By Owen Woods |

SOMETIMES fitting a square peg into a round hole works out, and sometimes it doesn’t. And if someone else did it first, well, it just means you might have to change up the strategy – shave off some of that peg and try again. 

Mark Martinez, co-owner of the formerly-known-as, local brewery, Square Peg Brewerks, isn’t letting a little name change ruin his outlook. 

And like a square peg in a round hole, he and business partner Derek Heersink tried for a while to come up with a name. “I mean we spent a long time trying to figure out a name for this damn place,” Martinez said, speaking with Alamosa Citizen among the shiny armory of brew tanks, talking over the hum of churning suds. 

Martinez and Heersink started Square Peg Brewerks in 2017, opening its doors to a livening Main Street, and maintaining its place as a keystone among the San Luis Valley’s microbrew index. 

The name was one of the last things they came up with. They had the equipment and the building before they had a name. The pair of “rinky-dink” brewers didn’t trademark their name at first. They didn’t see the need right away, as the beer, you could say, took precedent. When they began their canning and distribution process, they thought that maybe a trademark wasn’t a bad idea.

Then Square Peg Winery, in Sebastopol, CA, let their trademark expire. So, taking the opportunity, Martinez and Heersink filed their trademark application. Soon after, so did the winery. Both companies appealed, but lo and behold, the winery won. 

The brewers knew about the winery from the get-go, Martinez said, but they didn’t foresee any kind of dispute between the two industries. Wine and beer, sure both are alcohol, but thousands of miles apart and a stark difference in ABV seemed like enough of a contrast. 

two panels: man with farm equipment and two men with brewery equipment

Derek Heerksink on his farm, left; Chad Skinner and Mark Martinez in the brewery.
Top photo: Business partners Martinez and Heersink.

AFTER  this all started a year and a half ago, Martinez and Heersink have been working with trademark lawyers to find a name that could capture the essence of their vision, without straying too far. The little brewery that could wasn’t going to let a big, bad winery stop their fun.

So after checking names and trademarks, the simple, concise, almost poetic name Spare Keg Brewerks was born. 

“People had been calling it ‘The Peg’, ‘we’re gonna go to The Peg,’ so keg was close, right? It was ‘The Keg,’ ‘The Keg,’ just didn’t quite ring. So we liked something that was two words, it was easy to say, easy to remember.”

The consensus is great. “People have been really damn supportive,” Martinez said. “I’m hoping anyway, I mean, we still don’t take ourselves too seriously, in a sense right. There’s gonna be a bit of a bubble with inventory and things like that, but at the same time we’re a small brewery, we’ll roll with the punches, not too big of a deal….

“We also want to do a little realignment, and try and realign the brewery with the farm a bit better, too.”

That’s how it all really started. Heersink has a 500-acre farm that grows barley and alfalfa. During 2015’s harvest, he had an overage of 60,000 pounds of Coors barley that Coors didn’t buy that year. He had a business model for malt beverages, so he and Martinez came up with a plan, and the stars aligned just right.

“Derek just wanted to rock it and go for it,” Martinez said.

They took Heersink’s barley and sold it to Proximity Malt. It was an easy decision for the rinky-dink brewers to make. Since then, Martinez said, a lot of local barley growers have been selling their harvests to Proximity. The malters supply the malt for Sam Adams, Dogfish Head, and some other big breweries. 

Heersink has been “M.I.A” said Martinez, but all for good reason. Heersink is working on a regenerative agriculture process for his harvest to see if it’s viable. The process, if all goes well, could improve soil health, cut down on erosion, improve biodiversity, improve water quality and use, and eventually slash the use of synthetic fertilizers.

Just this year, Guinness announced it would be transitioning to this process for barley sowing. It could prove to be a simpler, more sustainable process. Martinez and Heersink are hoping that other farmers will board the ship along with them.  

Really it’s about soil health, water retention, and realigning agriculture with the needs of nature. You can read about Proximity Malt’s vision of regenerative ag here

The Spare Keg Brewerks owners remain optimistic. Even though the process of rebranding will take some time, it’s all positive from here on out. The last of the cans will have to be sold, along with the last of the hats and hoodies and socks, new signs will be hung, but the beer, the staff, and even Chad Skinner’s master brewing, is all staying the same. Have no fear. 

“Obviously, we live in a really supportive community, I think for the most part, people who do business here have an upper hand against other places. It’s just a good community to be in. It’s tight knit, folks are typically pretty supportive,” Martinez said. 

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