulled or flash-caramelized with a hot poker—also have helped introduce drinkers to the brewery, even if spontaneous beer wasn’t the primary draw.

“Primitive is the perfect place for anyone,” says SeAirra McLeod, one of the regulars. “There’s no issue with dogs or kids. Sometimes their daughter Pearl is there. It just feels like a very wholesome environment.” She says the taproom seemed to be consistently busier with customers following the first Hot Bierfest in 2021 and the addition of guest taps. “Going into Primitive, everybody feels the love.”

Ultimately, that is the mark the Boldts want to leave on Colorado’s beer scene. Both Lisa and Brandon have academic backgrounds in geology, which imbues even their business decision-making with a certain expansiveness of time. They jokingly refer to this mindset as “geologic nihilism”—none of this beer stuff was around 2 million years ago, and it won’t be around 2 million years from now. It’s a reminder to put something artistic and uplifting into the world, even if it’s not exactly a money maker.

“Any good you can do or any positive activity you can spread is therefore just great on its own,” Brandon says. “It’s not for anything. It’s just because, why not?”