Patience is said to be a virtue.
When Alex Buck and Ben Bradley met, their vision of opening a brewery and distillery was something that would take them down a long and unique path.
Their story is similar to Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” in which Frost tells a tale of going down a road and being given a choice between two paths. Even though it is about a single traveler, Buck and Bradley have worked as one ever since their business endeavors took off and have often taken the road less traveled.
Meeting through a mutual friend in 2013, Buck, 43, and Bradley, 35, hit it off, bonding over their shared passion for beer and spirits, and the rest is history. The result was the Warfield Brewery and Distillery.
“It felt like we had similar goals and aspirations,” Bradley said. “We share a lot of similar views to the (alcohol) business, which made life pretty easy. We also both have the same type of work ethic.”
As the two formed a bond and shared ideas, the Warfield name received its foundation one day when the two were mountain biking up Warfield Creek Trail. As the two entrepreneurs feverishly cycled up, they realized they were going the wrong way, which is a theme with these guys—they do it unconventionally. Their path always seems to be the road less traveled.
When their restaurant opened in 2015, they felt it was missing something. The production facility was their passion—brewing beer and distilling spirits—and they wanted a space to more clearly reflect that vision. They believed in their product and had the gall to prove it, so they doubled down with a production buildout with intentions of entering the wholesale game. So, in 2018, they took on a bold new plan.
“If we are going to make this thing financially successful, then we had to get into wholesale,” said Bradley. “We realized out of the gate that if we were to expand, we had to go big and build something that would last, so that was the driving force.”
Construction of a 12,000-square-foot, two-story brewhouse with a basement began in 2018 at 280 N. Main, next door to their Main Street restaurant in downtown Ketchum, and has been intriguing locals and tourists alike for the past year and a half. This past spring, we got a sneak peak and here is what we found:
The brewhouse will be operating a 30-barrel (BBL) system that was crafted especially for the Warfield in a factory just outside Detroit at Craftwerk Brewing Systems. Along with multiple 120-BBL and 60-BBL tanks, the Warfield will have around 6,000-BBL of new capacity, as well as two copper 1,000-gallon whiskey stills, which were made by the famous Forsyths still manufacturer in Scotland. Both copper pot stills sit in front of the brewhouse and face Main Street with a windowed sidewalk view.
Next to the stills is the tasting room, which will have restaurant seating and a new bar. The window walls that look out onto Main Street are convertible to an open sidewalk on beautiful summer days.
The tasting room also features stairs to a second-floor balcony which offers a first-hand look at the brewing and distilling process. The upstairs will be connected to the Warfield’s famous upper deck and is available to rent for special events.
With so much fun going on up top, down below is where the secret stash hides. The basement will house a bottling room, collection vessels, lockers for employees, maintenance rooms, two 10-BBL bright tanks for liquor production, and a giant cold storage room big enough to hold 350 kegs and sufficient for wholesale throughout Idaho.
Buck and Bradley worked with architect Gretchen Wagner of Scape Design Studio on the project, keeping the expansion layout true to Warfield’s gastro-pub style. It is a factory setting, yet fresh, with a distinctive vibe that will surely be a fan favorite.
Putting hammer to nail, Conrad Brothers turned the concept to reality for the Warfield, as the hard-working team put in grueling hours through cold winters and hot summers.
“Along with the architects and construction workers, the City of Ketchum and the planning and zoning folks like John Gaeddert and Mayor Neil Bradshaw have been super positive. They were always on board and had open communications,” said Bradley.
But it isn’t just the brand new, state-of-the-art expansion that is turning heads, the Warfield is also winning awards for their much-anticipated Warfield Organic Whiskey.
“We received two gold medals,” Buck said. “One from the American Craft Spirits Association and one from the San Francisco International Spirits Competition in the whiskey category. Plus, we received a San Francisco International Spirits Competition silver medal for our Organic Gin.”
The Warfield Organic American Whiskey, which is worth the wait, is distilled on their small 210-gallon pot still and aged for three years in ex-bourbon barrels. It has flavors of toffee, milk chocolate, coffee and barley with a smooth spice.
The Warfield Whiskey accompanies an already impressive spirits list featuring the Warfield No Return Gin, Mayday Vodka and Sister City Brandy.
With their spirits wowing people, and the nearly completed brewhouse opening this summer, the Warfield is about to hit its stride.
That doesn’t mean it has always been a smooth road, however. Like any path less traveled, there have been some bumps and switchbacks along the way, but Buck and Bradley rode to the top, keeping their eye on their shared vision. The Warfield’s restaurant initially opened to mixed reviews, but through persistence and teamwork, they overcame the early woes of the restaurant business and made adjustments. From the beginning, Buck and Bradley were doing it all: from making and selling the beer and spirits to managing the restaurant staff. Shuffling through multiple general managers that just were not the right fit, they realized that the Warfield needed a new direction to relieve some of the management pressures.
