Banner Imaging Manager Laura Breuer traces her family history to a lineage of German ancestry with generational ties to the beverage industry. But the eight-year ultrasound specialist never really expected that the family would wind up in the spirits business together, brewers in name as well as avocation.
When they moved from Ohio to Colorado in 1999, the Breuers arrived just in time to witness the microbrewery boom in their new home state. At some point, her father, Hans, was gifted a homebrew kit, then wine-making equipment and, after a decade or so, a still. Hans’ interest was spurred on by the secondary, smaller surge in the micro-distillery business that followed the Colorado brewing boom of the 1990s, and the close-knit family was eager to join him in it.
“We just like making things,” Laura Breuer said. “We had always wanted to start a family business, but couldn’t figure out what. We thought, ‘Maybe this is something we could do together.’ ”
The family became just the 38th group to be awarded a distiller’s license from the state, and in 2017, opened the doors of Big Fat Pastor’s Spirits in Loveland, Colorado. Hans Breuer Sr., and his son-in-law, Daniel Preller, work as its master distillers; mom, Peggy, a graphic artist, designs the merchandise, apparel and labels. Laura is the chief financial officer (CFO), her sister, Lindsey Preller, handles marketing and public relations, and their brother, Hans Jr., fills in the gaps at their 1,000-square-foot distillery and tasting room.
The first products the family tackled were vodka and gin, before expanding into bourbon and whiskey. The production of distilled spirits can require a lengthier aging process than that of beer, particularly for darker liquors, but lighter spirits mature within a few months. Laura Breuer recalls how they uncovered a variety of flavor profiles while refining their gin recipe.
“Gin is a blast,” she said. “There’s always a big juniper base, but depending upon how you infuse it into the spirit, it can be more subtle. It’s so fun to taste them all and find all the nuances to make our recipes how we want them. We also do a 90-day barrel-rested gin, which gets a little bit of those flavors, but doesn’t get overwhelmed with oakiness.”
For those who do prefer an oaky spirit, Big Fat Pastor’s Soul Searchin’ bourbon whiskey is prepared with a base of Colorado-grown corn and barley, and its Holy Smokes malt whiskey blends Colorado barley with Scottish-imported peat smoked barley, “because it has the best flavor profile,” Laura Breuer said.
Aside from those limited out-of-state ingredients, Big Fat Pastor sources locally as many of its ingredients as possible. Labels are printed nearby, botanicals come from Old Town Spice Shop in Fort Collins, Colorado, and the corn and root shoot barley in its vodka is grown right in Loveland.
“We really believe in supporting our own economy,” Laura Breuer said. “It’s better to build your own city up. We want to focus on our community and saturate the area.”
That local focus involves enjoying the mutual support of neighboring distilleries, like Spring44, as well as partnering with area charities, including Realities for Children, a family service center in Fort Collins that helps to care for abused, neglected and at-risk children. When the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic shuttered tasting rooms across the country, Big Fat Pastor joined hundreds of other distillers across the country in pivoting from making small-batch spirits to making hand sanitizer. The family produced 1,000 bottles of the stuff, donating them to local churches, first responders and community nonprofits at a time when cleaning protocols were as important as ever, and alcohol-based cleaners could be in short supply.
“We want people to know who we are and have a good association with the name,” Laura Breuer said.
Those good works extend beyond the walls of the distillery – Hans Breuer is a pastor at the non-denominational Clearwater Church in Fort Collins, Colorado – as well as informing the hospitality guests are shown in its tasting room.
“Pre-COVID, we’d have big parties the first Friday of every month, a live local band in the distillery, a food truck out front and we’d be making drinks for everyone,” Laura Breuer said.
“On Saturdays we’d do tours, which was always really fun,” she said. “When we have the music and the food truck, it can get loud. We can get sometimes 40 people in there; it’s a lot for a small space like that.”
Peggy Breuer and Lindsey Preller develop the cocktail recipes at Big Fat Pastor Spirits, and, because Colorado distillery laws prohibit them from serving any beverages not made onsite, the family also creates its own mixers from scratch. Recipes and specials change quarterly to match what’s in season. Depending upon the time of the year, guests might enjoy a martini crafted with homemade dry vermouth, or a house-made limon- or orangecello. The opportunity to be creative and passionate about the business also allows the family to enjoy the work there as a change of pace from their weekday occupations.
“My brother-in-law runs his family appliance repair business; I run a medical imaging facility; my dad is a pastor,” Laura Breuer said. “It’s hard to manage the time commitment.”
Aside from their commitment to growing small and smartly, the Breuers are creating an enterprise they can someday hand off to the next generation, and as CFO, Laura Breuer is tasked with keeping the finances steady so that dream can be realized.
“When we were starting up, my sister had a little one, and we said, ‘He’s the future master distiller,’ ” Laura Breuer said. “This has always been something we wanted to pass on to our kids in the future. The dream was to give something to our children.”