To hear Zien tell it, the company didn’t even see any profits until 2009 -- 14 years after AleSmith first opened its doors for business. And those first green pennies, according to Zien, have everything to do with the massive explosion in the popularity of the Speedway Stout.
"The story goes back a while," Zien said. "I’m the second owner of AleSmith. When I came on in July 2002, I took the brewery over from it’s previous owner, Skip Virgilio. He had birthed Speedway Stout back in 1997 because he wanted to develop a stout with coffee in it."
That version of Speedway Stout, according to Zien, was a far cry from the present-day iteration of the beer, sporting a lower alcohol by volume and less complexity. While it had always been a coffee stout with strong java taste, Zien wanted it to be less of a novelty beer and more of an experience.
"I had one employee when I started here, Todd Fitzsimmons [AleSmith’s Head Brewer]," said Zien. "And as soon as we took over, we started on changing Speedway. We really upped the ABV, from 8% into the 12.5% monster it is now. But more importantly, we wanted to develop this rich, dark beer that isn’t as roasted as most dark beers. We wanted to have a rich coffee flavor, but we also wanted chocolate and caramel and a bunch of other notes in the beer’s body. We kept its coffee base, but we didn’t let it dominate the beer.”