In the summer of 2018, I traveled from Orange County to Denver and back for a handful of freelance assignments. One of my stops was in Colorado Springs, for a topic I wouldn’t normally be interested in: beer.
I’m more of a bourbon and mezcal guy. But Jess Fierro of Atrevida Beer Co. She invited me to swing at her family business. She and her husband, Rich, had recently opened a microbrewery and tapro room, which at the time was one of the only Latin American-run breweries in the United States.
Fierro told me her story over a crisp beer. How she and rich were high school sweethearts growing up in san diego. How they learned to love the art of beer when Rich served as an army officer in Germany in the 2000s. How Jess, a beautician by trade, worked up the nerve to do a home-brewing business when the Army moved Rich to Colorado.
Jess talked about the excitement of winning a beer competition that aired on the Vice network. About the fear of turning a hobby into a livelihood. Most importantly, she told me, she wanted to make a mark as a Mexican-American woman, in an industry that was predominantly white and male.
She would do this with beers with pan-Latin flavors like guava and tamarind that have clever Spanglish names. Jess summed up her philosophy as “Atrivida”, which translates to “bold” and is usually used in Mexican Spanish as a term of grudging respect for women who do what they are not supposed to do.
At some point, her giant husband joined us. Fierros was warm and funny – and they admired me. I took pictures of them in action, and asked for a group photo in return. She immediately posted it on Instagram, noting that she was “humbled and honored” that she had gone through. I left with a vow to visit Atrevida the next time I was in Colorado Springs, and with the promise that an article for national publication was on its way.
None of this came to be.
My mother was slowly dying of ovarian cancer. Other freelance assignments take precedence. I found a full time job that took me away from writing about food. The pandemic has pushed aside any stories that aren’t based in Southern California. Since Atrevida is rightfully starting to receive national attention, any article you may have written will be out of date. In the end I lost the notes and photos from my afternoon with Fierros and had to move on.
They did not hold it against me. Every now and then, Atrevida Beer Co. has popped up. In the comments on my weekly Instagram Live sessions from my personal account. Whenever they showed up, I enthusiastically plugged into the brewery and apologized for my oversight years ago. When a friend made his profile on Jess and mentioned that we knew each other, I excitedly told him how I once visited Atrevida.
Fierros was the first I thought of when news broke that a gunman had opened fire at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs on Saturday night, killing five and wounding 18.
I prayed a prayer for the deceased, bemoaned our country’s gun laws and moved on. I thought Fierros wasn’t among those affected.
But on Monday afternoon, as I was preparing to record a podcast episode, an email arrived. A reader asked if I had heard the “sad news” about Atreveda.
A reader wrote: “We visited them a while ago, and saw a picture of you there, so… [don’t] I know if you’re friends or if you just passed by.”
I hurried to register, and then immediately collected as much information as possible. I started with Atrevida’s Instagram account, which I realized I wasn’t following. He showed a video of Jess, Rich, and some friends, along with their daughter Cassie and her boyfriend, Raymond Green-Vance, enjoying a night out.
In the caption, Jess reveals that they were at Club Q when the gunman, identified by authorities as 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich, opened fire on the spot. Jess writes that she suffered bruises on her right side and that Rich injured his hands, knees and ankle while helping to subdue Aldrich.
Cassie broke her knee. Virus’ friends have been “killed multiple times”. Raymond is killed.
Fierro wrote, “This cowardly and despicable act of hate has no place in our life or business.” “F–K HATE. She left us and our community scarred but not broken. Lots of love to everyone.”
Then I read the news of what happened. Rich, who served four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, lived up to the name Atreveda. He went after the attacker almost immediately—”I grabbed him by the back of his cheap little shield,” I tell my colleagues. Other stories revealed that he asked a drag artist to step on the gunman with her high heels.
People on social media hailed Rich as a hero. He quickly dismissed such ideas, telling the New York Times that he was “just a guy”.
In the aftermath of the Club Q tragedy, the story of Fierro and the others who helped stop the happy massacre is irresistible. It’s especially appealing to Latinos, after a year in which we’ve been playing a lot with the villain, whether it’s the Uvalde killer or the LA politicians whose hateful words about Blacks, Oaxacans, and more were the antithesis to the welcoming atmosphere at Club Q.
It pains me that it was tragedy that finally prompted me to write about Fierros and Atrevida Beer Co. But everyone should know they were heroic long before this terrible weekend.
I remember the pick screen outside the tap room that read “Variety, it’s always on tap!” – Same emblem as found on this awesome Rich Fiero Chevy El Camino. Jess shared with me at the time how she had to face a lot of racism and sexism in her industry but bore its effects because she had such an important platform.
This, she said, is why her company proudly participated in the LGBTQ parade in Colorado Springs — a bold move in a city with large numbers of conservative and evangelical voters. It’s something they’ve continued to do during the pandemic. Not only that, but Jess followed through on her stated plans to mentor other women and Latino breweries. She even named some of her foams after Mexican-American icons like Dolores Huerta and the late Long Beach singer Jenny Rivera.
After scrolling through Atrevida’s Instagram account, and quickly catching up on their past four years, I re-read the New York Times profile of Rich. In one part, he admits that his night at Club Q was the first time he’d been to a drag show.
He said, “These kids want to live that way, they want to have fun, to have a good time.” “I’m glad about that because that’s what I fought for, so they can do whatever the hell they want.”
If only the rest of us were boldness like iron.