“He’s blind!” surprised customers exclaim when they see Tom Martinez, 44, grab his white cane after pouring a few glasses of a traditional, Trappist-style Quad. Martinez, a friendly guy with sunglasses who moves comfortably along the counter at Blind Faith Brewing and doesn’t shy away from deep, faith-based conversations, gives no clue of being blind. In fact, he has memorized all 16 taps from left to right and right to left.
What many don’t know is that he wasn’t yet blind when he and his old friend Ken Klispie, 52, decided to take a leap of faith at starting their own brewery less than a year ago – an idea that grew out of the friendship and the passion for their Catholic faith and the monastic tradition they shared.
“We joke that we want to be monks and we try to set up an experience [that reflects that],” Martinez said. “When people come into our taproom, we want them to feel welcome, accepted and comfortable.
“That way they feel the concept of beer that we want to get across: As sustenance, as something that is wholesome, like a holy beverage that brings you to peace and makes you feel at home like you would in a monastery.”
It all started when Klispie and Martinez met through the Knights of Columbus at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Lakewood, some 12 years ago. Their passion for beer and brewing led them to visit breweries all over Denver and eventually brew together.
They began hosting beer-pairing dinners with the Knights to fundraise for schools, parishes and charitable projects in the U.S and Africa.
That’s how they earned the title of “the beer guys” at their home parish and among their fellow Knights.
A desire to expand and brew at a larger scale grew in both, and they began looking for a place to set foot. This led them to purchase DeSteeg Brewing in October 2017, almost a year after Tom had lost his sight, and add a second guest brand named Blind Faith Brewing.
“It felt like there was going to be much work but also like there were going to be huge rewards, and not necessarily monetary rewards,” Klispie said. “It has probably turned out more challenging than we expected it to be, but that’s not necessarily bad. It’s been a great growing experience.”
The small taproom located in the back alley off Tennyson Street and 44th Avenue in Denver is, nonetheless, one of the few breweries in Denver that provides a taste of what can only be found in a monastery. Besides obtaining their recipes from monasteries and brewing in their footsteps, Klispie and Martinez incorporate the monastic and liturgical tradition into their work.
Blind Faith Brewing focuses on the Trappist-style Belgian ales: The Single, Double, Triple and Quad. Additionally, they’re working to brew seasonal bears that correspond to the liturgical calendar, such as the Doppelbock, the traditional fasting beer for monks during Lent.
With faith being a key component to their work, the “blind” aspect has also taken on different meanings for each one.
After Martinez unexpectedly went blind overnight in December 2016, the hopes of funding a brewery grew dim. However, in the hardships he had to face personally with his wife and five children, and in his dream of founding a brewery, the words of St. Paul played a key role in the process of accepting his new condition: “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7).
“I have struggled, but I’m not angry at God,” Martinez said. “You feel alone… but then you say: ‘No. This is the best time to believe in God and to know that all the saints are around you.’ You can choose to be alone or you can choose to see that God is with you, ever present.”
For Klispie, the Bible verse also reflected the leap of faith that starting a brewery demanded of him. Having a full-time job and a family of eight required much of him, yet he advanced with hope.
We joke that we want to be monks and we try to set up an experience [that reflects that]. When people come into our taproom, we want them to feel welcome, accepted and comfortable.”
This step of trust and faith strengthened the vision they had for the brewery, one that followed the monastic tradition of beer quality and evangelization through hospitality.
“We see [our work] as a way to evangelize. We do it through the way we run our business, the way we name the beer and the conversations we have,” Martinez said. “Every single day we end up talking about the faith with someone that comes in. Friendships lead to conversations about God and the Church.”
Both men hope to increase capacity without compromising quality to get the beer out to the market and expand to a bigger location. They also hope to become well-known to the Catholic community in town and one day be the official beer sponsors of the Archdiocese of Denver.
“I always remind myself of those opportunities where we can actually show the community what we are all about and be evangelists in a subtle way,” Martinez said. “So that when people leave our taproom, for some reason they may not be able to put their finger on, they say, ‘That was a good experience. Those guys made me feel good. I want to get some more of that.’
“Then we open a door to [talk about the faith]. People grow in interest of what we’re all about because of what they’ve experienced.”