World Beer Cup gold. Multiple GABF golds. Back-to-back wins in the Alpha King Challenge. Small Brewpub of the Year. Up until a few months ago, Melvin Brewing might have been the most decorated 3 BBL brewhouse in the country. And the only reason they’re not now is the addition of a gleaming new 30 BBL brewhouse, production facility, and canning line in Alpine, Wyoming. These self-professed Kung Fu and hip hop fanatics, with beers named in honor of the Wu-Tang Clan, are on the march to take their brand of unrepentant hops-forward beers to beer fans throughout the Rockies and PNW. Can anything stop them?
What started as a tiny 20-gallon brewery tucked in the back of an eccentric Thai food restaurant in downtown Jackson, Wyoming, has become a production facility with a 30-barrel brewhouse in Alpine, Wyoming, and will become a new tap house in Bellingham, Washington, later this year to boot.
Meet Jeremy Tofte (center), the ski bum who opened Thai Me Up in tourist town Jackson in 2000. “At the restaurant, we have two TVs. They both play Kung Fu,” he says. “We only listen to hip hop. We have secret things on the menu that tourists don’t know about because we’ve got to take care of the locals.”
“Everyone who works at Melvin has a chip on their shoulder,” adds Tofte of his offbeat businesses. “I have this theory that it’s us against the world.”
In 2010, Tofte installed a 20-gallon system in the back of Thai Me Up. The next year Tofte installed the 3-barrel system that’s currently in place and called on Melvin Cofounder and current Head Brewer Kirk McHale (far left) to help him develop recipes. McHale flew to Jackson and posted up at the bar with Tofte. The result was 2x4 Double IPA and Melvin IPA.
All good beer recipes start on a napkin, Tofte says. “It sounds cheesy, but that’s exactly what happened... well, more like a scratch piece of paper instead of a napkin. Kirk and I sat down at the bar at Thai Me Up and wrote recipes for 2x4 and Melvin IPA, just playing around with ideas and flavors and thoughts. We brewed those two beers almost exclusively for the next six months, aside from a couple of porters and a strong ale.”
“Dear (insert your name here), This is the best damn DIPA in the world,” explains the beer description for 2x4. This beer, a gentle beast with citrus and floral, is deceiving—it doesn’t drink like its 10 percent ABV. Then there’s Melvin IPA, an intense, fruit-forward IPA focused on aroma instead of bitterness. Melvin IPA weighs in at 7.5 percent ABV. “These beers got better and better every time we brewed them,” Tofte remembers of those early days. “We would roll in every morning and drink coffee, listen to some hip hop, and just make shit up as we went.”
Arguably, Thai Me Up is responsible for Jackson’s best beer list. It has twenty taps, ten dedicated to Melvin beers and ten for the best beers that can be found in that part of the country, says Tofte. “What we can get in Wyoming isn’t too extensive,” he admits, “but we get the very best beer on tap that we possibly can.”
Thai Me Up’s curated beer list was good for both morale and beer quality when Melvin got started. “People tasted our beers side by side with other breweries’ [beers] that they knew; the beer list showed that we weren’t afraid to be up there with everyone else. We’re proud of our beer.”
Thai Me Up was slow for the first few years (after Tofte took it back over after selling it on eBay and surfing in exotic places around the world for two years), and there were even a few times that Tofte thought the company might go out of business. “We almost went out of business pursuing the dream,” he says, “but we seemed to always have these last-second heroic saves that helped us get over the top. Selling my 1978 Mercedes Wagon to buy the initial brew system was one of them... and then there were all the medals.”
In 2012, Melvin’s 2x4 and Melvin IPA took home gold medals from the Great American Beer Festival; their Chchchch-Cherry Bomb fruit beer took home the GABF silver. In 2014, 2x4 won the World Beer Cup gold medal while Chchchch-Cherry Bomb won a bronze. Then in 2015, Chchchch-Cherry Bomb won a GABF gold and Melvin IPA won a GABF bronze in the Wet Hops category. In addition, Melvin was awarded the prestigious Small Brewpub of the Year Award from the Brewers Association.
“We’ve had to brew a lot of those beers a lot more after [the awards],” Tofte says, regaling me with tales of brewing contract batches of 2X4 and Melvin IPA on the 30-barrel system at nearby Grand Teton Brewing Company to meet the demand. “We’ve always experimented and had fun, but if we didn’t have it on [tap], people would be like, ‘Dude where’s Melvin IPA?’”
Expansion was inevitable for Melvin. It took shape in the form of the brewery’s current production facility in Alpine, Wyoming (pictured above), where Melvin flagships Melvin IPA, 2x4 DIPA, Hubert (what the brewery calls a Melvin pale ale and others call an IPA), Killer Bees (American blond ale), and Clinic ISA (session IPA) are brewed. The increased production of these beers allows Tofte to use the brewhouse at Thai Me Up to keep the beer list rotating with one-offs and experimental batches. Included in this lineup are copious double IPAs that come out of Melvin’s RIIPA, the Rotational Imperial India Pale Ale series.
Melvin might be focused on a hoppy beer list that sports five Double IPAs, but “we’re not one-trick ponies,” says Tofte. “We’re always playing around with different hops and their timings. We make Belgians, imperial porters, coffee porters.” The list goes on to include Jungle Juice, a red raspberry ale and Heyzeus! (a Mexican lager) among many others. The brewery is also developing a sour-beer program that will launch next year and soon will debut the Manual Release Series, named after its manual bottler than can fill about fifteen cases of beer each hour. Manual Release will be an experimental series that focuses on barrel aging as well as different grains and yeast strains.
“Basically, we’re going to keep leaking out crazy beers to people,” Tofte says. “We’re always going for it. Always putting the cart before the horse. It’s always worked. The gut knows. The beer gut knows.”