“It took a group effort for us to say to the public that we do mean business, and we recognize the problems,” said Buck. “There’s a lot of people who never take responsibility for what they do.”
Aiming to open at the end of June, the Warfield will also unveil a revamped management team melded of talent and experience with a vivacious brewmaster and a trail-blazing and award-winning head chef.
Jay Verrege, 52, takes over in the kitchen as head chef and general manager, while Kieran Burns, 30, will take over duty as the head brewmaster. Both are natural-born leaders who have the pedigree and the passion for carrying on Buck and Bradley’s vision.
A former Navy Seal, Verrege is an avid outdoorsman and family man, so he fits in nicely with the Wood River Valley culture. At 10-years old, he learned how to cook in his grandfather’s Basque restaurant in California. Since then, Verrege has built a reputation as one of the finest chefs in the world.
He spent three years as an apprentice to iconic restaurateur and chef Pierre Gagnier in France. He ran multiple successful restaurants throughout California, including Wolf House Restaurant in Sonoma, which was then a Michelin-rated restaurant.
“The key to my success in this business is leading by example and showing commitment and getting other people to put forth their best effort as well,” Verrege said.
His no-nonsense approach makes Verrege the creator of a rotating seasonal menu that ranges from timeless and casual to intelligent and chic.
“I do a lot of lamb, and people love it; I’ve been doing it my entire life,” said Verrege. “I have a focus to give the customer base what they ask for.”
The Warfield was able to acquire Kieran Burns, who hails from Wellington, New Zealand. Burns learned from some of the world’s most talented brewers, and it is where he honed his craft, although he likes to shy away from the word “craft.”
“At some point, it is no longer a craft; it’s a full-on business and production studio full of mess-ups, arguments, and disasters,” Burns said, whose jovial enthusiasm for beer is contagious. “Through the struggle comes great reward: tighter bonds, smarter heads, extraordinary food, and great beer and spirits.”
Along with Warfield’s flagship brews like Lucky 7 Pale Ale, Magnanimous Lager, and Thorny Thistle, Burns’ original recipes will soon be featured, which consist of the Ketchum Kolsch, Common Chaos, Feisty Wee Number and Blind Horse.
Under the tutelage of Pete Gillespie and Jos Ruffell at Garage Project, Burns helped turn a 50-liter brewhouse to a 20,000-liter one in only three years. Burns looks to pass along the torch to production assistants Willard Thomas and Ian Doyle.
“I’ve always been about leading people,” said Burns. “I enjoy getting behind people and helping them grow into the best possible person they
Warfield’s mantra is “Put Good In, Get Good Out,” and Alex and Ben have put in the hard work and are determined to make Warfield an iconic staple in downtown Ketchum.
Now it is time to get good out.
Along with bar manager and partner, Justin Hockemeyer, whose knowledge of spirits adds a sense of sincerity to the cozy Old English pub atmosphere, the Warfield is undoubtedly going to make good on its promise.
And in the end, two roads merged to blend these feisty wee numbers of award-winning talent while forging a landmark identity in the Wood
AN ESSENTIAL CALL TO ARMS
Amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, anticipation loomed. With the United States economy frozen in late-April, Ketchum’s Main Street had no one in sight. Despite the unrest, Alex Buck and his crew were hard at work because, to Buck and his business partner, Ben Bradley, the show must go on. The Warfield had heard an essential call to arms.
Shortages of basic needs like hand sanitizer prompted many distilleries like the Warfield to take a detour from their typical product line, pulling double duty as an essential business to create hand sanitizer to help combat the coronavirus of 2020.
“Once there was news of other distilleries making sanitizer, we wanted to get on board,” said Alex Buck. “Essentially, we’re lucky enough to have plenty of the neutral grain spirit that is used for our Mayday Vodka and No Return Gin.”
Jumping at the chance to give back, the Warfield began producing 8-oz. bottles of hand sanitizer and a total of 500 units were dispersed throughout Blaine County, reaching fire departments, police departments, St. Luke’s hospital frontline health workers, hospice patients, elder care facilities, first responders and municipalities.
Doctor offices throughout the Wood River Valley also had high requests for the hand sanitizer, so the Warfield filled those needs and also gave some of its hand sanitizers to Mountain Rides and the Sawtooth National Forest and the Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA).
Uniquely positioned to help, the Warfield had the equipment and basic ingredients to respond quickly; following the formula recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), they took their existing 190-proof alcohol and proofed it down to 160-proof, which is 80 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), then mixed the alcohol with glycerin and hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide is added to help kill spores in plastic containers.
“We were not sure what we could do legally,” Buck said, citing the liquor laws restricting other uses but adding that they were committed to helping the community. Regularly, alcohol production is taxable by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB); however, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stepped in and momentarily loosened up regulations in order to respond to the emergency need for hand sanitizer.
“The FDA told us to make it and follow the guidelines, so it gave us the opportunity to go ahead and produce the hand sanitizer,” Buck added. “We’re new to this game, but this allowed us to try and help people.”