Jess Fierro had long dreamt of opening a brewery, and in 2017 she won a high-profile homebrew competition on Vice TV’s Beerland. In 2018, she and husband Rich jumped at a turnkey opportunity to make their community-focused vision into reality. Later came the unimaginable: On the night of November 19, 2022, they were celebrating a birthday with friends and family at Club Q in Colorado Springs when a shooter killed five people and injured many more; Rich, an Army veteran, tackled and subdued the shooter. That led to an outpouring of attention to their small business, even as they continue to come to terms with trauma and personal loss.
CBB // Why don’t we start with some of your own beer histories? How did you connect with craft beer? And what then got you excited about brewing beer?
JF // Through our military travels, we landed in Heidelberg, Germany; we were there for just shy of six years. I was never a fan of beer. I was a big wine person—tequila girl. So we go to Germany, and you know, you got your liters of beer out there, and you’re in the mecca of it all, right? I mean, if you know beer, that’s where you want to be. And it took Rich probably the better half of a year to convince me to even start drinking beer.
RF // I mean, let’s be honest, right? It’s €1.50 for bottled water, I think it was €1.25 at that point for a tall pint of beer. And I’m like, “Dude, what are we doing here?” Because when we go anywhere to drink, she’s ordering drinks that are €14. And I’m just an Army guy; I ain’t making that kind of money. So, it was very interesting how that whole transition really became an economic decision to convince her to go toward beer. And then she really went for it.
JF // I think that pivotal moment for me was, the military unit that my husband was in, they were holding a “hail and farewell” at a local brewery in Plankstadt; it was called Weldebräu. And as part of the function, the brewer came out, and they gave us a back-of-house tour, grain to glass, what it took to make a beer. And I remember looking at everything, all the shiny equipment, and I looked at it with such a naive and very trivial kind of thought process, where I looked at it and I was like, “Oh my god, I can totally do this, right?”
Now, I did not have any idea how labor-intensive it would be. But I loved the thought of being able to create. I loved that. And so, we finished with the tour. We got a glass of beer. And that glass of beer was the first beer that I had tasted that had a little bit of a lime-rindy kind of taste to it, and one of my favorite foods is lemon. So … I drank beer the entire night. We danced, we partied, all that stuff. And it was kind of messing with my head because I knew that I didn’t like beer. And I didn’t understand why I was really liking this beer. From then on, we kind of caught that bug. And I wanted to go and explore, and Rich would take me to all the breweries. … I call it my “brewniverse” over there; that’s really where I learned to love beer. And over there, you know, it’s still very family-oriented as well. So, you get to talk to the brewers, you get to go back-of-house, you get to pick brains. And I really took that same idea and brought it back here to Colorado.
RF // Just to touch on that family thing, it’s huge. I mean, in Europe, the whole family goes to the local brewery. We were dancing to Santana cover bands out in the middle of Germany, right? And it was just an atmosphere, a vibe of community. And I think that’s where, for us, craft beer separates itself from big beer because [big beer is] about business, and craft beer—even though we’re all trying to make a dollar, I understand that—is about community. And for us that was very, very relatable. And that was us, as a family. That’s what we dig, right? We’re all about service—all of us. …
Diversity is a big thing for us. And while we’re doing all these tours, and we’re going up and down in Colorado, we’re going to breweries. Whenever we visited a town, to see my brother or whatever, we’d stop at breweries—because that’s honestly a great place just to gather, relax, and catch up, right? So, we were doing that, and we kept looking around and going, “Hey, we’re the only ones in here that look like us.” But we’d go back to San Diego, and there were a ton of us in the breweries. So, we would see the difference of how the cultures were almost separate. And we were like, “Dude, that’s not cool, man.’” You know, Latinos love to drink. We love gathering, we love community. And that’s what breweries are about, right?
CBB // And Colorado does have a Latino population.
RF // Well, even if we [didn’t], we just wanted to create a space where people felt welcome. … When you stick out, when you’re the only one in a room who looks like you or acts like you, you kind of feel different, right? And so, we wanted to smooth that out. And that’s what our intention was with Atrevida. So, for us, that became our mission, above and beyond beer. It was, we want to make a space where people like us felt comfortable—not, this is our spot. This is everybody’s spot. That’s what diversity is about, right? Just bringing in everything you can.
