UNC alumnus Jeff Crabtree shares his expertise — and brews some ah ha moments with UNC students.
As a fifth-generation entrepreneur, UNC alumnus Jeff Crabtree ’05 (Business Economics) knew he wanted to open a brewery in Greeley even before he graduated.
“Not only was I graduating and going through all of my finals,” Crabtree says, “I was also signing leases and applying for federal and state approval to open a brewery.”
In May 2006, Crabtree established Greeley’s first production brewery, Crabtree Brewing Company, rooting craft beer firmly in the city scene. When city code for breweries changed from industrial to medium commercial in 2011 (a change which Crabtree endorsed), it paved the way for the city’s now vibrant brewing economy and made Greeley a destination for craft beer enthusiasts.
“You’re now able to go through seven different craft breweries in our town. It’s phenomenal. It’s great for our economy and our citizens,” Crabtree says.
Crabtree’s interests have always gravitated toward the intricacies of the manufacturing process, but when his consumers wanted a tasting room experience in the same facility where the beer is made, he evolved his business plan. Crabtree purchased and designed a new location for Crabtree Brewing as a family-friendly destination brewery, with an expanded tasting room and large living room, two beer gardens, a cherry orchard and a Zen garden.
“The most important thing is we’re a community brewery. This is Greeley’s brewery,” Crabtree said. “It’s important to be a part of your community, and we’ve had great relationships forged out of owning this business in Greeley. UNC is also a part of that community, and it’s helped me with relationships that I wouldn’t have received anywhere else. What I took from UNC that helped my career was phenomenal.”
A sponsor of UNC Athletics and the UNC Alumni Association tailgates, Crabtree believes in giving back. He reached out to students, working with Professor Michael Mosher of the UNC Brewing Science Program to develop the Top Hop program, which brings top UNC students into Crabtree’s brewery to learn to develop beer from concept to market.
This spring, four UNC students became the first Top Hops. They were responsible for developing a beer concept, creating the recipe, sourcing necessary ingredients, brewing, filtering, transferring and packaging the beer, designing the label concept, creating the release event, and more. The resulting brew, the Klawz Kollab, was then distributed for sale in local and regional liquor stores and restaurants, as well as at Bears home football games for the Alumni Association tailgate. A portion of Kollab proceeds also goes toward a scholarship for future UNC brewing science students.
“The experience I had with the first four students was unbelievable,” Crabtree says. “Doing this as a career, I’ve seen it all, but seeing it through their eyes was the ah ha moment … to have them smell that wort and smell those hops, you could just see the hook. You could see the passion.”