When our editor asked for Unsung Hero nominations, Broken Trail Spirits + Brew’s co-owner and head distiller Matt Simonds nominated his operations manager, Devan Colston. Originally, Matt gave me a three-word response when I asked him why he chose Devan: “Because he’s awesome?” Then Matt immediately expanded on that by saying, “No, more to the point. Devan has been a source of stability around here. I’m stretched pretty thin, and Devan more or less begged for the opportunity (to) help out when I needed it the most. He’s a guy that’s been around the craft brewing scene for a while now — he’s bartended, he’s slung beer. He brought that experience over to us and really helped take Broken Trail up to the next level. And, he’d be the first to say, we haven’t even gotten started!”
Luckily, I thought to bring my Dark Side shirt with me to work and hastily threw it on before I met with Devan at lunchtime in Nob Hill to interview him for this series. Because, despite his being in the industry for quite a long time, we strangely had not met, and neither of us would have known who to look for. It turns out he is an interesting guy who has pretty much seen all sides of this business of breweries.
Devan began his career in the industry working for Nico Ortiz as a server at Turtle Mountain. He then started bartending there, became a manger, and in total worked there for almost a decade. Devan moved on to La Cumbre, where he worked as a taproom manager for just under three years. He then worked at Ponderosa for about eight months, and has now been at Broken Trail about a year and a half. He started out there bartending a couple of nights a week while working another full-time job. Working at Broken Trail afforded him the opportunity to work with both beer and cocktails. He feels that, first and foremost, he is a beer guy, but the spirits side allows him to be more artistic.
Broken Trail started growing quickly, and there is also the added business from distributing, including the new and very popular Pepe the Mule malt beverage. With this growth, Devan saw an opportunity to assist Matt on the operations side. He now manages operations at both the Green Jeans taproom and main location.
As I did in my first story in this series, I asked Devan why he thought he was nominated. He said he likes to go about his job in a humble fashion, just show up and get things done. Between what he said and what Matt said, if I can read between the lines, I am guessing the crux of it is this — it seems Devan has the ability to see a bigger picture and envision what needs to be done. And then he does it. It may sound simplistic, but in actuality, this is not an innate trait in most employees.
Also, as I am wont to do, I threw out a couple of silly questions. I asked Devan — before he ever got involved in this industry — what he originally wanted to “be when he grew up.” (I obviously couldn’t answer that question if I was asked, because I never did grow up!) Devan said from the time he started high school he wanted to be involved in academia. He always wanted to teach, to be a professor. I told him he should teach craft cocktail classes.
I suddenly decided I wanted to know the weirdest thing he has seen working in this business. Devan thought for a bit and then said, “Humans are just weird.” He then told me a recent story about a couple who were “being gross” at the bar. He said the words public display of affection didn’t even cover it. Because it happened at the Green Jeans location, the micro-bar size of the space made it impossible for him to get away from it. He actually turned the incident into a Facebook post, comparing it to a Dave Chappelle skit from Saturday Night Live.
I asked Devan who he as operations director would nominate at Broken Trail for this series. Without hesitation, he said, “Obviously Matt.” Devan said he loves Matt’s products and “Matt’s the one that makes the show go.” I teased him about how this series is not really about owners or long-time head brewers, but more about the hardworking employees who don’t usually get the credit. I gave him a hard time about a mutual admiration society. All kidding aside, though, Matt is great fun, and wouldn’t we all like to have such a fantastic relationship with our boss?
Then, Devan went a step further by saying he wanted to note one more thing about who he would nominate if he could nominate anyone else (outside of Broken Trail). He wanted me to know how much respect and admiration he has for Zach Guilmette at Canteen Brewhouse. Devan feels Zach is making some of the best beer in town and does not get the same recognition as the “top guns.”
As for upcoming news for Broken Trail, collaborations like the Sancho Saison they did with Jubilation, will continue. Devan said to look for a couple more hop-forward beers soon.
Event-wise, there’s a special one coming up, hopefully at the end of July. Devan literally provided information that could be called a smoking gun. Because Matt bought one — a smoking gun, that is! They are planning a night of smoked cocktails at the main Broken Trail location in collaboration with Nob Hill Bar & Grill, Scalo, Farina Alto, and others. I wish he had some kind of sign-up sheet right there with him, because I would have signed up on the spot.
And, there just might be another, much bigger surprise in the works. Stay tuned, everyone …