JF // One of the things that really helped me in my journey from homebrewing into owning my own brewery was going out there and picking brains. I would show up with my notebook. I would email the owners, “Hey, can I get 10 minutes of your time just to kind of pick your brain a little bit?” Because I wanted to make sure that I was setting myself up for success. Now, at the same time, I could have opened earlier. I chose not to because I was scared. I was intimidated, and everyone around me was going, “You brew good beer; you got to do what you got to do.” And I was like, “Listen, if I open up a place, and the only thing I’m selling is the beer I’m making, and no one buys it, I’m screwed.”
RF // What was really cool was to watch as it grew from this TV show. And she won the damn thing, which was really crazy. But it proved to her [that] her beer was good. Our beer can be marketed and sold at scale. And that’s what AB InBev did with that beer. So, at that point, she was like, “People are looking for this.”
CBB // And this is the Beerland show that Meg Gill from Golden Road hosted on Vice TV. And they featured you on that, in a competition of sorts, and you won. Tell me about that.
JF // I did. As Rich said, it was such a moment of confusion. I was part of an all-women collaboration brew with several different breweries up in Denver. Bess [Dougherty, now brewer at Ratio Beerworks] was the person who was heading it. … As part of that collaboration group, we had a closed Facebook group to communicate. And at one point, they put on there, “Hey, we’re still missing a homebrewer.” So, I was the only homebrewer. Every other person was at a professional capacity. … So they send my information off. I was under the impression that I was going for a local competition up in Denver. And it turned out, all of a sudden, I get this director calling me. … And I was like, “What the crap is this?” Because they were asking me crazy questions. “Give me your history of brewing, give me this.” And I was like, this is a different competition, right?
The beer that I entered eventually ended up being called on Doña Neta, which was a tribute beer to my late grandmother, and it was a tamarind bière de garde with some back-end spices. This beer was very personal to me, and the recipe that I used for the tamarind was the same recipe that my grandmother taught me, to make candies in Mexico. And that was her way. We would make these candies, and then we’d go out and sell them in the community. And everyone regarded my grandmother as Doña Neta—for me, she was Nana Neta. But that was her way of contributing back to her household. And I just remember being so embarrassed because, “Oh my god, I’m not gonna go and sell candies on the street.” And that ultimately ended up being the winning beer, and it served as kind of the catapult to opening up my own brewery.
RF // It was very crazy, but it’s a wild ride. And honestly, a turnkey brewery [the former Great Storm brewhouse] was probably the best way we [could] do this. I don’t know how these guys do it—you know, they go millions into the hole to start a brewery—beautiful breweries, great systems, beautiful front of house. Everything in this place means something to us. We painted this place, we put up the murals, we put up all the pictures. Half the stuff, it was us and my friends and her friends putting in the work. I mean, we built tables. You’re sitting at a table I built just because we needed to have another table, right? This is a family thing, right? Three of the six employees are Jess, me, and Cass, our daughter. And the three of us were in the [Club Q] shooting.
So, there’s a lot of anger as to what our response was for folks who were just trying to support, and buying a T-shirt, or coming in to have a beer. Three of us were out, and at that point, Tasha [Bestwina] and Taylor [Salazar] were the only two here, and Taylor wasn’t brewing. Tasha was the only brewer. We ran out of beer on the third day we were open. On the second day, we ran out of merch 10 minutes after we opened. … And it was kind of crazy. People from all over the world—because it resonates. These mass shootings are sickening. They’re disgusting, but it resonates with people when a family, an entire family, was involved. Our best friends were there with us. We lost Raymond—there were six of us there who were connected for years, over six, 10 years. And that’s my Colorado family, and we were all attacked.
So, each day is a challenge for us. And some days when the troll pops up, and I want to say something really jacked up, or Jess wants to, we’ve had our moments of, “Screw you. I don’t care.” And it’s not fair, but it’s also for us, like, “Do you not understand what happened here?” This is not a run-of-the-mill “Oh, we got robbed,” or something normal. This was completely un-normal. And we were involved with a community that we were supporting because our friend was there. … We were the first brewery in [the] Springs, and still are the only ones, to march in Pride every year. There’s no money in it. It’s because that’s what we wanted to do.
JF // That’s part of that follow-through though, right? Talk is cheap—there’s a reason that phrase is there. You have to walk the walk, you have to do the hard work, you have to be out there, you have to be present. We live our motto: “Diversity: It’s on tap” is literally how we live our life. It’s synonymous, one with the other. I don’t come in here to pretend to be somebody, or I don’t hire people who pretend to be somebody. This is who we are. We are all like-minded, and when this whole thing happened…
First of all, the outpouring of love and support—just incredible. I’ve never witnessed anything like that in my life. But when we’re talking about the trolls, and we’re talking about people who want to yell at us and cuss us out because they didn’t get their T-shirt or their $50 hoodies or whatever. … The thing is that you can’t expect people to understand it. I still don’t understand it—I went through it, we went through it—but I don’t understand it. And the minute that I understand it—well, that’s my red flag, right? I should not be able to understand that type of mentality, of why someone would go in and just shoot a place up, right? That’s where I give that leniency.
So, I can’t expect these folks to understand what we’re going through. I mean, we ask for patience, and we ask for a little bit of understanding in terms of human nature. We’re going through a lot as a family, and the reality of it is that we haven’t stopped. … I haven’t had an opportunity to sit down and dwell, and I can’t do that. Because if I do, I’m going to fall apart, right? I still have a business to run, I still have employees who are counting on me, I still have all these people who want to support us and love on us. We all kind of went into robot mode. I mean, this was also very triggering for a lot of people.
CBB // You’re dealing with this personal trauma—the death of someone who is very close to your family who was there with you that night, the trauma of being involved in this and then opening the business a week later, and then trying to manage the spotlight now that’s on this business. It’s hard enough to run a small business. How did you balance all of this?
JF // The harder part is putting aside the human feelings and going into robot mode. Just having this business at this point in time, having gone through what we’ve gone through, has been a blessing and a curse for me. There’s a lot of stress that’s involved. The media portion of it, [Rich] is very good at that; he loves that. But that’s also the silver lining, right? Because we now have a platform to bring awareness and to speak to things in a way that everyday people can understand, everyday people can relate to, and so it’s important that we do those things.
But on the business aspect, it’s hard because we deal with each other every single day, we see each other every single day, and we’re all going through it at a different point in time. What triggers me one day can trigger my daughter the next day—you know, three of us in the same household went through the same thing. And we all deal with it very, very differently. There’s a grieving process. There’s a mourning process, there’s a loneliness, there’s the stress, and there’s anger—a lot of anger with pain.
CBB // It wasn’t like you could take months off and spend time in therapy to get to a place where all of a sudden you feel more mentally capable of being right here and running this.
RF // What are we gonna do? Jess had to get back in there and start up. ... It also goes back to the house because then you get home, and you’re angry. And it’s not the intention; [it’s the] pain that comes with this stuff. She begged me for years with the Army to go to therapy, and I’m like, “I’m good, I’m a man, I don’t need all that crap.” And I’ve figured it out. … For people who have gone through trauma like this, that PTSD, that’s what shakes out. That’s when you don’t realize how you get mad at some of the stupidest things, but because there’s an anger in you that you’re trying to push down. And it’s very hard to deal with.
I think you’re the third interview Jess has done in this entire time [since the shooting]. I took that on because they did not want to deal with it that way. And it’s hard to talk about, but for me, it helps me. I feel better when I talk about it, right? So, it became a kind of a partnership. … Because at the end of the day, there’s a group of folks that are being marginalized—the LGBTQ community is being marginalized. … And we’re sitting here, like, “Dude, these are our friends, our family. What’s going on? What is the problem? They’re not hurting anybody.” That’s where I feel like people need to see a veteran, one who actually cares about people, and is not about “kill, kill, kill,” and just wants people to get along. … I don’t know how to solve mass shootings. I don’t know how to solve anything. I’m just some dude, and my opinion really doesn’t matter. … For us, that’s what this was about: diversity and bringing everyone in. It was about letting you make your own decision.
JF // At the end of the day, I do want to have a quality product. But why can’t I use that product to create dialogue? Why can’t I use that product to create awareness? And that’s exactly what I’ve done since Day One here, and that’s still what we do today.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
For the full conversation with Jess and Rich Fierro, listen to Episode 315 of the Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine® podcast.